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Where we stand on the issues and the candidates 

Endorsements

Our candidate endorsements this year include a diverse bunch indeed. We've got Democrats, Republicans, Greens and Libertarians who we believe deserve your support -- and your vote -- on Nov. 5. In addition, the ballot this year is packed with a long list of possibilities. The following are our recommendations on the candidates and issues.

THE CANDIDATES

U.S. Senate
Democrat Tom Strickland

Colorado's open Senate seat pits Republican incumbent Wayne Allard in a rematch with Democrat Tom Strickland, the former U.S. Attorney for Colorado. During his first term in the Senate, Allard has not distinguished himself on any important piece of legislation, choosing to vote an astounding 98 percent of the time with his party's leadership, a record matched only by Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms.

To highlight just one area, Allard has proven himself no friend of clear air, clean drinking water and other issues affecting the environment. The bipartisan League of Conservation Voters identified him as one of their "Dirty Dozen" U.S. senators, with the worst record on the environment -- no other Colorado senator has ever received this dubious honor.

By contrast, Strickland is a longtime supporter of the environment. A decade ago he was one of the leaders in the Great Outdoors Colorado open-space initiative that enabled Lottery funds to preserve open space across the state. Unlike Allard, Strickland supports forcing polluters, not taxpayers, to clean up polluted sites.

Libertarian Rick Stanley is also in this race.

Governor
Green Ron Forthofer

With Bill Owens poised to steamroll his way to a second term, if there ever were a year to cast a vote for your conscience, this race is it.

During his campaign, Owens, who won office four years ago by a razor-thin margin, has proven more moderate than critics anticipated. We could hardly believe our ears though, when his campaign absurdly touted Owens as having made Colorado's education system "the envy of the nation," as well as making the state "cleaner and greener."

However, Owens' major opponent, Boulder Democrat Rollie Heath, has been unable to mount a serious campaign in El Paso County and statewide.

Which leads us to Ron Forthofer, who has spent this campaign season largely ignored by the major media, traveling the state to stump for needed reforms.

Forthofer is the only candidate who is speaking substantively about the corrupting influence of big money on our political institutions. The retired biostatistics professor has also been hammering on the health-care crisis gripping our state and nation, rightly noting that under our current system, only about half our health-care dollars actually are used for health care, with the rest being spent on corporate profits, overhead and marketing. Finally, Forthofer is a major proponent of developing clean and renewable energy to fight global warming and stimulate the economy, while forcing polluters to pay for their own cleanup. His campaign Web site is

www.forthofer.com.

Libertarian Ralph Shnelvar is also on the ticket.

Attorney General
Democrat Ken Salazar

During his first term in office, Democrat Ken Salazar has focused a good deal of his attention on consumers, particularly the elderly and vulnerable. Salazar's office worked closely in pushing forward the state's telemarketing no-call law, secured restitution for the victims of a massive Medicaid fraud, sued drug manufacturers for their price-fixing activities and sued the sweepstakes industry for targeting seniors and others with their deceptive practices.

Salazar, who is widely expected to run for governor in 2006, has been criticized for his willingness to snuggle a little too closely up to Republicans. But he has clearly done his job, and deserves your support. His opponents include Republican Marti Allbright and Green Alison "Sunny" Maynard.

State Senate District 11
Democrat Tony Marino

This newly drawn central Colorado Springs district could determine which party will control the state Senate.

So let's not mince any words.

Coloradans have a kaleidoscope of concerns on their minds: the economy, unemployment, water shortages, growth, transportation, rising health insurance and prescription drug costs, to name a few.

Moderate Democrat Tony Marino's dogged persistence to decipher complicated issues, including the state's budget and how transportation and education funds are dispersed, gives him a decided jump-start in representing the diverse new district. The former television newsman, policeman and Marine Corps Vietnam combat veteran has spent considerable time studying the issues and grasping a thorough understanding of the way the legislative process works.

Let's face it: This year the Republicans have fielded a weak candidate, Ed Jones. Despite holding public office as a county commissioner for eight years, Jones has yet to articulate positions on these critical, often complex issues. In addition, Jones, who claims to represent the party of personal responsibility, has dismissed his own past transgressions, including lying about getting a college degree, not paying taxes for eight years, driving without insurance or proper license plates, claiming he had no "choice" over his destiny.

Unlike Jones, Marino has run a clean campaign, choosing to focus on the issues at hand. Marino has done his homework. He has earned your vote.

Libertarian Jeffery McQueen is also on the ballot.

House District 14
Libertarian John Bernston

Right-wing ideologue Dave Schultheis is an embarrassment. In his first term, Schultheis' biggest claim to fame was his twice-introduced so-called Doctor Laura Bill calling for divorcing parents to undergo a year of mandatory counseling before they can split up. We can hardly imagine Schultheis' desire for government intrusion into people's private lives can be appealing for citizens of his Republican-dominated House District 14.

