Funny how you can follow the national news religiously, online and on TV, thinking that you're getting a clear picture of the outside world.
Then you escape the usual routine, if only for a few days, and learn just how limited that your everyday perspective has been.
Last week, four of us from the Independent traveled to Toronto for the annual convention of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies, a gathering of dedicated and cantankerous (either and both) journalists from across the U.S. and Canada. Our group isn't as young as you might expect, ranging from some in their 20s to long-timers in their 60s, and many of us in between.
But the ideas and perspectives all feel fresh, whether discussing websites, entertainment coverage, design or, of course, politics.
Since it's a midterm election year, the conversation outside our nuts-and-bolts sessions inevitably swung in that direction. And just from talking to peers from other parts of the country, I came away with much different information than what you might be gleaning from the typical big-media sources.
For instance, the Senate race in Nevada, with Democrat Sen. Harry Reid challenged by outspoken conservative Sharron Angle, might not be as clear-cut a choice as you'd think. As one editor from Nevada put it, "A lot of people, including Democrats, don't really like Harry Reid, and some of Angle's comments have been blown out of proportion. Her positions aren't as extreme as some media make them sound." That editor felt Reid still might pull out a close victory, his usual script in past elections, but that Angle actually could prevail — despite having suggested that frustrated masses might use "Second Amendment remedies," clearly implying armed revolt. (She has toned down her rhetoric lately.)
I also found out that marijuana legalization in California, on the November ballot as Proposition 19, could pass as that state grasps for solutions to its severe financial problems. The measure would make marijuana comparable to alcohol, and it would be taxed for recreational as well as medical uses.
But the pro-legalization folks are upset with Democrat Jerry Brown, the former California governor and now attorney general running for his old job again against Republican Meg Whitman, the former eBay CEO. Brown, now 72, opposes legalizing marijuana and has told media one reason why: "We've got to compete with China, and if everybody's stoned, how the hell are we going to make it?" Still, if Democrats turn out in force to vote for marijuana, Brown will have a better chance of winning.
Amid all that and much more, I couldn't find anybody from outside Colorado who knew about our Senate race. Even political junkies had little idea who Michael Bennet and Andrew Romanoff were. Of course, the nation will hear more about that race around the Aug. 10 election day, but what's happening here isn't even a blip yet on most people's radar screens.
The most interesting conversation came with people from Wisconsin, who said Sen. Russ Feingold faces a tougher November challenge this year than in the past. Feingold's opponent is uncertain because the GOP primary race is close, and Wisconsin is one of 17 states with an "open" primary. In other words, Democrats can cross over and vote Republican if they wish. Also, in Wisconsin you can register to vote at the polls on election day.
Colorado should consider both of those concepts. Actually, we're partially open already, because "unaffiliated" voters can decide which party's ballot to fill out during the primaries. This year, they could affect the Bennet-Romanoff outcome. But registered Democrats or Republicans have to stay with their parties, which penalizes them for loyalty. It's too bad Democrats don't have the option to vote in the Republican primary and have a say in the El Paso County sheriff's race between Terry Maketa and Jake Shirk.
Instead, based on typical turnout rates, we could have as few as 10 percent of the 360,000-plus registered county voters choosing our sheriff for the next four years.
Of course, nobody in Toronto would have cared about that. But we do.