For more than two decades, the Independent has embraced what we see as our major responsibility, one of the main reasons for our very existence — making endorsements for election races and sharing them with our 142,000 regular local readers.
It's most gratifying when we hear from readers saying they appreciate — and look forward to — seeing what we have to say before deciding how to fill out their ballots. For us, it's never about how many winners we pick, because this is about choosing the most qualified, promising candidates, not always the odds-on favorites.
We realize most people have busy, nonstop lives and can't keep up with events, candidates and issues as well as they'd like. That is why we outline why we make each choice. We hope you ponder our recommendations and learn more from our election coverage and other sources, then fill out your entire ballot with informed choices.
We stress the word entire because, while the top of the ballot grabs the most attention, your votes for local candidates will have a huge impact on our community. In addition, the state and local ballot measures at the end of your ballot could also have a profound impact on our lives. (We endorsed those in last week's paper, and they're summarized in the "cheat sheet.")
This week, you should receive your mail ballot. If it doesn't arrive by Friday, check with the El Paso County Elections Office (car.elpasoco.com/election or call 575-8683). You have nearly three weeks to complete and return it, by mail or drop-off. Sometimes, waiting until late in the game makes sense, in case candidates say or do something to influence a difficult decision. But many Indy readers tend to vote early, so that's our inspiration for offering our endorsements now.
Our final installment here covers contested races. We won't bore you with sermons on each one, just those we feel are most competitive and/or rise to a higher level of importance.
President, Hillary Clinton (D) vs. Donald Trump (R): No drama here. In this polarizing election, we've been more alarmed than anything at the breakdown of decorum and civility. It's one thing to feel strongly for either side, but the level of negativity has become truly frightening. We've never felt Trump was worth consideration, from his first comments about making Mexico build a wall, preventing Muslims from entering the country, making so many abhorrent statements about women and ... well, we could go on indefinitely. The recent videotape scandal eroded Trump's chances, and we expect more revelations, but to us this was never in doubt.
Sure, Clinton has her problems. But she really has worked for health care, children, poor families and other causes. She really did go to Ground Zero after 9-11, as a New York senator, and worked with both sides to help first responders. She really does know policy at every level, and given the chance, she can rebuild bridges for working together in years to come. Vote CLINTON
U.S. Senate, Michael Bennet (D) vs. Darryl Glenn (R): The biggest surprise here was the Republicans not coming up with a better challenger than Glenn, whose far-right, Trump-embracing views and glaring inexperience have made him an easy hurdle for Bennet en route to a second term.
Bennet has represented the state well, and he has battled against obstructionism in Congress as best he could. For example, he worked (remember the Gang of Eight?) trying to pass immigration reform, an effort that could revive next year. And he was instrumental in Denver being chosen as a site for a patent office, a major economic victory for the state.
If the Dems can retake control of the Senate, as seems increasingly likely, we predict Bennet will emerge as a more nationally known and respected leader inside the Capitol. Vote BENNET
U.S. House, Doug Lamborn (R) vs. Misty Plowright (D): For a decade, we've heard and participated in the chorus of negative comments and frustration about our local congressman. Regardless of party affiliation, most people don't feel Lamborn represents us effectively. Yet, time after time, challengers (some very promising) have failed to threaten his hold on the seat.
We don't pretend to suggest that Plowright, his latest opponent, has a realistic chance, especially after Lamborn's one-sided GOP primary victory over Calandra Vargas. But our visit with Plowright, who defeated a credible rival in the Democratic primary, convinced us to endorse her.
We admire her spunk, being a trans woman, going to places like Cañon City and talking to tea-party types. We like her view, as a military veteran, that the Pentagon could "spend way smarter and save a ton of money." We love her reaction to Lamborn's boast of securing a military cemetery for the area, saying, "Can we take care of our vets before we have to bury them?"
As for this race, she says, "My chance isn't zero, but I need a little help." This is our response. Vote PLOWRIGHT
County Commissioner, District 3, Electra Johnson (D) vs. Stan VanderWerf (R): This seat has been owned by Sallie Clark for three terms (the limits changed briefly to allow her an extra four years), but nobody questioned Clark's zeal and effectiveness in representing the county's western side. It's a tough act to follow, with two political rookies as the finalists, both known to be genuine and dedicated.