John Bernston, who is challenging Schultheis, does not believe in this kind of state-sanctioned control. Bernston is the current chairman of the Libertarian Party of Colorado, but his views certainly extend to a majority of GOP constituents who value less government. Bernston deserves those votes. There is no Democrat on the ballot.

House District 17
Republican Mark Cloer

Two years ago, we were dubious about Republican Mark Cloer, who, with the help of powerful Republicans across the state, was elected to represent a diverse district that includes southeastern Colorado Springs, stretching to Fountain, Widefield and Security. Throughout his first term, however, Cloer has been readily accessible, and responsive to all constituents, regardless of class or status.

And, Cloer has proven he's no pushover. A former substitute teacher, he was among a handful of Republicans who angered the party hierarchy by staunchly opposing Gov. Owens' so-called education reform bill that mostly relies on testing -- not learning -- as a way to measure success in school. This year, Cloer has vowed to concentrate on three other major issues facing his constituents: affordable housing, affordable insurance and closer scrutiny of the Department of Human Services.

Disappointingly, Cloer's opponent, Democrat PM Wynn, has run an unfocused and disorganized campaign. Cloer is the clear choice.

Libertarian Steve D'Ippolito is also on the ballot.

House District 18
Democrat Michael Merrifield

Like Senate District 11, the newly redrawn House District 18 also includes much of downtown Colorado Springs, stretching west to include Manitou Springs. The district is composed of roughly an equal number of Republicans, Democrats and unaffiliated voters.

Both parties deserve kudos for presenting us with moderate, qualified candidates during this race. Retired high-school teacher Michael Merrifield and Republican attorney Dan Stuart are both past members of the Manitou Springs City Council and are active community volunteers.

However, Merrifield, who was a key organizer of the Colorado Springs' successful Trails Open Space and Parks [TOPS] initiative to preserve open space, has articulated strong positions on alternative transportation, protecting our environment and improving education.

We are concerned by Stuart's refusal to take a solid stand on social issues, including articulating his position on school vouchers and a woman's right to choose. In addition, given the recent revelation that El Paso County has lost $508 million in promised highway funding, Stuart's claims of bringing home the bacon while serving as our representative on the state Transportation Commission are dubious.

Libertarian Keith Hamburger is also on the ballot.

County Commissioner Race
Democrat Dean Tollefson

Republican candidate Jim Bensberg has demonstrated that he answers to the powers that be, but not to the people of El Paso County. A former lobbyist and field director in the office of U.S. Senator Wayne Allard, Bensberg knows his way around a fund-raiser, but frequently refuses to speak to the press.

We need a commissioner who doesn't serve merely as a rubber stamp for the developer/real-estate hierarchy and who speaks to the real concerns of all citizens, not just a few.

Tollefson, a retired college professor and longtime community activist, has run an old-fashioned grass-roots campaign built on walking the streets, shaking hands and discussing the critical issues that face our county with its ordinary citizens. He demonstrates knowledge of the region and county government and a willingness to act as a representative of the people. He deserves your vote.

THE ISSUES

Amendment 27
Campaign finance reform: YES

Political operatives and candidates often claim that money that flows to them from special-interest groups, corporations and wealthy contributors does not corrupt. For many candidates, that may be true. But they are fooling themselves if they don't recognize that the perception among average citizens is that large cash donations result in favorable votes. The rising cost of running for political office often prevents otherwise qualified citizens from seeking office, particularly if they challenge a well-heeled incumbent. This proposal would restrict the amount of campaign contributions to political candidates running for statewide and local offices. It's time to level the playing field.

Amendment 28
Mail ballot elections: YES

El Paso County and Colorado Springs have both used mail ballots during elections the past few years. As much as we love going to the polls, the reality these days is, people love to vote while sitting at their kitchen tables, where they can carefully consider candidates and often myriad ballot issues. Mail ballot elections have dramatically improved voter turnout in Oregon and elsewhere and have proven to be far less expensive than the traditional method. Plus, under this measure, people can opt to still vote at a handful of polling places if they want.

Amendment 29
Revising Colorado's caucus system: YES

Nostalgia is best shared between family and friends, preferably over a nice hot cup of cocoa. When it comes to the progress of democracy, however, remembering about how things used to work in the good old days is certainly not something to be savored, especially when considering Colorado's antiquated political caucus system for nominating political candidates. Our system is so confusing that even Coloradans who have lived in this state for generations don't understand how the game is played. As a result, politics has become little more than a secret club controlled by a fraction of party insiders. It's time to change the rules.

Amendment 30
Election Day voter registration: YES

This measure lets eligible citizens register to vote on Election Day, beginning Jan. 1, 2004. In other states, same-day registration has proven to be the single most effective measure to increase voter turnout. We think citizens who are qualified to vote should be given the easiest means possible.

Amendment 31
English-only education: NO

We understand the call for reform for bilingual education in Colorado. But this measure, sponsored by California millionaire Ron Unz, is not the way to achieve it.

