On Nov. 2, voters will decide one of the most important presidential elections of this generation. In addition, Colorado voters will determine a new U.S. senator in one of the most closely watched races in the country. Closer to our back yard, several key issues are on the statewide and local ballots that will help determine the future of health care services, transit and school bond issues. The following are the Independent's endorsements. In this election, you can vote by absentee ballot, vote early, or vote on the Nov. 2 ballot. Whatever you do, vote as if your life depended upon it -- it just might.
President -- John F. Kerry
Are you and your family better off and safer today than four years ago? Let's consider the so-called PATRIOT Act, which threatens our civil liberties. Or how about the dismantling of safeguards to protect our air, water and land? Halliburton. Enron. Misleading the public about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Huge tax breaks for the wealthy. The biggest net loss of jobs since the 1930s. Turning a projected $5 trillion surplus into a $3 trillion deficit. This is the mess that George W. Bush has made.
Our support for John F. Kerry is based on much more than the fact that he is not George W. Bush. Sen. Kerry has gravitas, hope and concrete plans to clean up our environment, schools and our economy. Of possibly even greater importance will be his ability to extract us from Iraq while restoring the American government's credibility with its people and our historical allies in Europe and Asia. If we allow four more years of Bush's massive deficits, environmental degradation, tax breaks for the wealthy, under-funding of social programs, corporate conglomeration and cowboy diplomacy, how safe will our families be?
U.S. Senate -- Ken Salazar
Here is a telling anecdote about Ken Salazar: When asked which Salazar brother, if only one could be elected to Congress this November, should win, Ken Salazar does not hesitate to answer, not even for a pause. "My brother," Salazar said of his brother John, who is running for the House of Representatives to represent much of the Western Slope. "He's wonderful; he's a businessperson, a man of the soil; he has all of the pieces that make for a great congressman." This selfless statement is only one indication that Ken Salazar will be a great United States senator, replacing outgoing Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell. For the past six years, Salazar has served as attorney general for Colorado, has proven to be moderate and thoughtful, and has earned widespread respect. In this age of didactic polarization in Washington, Salazar's approach will serve the people -- all the people -- of Colorado well. His expertise on the issues -- particularly homeland security, water and health care -- is far superior to that of his opponent, beer magnate Pete Coors.
House District 18 -- Michael Merrifield
For the past two years, this retired teacher has well represented constituents of the widely diverse house district that includes parts of central Colorado Springs, the West Side and Manitou Springs. He is engaged and accessible, and he has weathered -- with good humor -- intense assaults from some Republicans who have attacked for no other reason than they are mad that a Democrat holds one elected legislative office (out of 13) in El Paso County. Merrifield is a fighter for our schools, our environment, fiscal responsibility, and most importantly, the people and businesses in his district. His enthusiasm and boundless energy should earn him your vote to a second term.
County Commissioner District 2 -- Bob Null
Bob Null is the only man standing between a potential complete annihilation of El Paso County government and a policy-setting board that has the potential to return to some semblance of civility. Technically, Null, a lifelong Republican, is not listed on the ballot; he entered the race after anti-government ideologue Douglas Bruce beat Margaret Radford in an ugly primary race. Null is now running as a write-in candidate -- which means that voters must write in his name on their ballot on Nov. 2. Such write-in efforts are uphill battles, but Null -- who is currently distributing 50,000 pencils with the words "write-in Bob Null for Commissioner 2" so that people write his name on the ballot -- is confident that he can pull it off. Of 75,000 voters in District 2 -- which encompasses much of eastern Colorado Springs and the vast expanse of eastern El Paso County -- Bruce only received 6,788 votes in the primary. Null is a retired Air Force colonel who has served on a number of boards, including the city and county planning commissions. He is thoughtful, articulate and has a keen understanding of the issues -- so much so that he has garnered support from as diverse a group as current Commissioner Tom Huffman, Mayor Lionel Rivera, Richard Skorman, and the Colorado Springs Professional Firefighters Association. He has earned your vote.
State Board of Education -- Karen Teja
With six years experience on the District 11 Board of Education, Teja is well prepared to tackle the broader, complex tasks that come before the Colorado State Board of Education -- which is charged with the awesome task of overseeing the state's public schools. By contrast, her opponent Peggy Littleton appears to be running on a single-issue platform to promote vouchers. Teja knows that the education of our children requires a much broader approach. She is articulate, passionate and committed to improving our public schools.
Referendum A -- No State personnel system
This proposal would give the governor and his or her appointees the power to bypass the state personnel system to hire 140 state employees that are currently in the system. Proponents argue that the governor should be allowed to hire people who share the same "values" and without having to undergo the same scrutiny as other state employees, but they have done a poor job articulating the need for a change in policy.
Referendum B -- Yes Obsolete constitutional provisions
This measure would eliminate obsolete and antiquated provisions in the state constitution, including identifying the now-defunct state superintendent of public education as the ex officio state librarian and outdated elector requirements.