Two points are working against VanderWerf here. First and foremost, his open and enthusiastic support for the Donald Trump-Mike Pence ticket. That gives us pause, to say the least, But we also emailed VanderWerf (as we did some other candidates, including Johnson) asking to schedule an endorsement interview, and got no response.
Perhaps it didn't matter, because Johnson makes a powerful case. Her expertise as an urban planner, with experience in multiple cities and states, fits perfectly with the county's needs. She already knows as much about the county's inner workings as sitting commissioners. She's convinced the county is "completely unprepared for the future," especially on issues such as water, planned growth, lack of greenways, mass transit, incomplete trails, affordable housing and homeless issues. We also like that Johnson openly praises Sallie Clark and DA Dan May, both Republicans, for their efforts to fight child abuse and mental health-care shortcomings.
Just one example of a difference: VanderWerf talks in general terms about post-fire monitoring our endangered forests; Johnson talks about aggressively dealing with the health of forests, such as experimental programs for reviving good vegetation on the burn scar to see what works. Here's another clear way to compare the two: Johnson drew a large crowd to a community event at Ivywild School. VanderWerf met with the elite for an invitation event at the Broadmoor Golf Club.
But let's be positive here. Rarely have we encountered a bright new personality with so many fresh ideas and so much intense determination. It's also clear Johnson is connecting with many people, personally walking all the D-3 neighborhoods. She truly could change the face and energy of El Paso County. Vote JOHNSON
County Commissioner, District 4, Longinos Gonzalez Jr. (R) vs. Liz Rosenbaum (D): Initially, we saw this race as tough to decide and potentially very close between two sincere candidates. It still might be tight, but after learning more about both candidates and interviewing Rosenbaum, the choice became easy. We were swayed more for positive reasons, based on Rosenbaum's 10-plus years of living in southern El Paso County, her success as a determined businesswoman, her deep-rooted grasp of the issues and problems facing families in her area, her civic and school involvement on behalf of her children, and her work already to learn as much as possible about how El Paso County's government works.
She's known in Colorado Springs for making a success of Her Story Café inside Library 21c. At the same time, she's been active and well-known enough in her area to have nicknames such as "Mama Rose" or "Rosen-mom." Now she wants to make sure unincorporated areas such as Widefield and Security are better represented at the county level, "and we have other problems like all our huge developments but no gas stations." She wants to make it easier for small businesses to develop in the south county, and she wants to address needs such as "the county badly needs a new road grader for our rural area."
Gonzalez is cordial and diligent, but we don't like how he portrays himself as being superior to his opponent and how he takes credit for more than he deserves. And when we learned of his strong opposition to Hillary Clinton (beyond just supporting Donald Trump), that was enough to decide against an interview. Vote ROSENBAUM
State Senate District 10, Mark Anthony Barrionuevo (D) vs. Sen. Owen Hill (R): Unfortunately, this race has been overlooked by many, but hopefully not in SD10, which covers a large chunk of north-central Colorado Springs. Hill, a staunch Republican, has leaned far right and hasn't endeared himself (even within the GOP) in his one term. Barrionuevo, 41, offers the fascinating mix of being a Mormon Democrat attorney, devout, intellectual and humble, but when asked, he says, "I'm a purple [because] there's not a party in the middle anymore."
If Barrionuevo can connect with that alienated "middle" after already exciting the Dems, an upset could be in the works. His background is impressive, from serving as a missionary in Japan and Venezuela to being a liaison to the Los Angeles City Council and a precinct captain for Barack Obama's 2008 campaign. More pertinent to now, he's already an expert on health-care analysis and legalities, he's supportive of judicial reform and restorative justice, and he favors increasing the minimum wage slowly but reasonably. What's not to like?
If he doesn't win, we urge him to run again in the future for this or another office. Our region needs more innovative, community-minded people like him. Vote BARRIONUEVO
State House, District 17, Tony Exum (D) vs. Kit Roupe (R), Susan Quilleash (Lib): This was a difficult endorsement call. Exum and Roupe have both held this seat and served their constituents well, Exum in 2013-14, Roupe in 2015-16. She's honest, works hard and cares. He's honest, works hard and cares. We spent time with both of them, and it's clear both know the ropes in Denver, as well as the political traps and pitfalls to avoid.
