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Where da ladies at? 

City Sage

'So what can we expect this year," I asked a wise woman with long experience in local politics. "Will it be Steve Bach v. Keith King, Round 2?"

She sighed and made a face.

"We're in a time of generational change," she said. "The people who are now in power are passing from the scene. I think that there's a new generation of leaders coming up who don't care about all the old fights, and have very different leadership styles — you'll see."

I'm not so sure. While cleaning out the basement last Sunday, I ran across a trove of ancient newspapers, including the Oct. 19, 2000, Independent. Even then, the fogey-fication of local government was an issue. Here's an excerpt.

"Unhappily, our current crop of geezers seems to have thrown away their mirrors, seeing themselves as forever young, forever vigorous and forever in office. If we apply the Peggy Sue test, which simply states that anybody who remembers hearing that great Buddy Holly song when it was first released ought to immediately retire, about half of our current officeholders would be on their way to Sun City."

Come November, former City Councilmember and current state Sen. Bernie Herpin will likely face former state Rep. Mike Merrifield in the race for Senate District 11.

The recently recalled John Morse won the seat in 2006, when he trounced Republican incumbent Ed Jones by 6,000 votes. Four years later, he barely prevailed, defeating Owen Hill by a mere 320 votes.

Herpin is 70, Merrifield 67. At a combined age of 137, they're almost as old as the city they hope to represent.

Merrifield ran for the County Commission in 2010, losing to Peggy Littleton. In 2011, he lost a City Council race to Lisa Czelatdko. In 2013, Herpin's bid for another Council term was thwarted by Jill Gaebler.

See a pattern here? If you were a partisan strategist, wouldn't you look for an energetic woman in her 30s or 40s to oppose the other party's geezer? Apparently not, according to Christy Le Lait, the executive director of the El Paso County Democratic Party.

"Michael Merrifield is our candidate," she emphasized.

Where are the women?

"Maybe it's endemic of Colorado Springs in that young people have given up and moved on," she said sourly.

Jill Gaebler was surprised by Le Lait's remarks.

"I had thought that the Republicans don't have a very deep bench on the feminine side," she said, "but I thought that the Dems must have lots of young people."

Disaffection among young professionals may be partially responsible for the dearth of female Democratic candidates, but the hierarchies of politics are almost certainly in play, too. Of the approximately 20 El Paso County elected offices that pay a living wage and are accessible to those without special qualifications, only three can reasonably be contested by Democrats: House Districts 17 and 18 and Senate District 11. Want to run for any of them? Wait your turn!

No Democratic woman has been elected to partisan office in El Paso County since 1991, when Daphne Greenwood claimed the House District 18 seat. By contrast, women have played important roles in nonpartisan offices.

Jan Martin, Mary Lou Makepeace, Margaret Radford, Aimee Cox, Judy Noyes, Sallie Clark, Marcy Morrison, Brandy Williams and Gaebler have all served in nonpartisan elected office during the last two decades.

The El Paso County legislative delegation includes 11 men and two women. Of the 13, only Amy Stephens has been willing to oppose the ideologues of her party by successfully sponsoring a major bipartisan bill — in her case, the one that created the Colorado health exchange (Connect for Health Colorado).

Similarly, men outnumber women by 6 to 3 on our lawsuit-threatening City Council, while women hold a 3-to-2 edge on the highly functional County Commission.

Granted, we've had our share of elected women who were just as combative and dysfunctional as any guy (Betty Beedy and Cheryl Gillaspie come to mind) but it'd be fun to see a gender-shifted City Council.

"Just put Jan Martin, Jill Gaebler, and [Mayoral Chief of Staff] Laura Neumann in a room together for an hour," said the wise woman. "They'd work it out."

hazlehurst@csindy.com

  • 'The people who are now in power are passing from the scene.’

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