Amendment 34 -- Yes Construction liability
In an ideal world, Colorado would not have to enact this amendment to the state constitution to lift restrictions on the amount that people could seek in lawsuits against developers and homebuilders. While most developers are honest, there are circumstances when the only recourse against shoddy construction or worse is legal action. Earlier this year, the Legislature adopted an anti-consumer law that restricts the amounts that can be sought in such cases and, because the Legislature is unlikely to repeal this law, the voters ought to.
Amendment 35 -- Yes Tobacco tax increase for health-related purposes
This amendment would install an 64-cent-per-pack tax on cigarettes to pay for health programs, including health care for children from low-income families in Colorado, the state's Medicare fund and programs designed to teach people about the dangers of tobacco use. Colorado currently has the lowest tobacco tax in the country, and this measure, if adopted, would raise the tax to 84 cents per pack -- still well below the national average of 98 cents.
Amendment 36 -- No
Selection of presidential electors
Selection of presidential electors
We like two things about this proposal to change the way Colorado's Electoral College is counted: If passed it would more accurately reflect the choices of Colorado's voters. In addition, third-party candidates, from Ross Perot to Ralph Nader, would have the ability to garner electoral votes if they could obtain about 10 percent of the statewide vote. What we don't like about Amendment 36 far outweighs the benefits. Currently, as in all but two other states, Colorado has in place a winner-takes-all form of counting the Electoral College votes. If approved, Amendment 36 would, beginning with this November's election, divide our state's nine Electoral College votes. We support the concept that individual votes should be more accurately reflected in the total count, but have some grave doubts. First, this sort of reform should be considered on a national level, not just in Colorado. Also, we are concerned that, since it would go into effect this November, our state could become the Florida of national politics, in which either Republicans or Democrats would immediately challenge the new law's constitutionality, throwing the election into chaos, raising the possibility that the outcome would once again be determined by the U.S. Supreme Court. Finally, we would never forgive ourselves if Kerry carried Colorado, but because Amendment 36 passed, he lost the presidency.
Amendment 37 -- YES Renewable energy requirement
In a time when renewable energy (i.e., wind, solar and biomass) is becoming cheaper than ever to produce, and in a time when conventional fuels (i.e., coal and oil) are finite and over time will become harder and more expensive to extract, this amendment is, frankly, a no-brainer. Today approximately 2 percent of Colorado's electricity comes from renewable energy; this proposal would force utility companies to increase renewables to 3 percent from 2007 through 2010, 6 percent from 2011 through 2014, and to 10 percent by 2015 and thereafter. Unlike coal and oil, which largely creates employment elsewhere, renewable energy projects create good jobs right here in Colorado. The amount that an average residential electric bill will increase is limited to 50 cents per month. Over the course of the next few weeks, voters should expect a deluge of misleading anti-Amendment 37 ads and fliers funded by the coal and oil extractive industries. Don't let them scare you.
1B Public Health Protection Initiative -- Yes
This measure would enable El Paso County to receive federal money to pay for needed public health initiatives. Currently, the Department of Public Health and Environment cannot accept some federal grants without going through the time-consuming and cumbersome task of getting voter approval to override TABOR provisions. We need our share of federal funds to combat West Nile Virus, influenza, SARS, bioterrorism, STDs and dozens of other health dangers. In recent years, the health department has decreased funding for important public health programs and El Paso County currently ranks in the bottom 25th percentile for public health funding. If this measure is defeated, it would result in a reduction in the amount spent on public health. El Paso County cannot afford to take such a risk.
Regional Transportation Authority -- Yes
If approved, this plan would establish a Regional Transportation Authority, funded with a countywide 1-cent sales tax that would generate an estimated $60 million a year for the next 10 years. The plan offers specific, prioritized, road and transportation projects to be completed in Colorado Springs and El Paso County, and it limits administrative costs to 1 percent. In addition, money would also be used to improve countywide transit. We wish that the city and county-- for the past decade-plus -- had done more to rein in sprawl and figure out an equitable formula so developers would have borne more of the responsibility. But the reality is, our roads and public transit are a mess, and we need to generate money to fix them. Vote yes.
3F & 3G District 11 bond -- Yes
The average age of the buildings owned by El Paso County's largest school district is 42 years old. A recent assessment identified a dismal 31 percent of D-11 buildings as being in poor condition; 32 percent are in fair condition; and only 37 percent of D-11 schools are in good condition. Not surprising, when you consider that Colorado Springs voters have only approved one bond measure in 30 years to generate funds to help pay for upkeep and maintenance in the district with an enrollment of 33,000 students. This proposal would generate $131.7 million in bonds to build two new elementary schools and repair and improve existing facilities. Vote to approve 3F and 3G to protect our infrastructure investments. Vote for these two measures to provide our students, our future leaders, with safe and education-friendly learning environments.
Question 31 Falcon School District 49 -- Yes
This fall, 1,100 new students enrolled in Falcon School District 49 east of Colorado Springs, a whopping 13 percent increase over last year's 8,567 enrolled students. This fastest-growing district in the area is teaching children anywhere they can fit them, including in trailers and cafeterias. Over the next 10 years, an additional 20,000 students are expected. This mill levy override would generate $8.5 million per year to build a new high school, middle school and two new elementary schools, as well as upgrade existing schools to keep up with the growth.