We like how Exum talks about lessons learned from his time in office, and the pain of pulling 12,000-plus votes in 2012 and only half that number in barely losing to Roupe in the "off year" election of 2014. He might have taken that race too much for granted, but not this time, working door-to-door for weeks.
Exum's priorities sound the same, championing more local jobs, better education and quality of life in HD17. He's justifiably proud of pushing for such things as tax credits for child-care costs and "Breakfast After the Bell" at schools for kids from needy homes. Roupe has been anything but a typical party loyalist, voting her conscience and opposing some in the GOP with stances such as supporting the hospital provider fee issue last year.
One difference: Exum supports raising Colorado's minimum wage, vital to a depressed area like much of HD17, while Roupe opposes Amendment 70.
In the end, we believe Exum deserves a second shot by replicating what he did in the 2012 election and pushing for his issues. Vote EXUM
State House, District 18, Pete Lee (D) vs. Cameron Forth (R), Norman Dawson (Lib): The bar is high for this one. Lee, in his three terms, has distinguished himself as a collaborative, effective and persistent legislator, emphasizing multiple issues including restorative justice and making life easier for small businesses, as well as helping constituents navigate state bureaucracies. He has proven himself fully worthy of a fourth and final two-year term, especially against opponents who either just moved here (Forth) or haven't been as broadly involved.
Lee never has been overconfident in his previous three races, and he always has comported himself honorably, taking the high road. Dems have owned this district for years, and there's no indication that streak will end now. Forth, a newcomer to the region, hasn't connected beyond being a token GOP opponent. Vote LEE
CU Board of Regents, at large, Alice Madden (D) vs. Heidi Ganahl (R): Madden, an attorney and former state lawmaker, now directs the CU Law School's environmental law center. We like putting someone with legal expertise and close awareness of the university in this position. Ganahl, a Denver businesswoman, has not run previously for elected office. Vote MADDEN
State Board of Education, District 5, Jeffrey Walker (D) vs. Stephen Durham (R): Durham, a former state legislator and now lobbyist from Colorado Springs, was chosen two years ago to fill this vacant position. We haven't found enough to confirm Walker's a serious candidate. Though we don't align with Durham on many issues, we applaud his willingness to represent this area. Vote DURHAM
Fourth Judicial District Attorney, Dan May (R), unopposed: This will be May's third and final four-year term since being elected in 2008. It speaks to his performance and credibility that he has no opposition from either party. Vote MAY
County Commissioner, District 2, Mark Waller (R), unopposed: Having won the GOP primary, Waller was appointed and took office in July after Amy Lathen resigned to join Colorado Springs Forward. We endorsed Waller in his primary. Vote WALLER
State Senate District 12, Bob Gardner (R) vs. Manuel Quintel (Lib): Gardner served four terms in the House and now, after a break, is pursuing the Senate. We endorsed Gardner in the primary, in which he defeated state Rep. Gordon Klingenschmitt. Vote GARDNER
State House, District 14, Dan Nordberg (R) vs. Chris Walters (D): Nordberg has impressed many as an energetic young lawmaker, but Walters is more in line with our positions on the Affordable Care Act and legalization of marijuana. Vote WALTERS
State House, District 15, Dave Williams (R) vs. Sharon Huff (D): Williams has to be favored in this bright-red district that elected Klingenschmitt two years ago. We support Huff trying to become the first African-American woman from Colorado Springs to reach the Legislature. Vote HUFF
State House, District 16, Larry Liston (R) vs. John Hjersman (Lib): Liston, who served in the House from 2005-2012, knocked off far-right incumbent Janak Joshi in a contentious primary. Liston understands the legislative game and how to play it. No learning curve here. Vote LISTON
State House, District 19, Rep. Paul Lundeen (R) vs. Tom Reynolds (D): Lundeen, who served on the State Board of Education before winning this seat two years ago, deserves to continue. Reynolds hasn't shown he's been able to gain traction. Vote LUNDEEN
State House, District 20, Rep. Terri Carver (R), Julia Endicott (D), Judith Darcy (Lib): We agree with Endicott on basic issues, but Carver has done a commendable job in her first term on such issues as flood and fire mitigation (she represents the Waldo Canyon area) plus human trafficking. Vote CARVER
State House, District 21, Rep. Lois Landgraf (R), Michael Seebeck (Lib): Landgraf has impressed us with her support for issues involving people with disabilities. Vote LANDGRAF