The Long and Winding Ballot of 2006

Essay by Martha Quillen

Politics – November 2006 – Colorado Central Magazine

ACCORDING TO the national media, this is a great election season for Democrats. A family values Republican resigned after it was revealed he’d been sending erotic e-mails to young male pages. The war in Iraq is going abysmally. Kim Jong Il is celebrating his entrance into the international nuclear family in open defiance to warnings from the Bush administration. New reports claim that terrorism has increased since the War on Terror began. Bob Woodward is out hawking his new book by telling everyone how Bush misled the American people. And a British general has announced that the Brits should get out of Iraq.

Yep, if you’re a Democrat, things are looking up.

Or are they?

Raging insurgents, suicide bombers, burned out cities, dead kids, disgraced politicians, belligerent dictators, and American soldiers caught in the wake of a civil war just don’t seem like anything to celebrate. Ed and I are Democrats, and the way we see it, recent events have been downright depressing.

— And so are the number of ballot proposals on this year’s ticket. With this many items to check, the human error vote is sure to weigh in all too well. So if you haven’t done so already, be sure to make yourself a cheat sheet before going to the polls.

And just in case you haven’t already decided. We recommend a “no, never, absolutely not” against Amendments 38, 39, 40, 41, and 43.

As for Amendments 42 (a Colorado minimum wage) and 44 (eliminating penalties for small amounts of marijuana), I’m leaning toward yes on both.

Although smoking marijuana strikes me as a waste of time and money, it isn’t as dangerous or addictive as drinking alcohol. Nor is marijuana known to arouse violent and aggressive behavior like alcohol. Unlike beer, wine and tobacco, marijuana doesn’t cause death, and it isn’t as costly or financially threatening as gambling.

But drinking and gambling are not merely tolerated, the State of Colorado actually promotes the latter. Whereas U.S. drug enforcement policy advocates fines, arrests, and imprisonment for people who use marijuana.

Considering the comparative hazards, it only seems fair to decriminalize marijuana use. Yet I shudder to imagine what we’ll see if marijuana is ever legalized (as it probably should be). Marijuana would probably be packaged, marketed, commercialized, and advertised. It would get touted, glamorized, and exported. Billboards, magazine covers, and 60-second spots would feature famed glitterati sucking down marijuana smoke. And the state and feds would tax it — and thus profit off of it.

IN AMERICA, products can’t merely be countenanced, they have to be promoted until they’ve surpassed all healthy and sustainable levels of consumption. Thus, the current proposal for eliminating penalties for small amounts of marijuana seems like the best course possible — because it offers a reasonable compromise between total legalization and ruthless suppression.

As for the minimum wage proposal, I like it. But Ed says it’s a bad idea to put it in the state constitution, and last night I heard a television commentator who agreed. He said putting it in the constitution would mean that there would be no exceptions possible.

And I won’t argue with that, because they may be right: Perhaps a minimum wage amendment in the Colorado constitution is a bad idea.

But after an era of legislation which gave us corporate deregulation, NAFTA, and tax breaks for the rich, I’d like to see one bad idea passed that favors hourly workers. Clearly, life still won’t be fair for minimum wage earners, but at least this time around they’ll get a little something.

One of the most ominous developments in what used to be our middle class country, is the increasing pay chasm between CEOs and workers, which “increased from 301-to-1 in 2003 to 431-to-1 in 2004,” according to Senator Byron Dorgan.

PERHAPS PUTTING A minimum wage measure in the state constitution isn’t the best solution, but it sure beats business as usual, which in the last two decades has come to mean more and more work for the average guy for less and less pay.

And that brings us to the referendums.

We’re against Referendums F, H and J, but for E, which provides a property tax reduction for disabled veterans.

But as I see it, one referendum stands out from all the rest, Referendum I, which would create a new legal relationship: the domestic partnership. In this disheartening electoral season, here’s your chance to make at least one group of people very happy.

And I think we should do it.

Referendum I will grant people who have hitherto been denied the opportunity to form legal partnerships, a way to gain most of the partnership rights, benefits, and responsibilities accorded to married adults. And that’s what we want, right? We want people to grow up, settle down, work hard, pay their bills, and take care of their loved ones.

Except obviously, many citizens don’t think it’s as simple as that (or there wouldn’t simultaneously be a marriage amendment on the ballot, which calls for adding what is in all probability an unconstitutional definition of marriage to our state constitution).

