Article by Ed Quillen
1996 election – November 1996 – Colorado Central Magazine
In Leadville and Lake County, it’s the school bond that matters
by Ed Quillen
In Lake County, the hot item on the ballot is an $8.9 million school bond issue. Letters pro and con have covered acres of the Leadville Herald Democrat in recent weeks, and editor Grant Dunham says “It’s the thing everybody’s talking about.”
The school district says it needs to replace leaking roofs throughout the district, expand West Park Elementary, and install doors and walls in the intermediate school, which was built 20 years ago when “open education” was the going fad.
Opponents basically argue that the school district has been mismanaged — buildings have been allowed to deteriorate, and its drop-out and discipline rates are high — so why trust it with any more money?
Further, if the bond issue passes, Lake County would have the highest mill levy in the state — perhaps to go with its other “highests,” like highest airport, highest church steeple, highest auto parts store, etc.
“The school district has some real needs,” Dunham said, “but many people don’t feel comfortable handing it that much money. I wish they’d gone for a smaller bond issue to cover just the essential repair and maintenance.”
Like other counties, Lake elects two commissioners this year.
Jim Martin, a former mayor of Leadville, is the incumbent Democrat in one district. His campaign appears to be “stay the course” — continue work on the Mineral Belt Trail and keep trying to remove the EPA from town. A proposed airport industrial park, he said, should be put before the voters.
Nancy Moore, the Republican seeking that seat, supports the industrial park, and has pushed for more community input and making the county government more accessible. “We have to decide if we want to be more than a bedroom community” for the ski resorts, she says.
And there’s a third party on the ballot in this race — the Libertarian. Carol Hill, the Libertarian candidate, has opposed the school bond issue, and says an industrial park is a fine thing, if the private sector wants to pay for it.
Although she’s running on cutting government, she’s not trying to eliminate it. “We do need some planning and zoning, but I’d like to move toward performance-based zoning, where there’s a list of criteria like parking and access, and if your project gets a passing grade, it’s approved.”
The candidate who sounds most like a Libertarian is Joe Swyers, a Republican and downtown businessman running for the other commission seat. Swyers argues that Lake County already demands too much of small business, and campaigns “to get county government out of your life, out of your business, off your property, and out of your pockets.”
His opponent is Democrat Jim Morrison, purchasing agent at the Black Cloud Mine. Morrison says Leadville and Lake County have been sitting back and allowing themselves to be pushed around by outside forces, and the county government needs to be pro-active, not reactive.
Dunham, the local editor, predicts a Democratic sweep. “In ways, Leadville is still a union town, and I think that will carry through this year. But this may be the last year. The people who move in and buy big houses are Republicans, and few of the people who commute to the ski areas for jobs bother to vote — a lot of them are undocumented aliens and can’t vote anyway.”
The way things are going, it will be a Third World system, with a few rich and a lot of poor, and not much in the middle, Dunham said, “but there still is a middle now, and it’s mostly Democratic.
“So this may be a last hurrah for the Democrats here, but I see them doing well here this year.”