If approved, Amendment 31 would dismantle all bilingual education programs in Colorado, requiring new English immersion programs immediately be installed -- with little time for planning.

The proposal would limit parental choice and would not allow individual schools the ability to come up with innovative programs designed to address what's best for their students. In addition, the proposal includes extreme punitive measures that would hold teachers and administrators legally liable for up to 10 years should students fail to become English proficient.

Bilingual education programs, overall, are not working well -- at the expense of mainly poor and minority students. But let's not make the situation worse by enacting this constitutional punitive measure.

Referendum A
Repealing term limits for district attorneys: NO

In 1994, Colorado voters enacted term limits, restricting the number of years that statewide and local officials can serve in office.

In general, we oppose mandatory term limits, and not because of the usual result -- politicians springboarding from office to office.

It is our view that, ultimately, voters should have the choice of when to boot a public servant out of office. We believe this effort, which would exclude district attorneys from Colorado's term-limit requirements, is a piecemeal effort at best.

Referendum B
Public/Private ownership of local health-care services: YES

These types of public/private partnerships would primarily benefit rural areas of the state. This measure is designed to ensure services that a publicly owned health facility might not be able to provide otherwise, and could also make it easier for rural areas to recruit physicians and other health-care professionals.

Referendum C
Qualifications for county coroner: NO

This measure would allow the Legislature to enact unspecified qualifications for county coroners. Currently, elected coroners in Colorado must be at least 18 years old, a U.S. citizen and a resident of the county for at least one year.

It is our view that if voters require additional skills, they should elect candidates to their own desired specifications. El Paso County's coroner, for example, is a forensic pathologist. By contrast, Teller County's coroner is not a medical doctor, but has proven to be extremely competent and thorough in the job.

Referendum D
Repeal of obsolete constitutional provisions: YES

This measure is designed to eliminate several obsolete, outdated and unconstitutional jargon from Colorado's weighty constitution. Out they should go.

Referendum E
Cesar Chavez Day: NO

Does the celebrated civil-rights and labor leader Cesar Chavez deserve to be honored? Absolutely. The founder of the United Farm Workers of America represents a movement that brought social and economic justice to farm workers, especially Hispanics. But should we establish a state holiday in his name that will benefit only state government workers by way of a day off? No way. For the rest of us ordinary toilers including union and other private-sector workers, Hispanic or not -- this would be just another business day, albeit without access to government services.

El Paso County Jail Bond (1A and 1B):

NO

There is no doubt that our current jail is woefully overcrowded, its conditions mortifying. But these two measures, to spend $75 million for an addition to the jail, plus $2.9 million a year to run the new facility, are not the answer.

County Administrator Terry Harris has indicated that for less money per year than it would cost to build a new jail, we could, at least in the short term, transport overflow prisoners to Douglas County. This would immediately ease some of the current crowding, giving our sheriff, our judicial experts and our community time to tackle the problem in a better way.

Specifically, this community needs to examine long-term judicial reforms, including sentence reform, especially for victimless and drug crimes, and increasing the use of electronic monitors, for which inmates, not taxpayers, are forced to pay the cost.

Our current jail woes should be a challenge and an opportunity for our new sheriff and our judicial system to launch these discussions, rather than perpetuating the mentality of "build the jail and they will come."

District 11 bond issue:

YES

School District 11 officials rightly note that the condition of schools is a tangible symbol of the community's commitment to education.

And, in Colorado Springs' oldest district, the average age of their 61 schools is 40 years old.

A broad coalition of district employees and community representatives have identified nearly $239 million in capital improvement needs. This bond measure is seeking far less, $97 million, to pay for its most urgent improvements.

The bond represents a $4/month increase for people who own homes worth $155,000 -- the median home value in the district. The biggest chunk of the money -- $41 million -- would be used for repairs and renovations at almost every D-11 facility. The rest is slated to build two much-needed new elementary schools and install technology infrastructure, air conditioning and other improvements.

School District 11 officials are the first to admit that Colorado Springs soured economy might make a bond increase unpalatable to some. However, with interest rates at a 40-year low, the district would realize a savings of millions over the life of the 25-year proposal. The time to borrow is now.

ENDORSEMENTS AT A GLANCE

U.S. Senate: Democrat Tom Strickland
Governor: Green Ron Forthofer
Attorney General: Democrat Ken Salazar
State Senate District 11: Democrat Tony Marino
HD 14: Libertarian John Bernston
HD 17: Republican Mark Cloer
HD 18: Democrat Michael Merrifield
County Commission 1: Democrat Dean Tollefson

Amendment 27: Yes
Amendment 28: Yes
Amendment 29: Yes
Amendment 30: Yes
Amendment 31: No
Referendum A: No
Referendum B: Yes
Referendum C: No
Referendum D: Yes
Referendum E: No
El Paso County Jail Bond 1a & 1b: No
District 11 bond issue: Yes

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