This matter should be that simple, though. Because the right to form bonds, and share benefits — and to look after someone and be looked after — should not have anything to do with sex and should not be denied by the government.

I figure every adult who is mentally capable of making an independent decision and accepting the consequent responsibilities of committing to a partner should have the right to take a partner, whether he or she be gay, straight, hermaphrodite, eunuch, deformed, asexual, celebrate, or even wholly disinterested in sex (despite how aberrant that particular alternative may be).

Marriage law establishes societal standards for sex and procreation, and thus people cannot marry their sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, etc. But why can’t relatives form a domestic partnership?

Clearly, the people who wrote this referendum had gay marriage on their mind, but they shouldn’t have. All adult citizens in the U.S. should be given the right to form committed, long-term relationships; and to determine who will speak for them if they’re incapacitated; and to share benefits and compensations with a partner — because some of us need companionship and someone to help us get by. This referendum will give same-sex couples a fairer deal, but other citizens should also be included eventually.

As for gay marriage, I don’t really understand why people want the state to intervene in personal relationships, but many clearly do. Some people want to rescind no-fault divorce. Some like the idea of required counseling before weddings and divorces. And some want gay marriage.

I don’t know if it’s a good idea to encourage the state to muck around in such private matters, but I suspect that marriage and domestic partnership legislation will be evolving for many years. In the meantime, we have candidates to consider.

–Martha Quillen

IT’S A BIG SHOCK to read that the 5th Congressional District, which includes El Paso, Frémont, Teller, Lake and Chaffee counties, along with some of Park, is even remotely competitive , since it’s one of the most Republican districts in the country. But this year the Republicans came up with Doug Lamborn, an embarassment who ran a sleazy and unethical campaign in the primary (or so it was described by the retiring 10-term Republican incumbent, Joel Hefley, who declined to endorse Lamborn).

By contrast, the Democrats have a great candidate in Jay Fawcett, a retired Air Force officer and Bronze Star winner, who’s generally sensible on most public issues, especially the fiasco in Iraq. We like him, and it’s kind of exciting that he has a chance to win.

In the 3rd, which covers everything else around here, John Salazar of Manassa deserves another term, even though he has disappointed us on some issues; we expect more opposition to the Bush administration from a Democrat. But his opponent, Scott Tipton of Grand Junction, would be even worse.

For statewide offices, the Democrats have put together a pretty good slate this year. Bill Ritter wasn’t our first choice for governor, and if the Republicans had nominated someone like Russ George or Scott McInnis, this would have been a tough call.

But the GOP nomination went to Bob Beauprez, who opposes what Colorado voters have supported (Referendum C last year) and supports what Colorado voters have opposed (Referendum A in 2003). That alone is enough reason to send Beauprez back to the dairy farm (which he sold for a golf course), but there are many others. Ritter’s pretty good on limiting sprawl, preserving open space, intelligent water use, renewable energy, and a lot of other things we care about.

As for the other state offices — secretary of state, attorney general, state treasurer — we’re Democrats and we’ll vote that way, but the Republican candidates are honorable people who have run decent races.

For state senate in District 5 (essentially Central Colorado and the San Luis Valley), Gail Schwartz has been an enthusiastic and thoughtful campaigner. Incumbent Lew Entz seems tired of the position. He’s done a generally decent job of looking after the San Luis Valley’s water, but the district covers far more than that and there are other important issues, like education and health care. Schwartz is on the ball here, he’s not. So we’re glad to endorse her.

IN HOUSE DISTRICT 60 (Chaffee, Park, Custer, and parts of Frémont and Saguache), we have our friend Curtis Imrie running as a Democrat against incumbent Republican Tom Massey. Massey has been a refreshing maverick in the Colorado General Assembly and has generally put this district’s interests foremost, no matter how the state party honchos feel, as with in-stream flow protection. We’ll vote for Curtis, a long-time supporter of our work and Colorado Central, but we’re also confident that our district will be represented fairly if Tom wins.

Two judges in the 11th judicial district are up for retention — Charles Barton and Julie Marshall — and they should be retained.

In Chaffee County, the major contested race is for commissioner between Democratic incumbent Tim Glenn and Republican challenger Bev Scanga. Tim deserves another term, for reasons that we have explained in recent editions.

Also on the ballot in Chaffee is Referendum 1A, which would establish a small property tax to maintain and support the animal shelter. We think it’s well worth the money. — Ed Quillen