Time for voters to step up, take responsibility and be smart 

2015 coordinated election endorsements

click to enlarge Decision time: Do you want to fix streets? - FILE PHOTO
  • File Photo
  • Decision time: Do you want to fix streets?

Each November brings a new election, though the odd-numbered years don't spark as much interest and excitement.

After all, this 2015 ballot includes no races for president, Congress, governor, state legislators or county commissioners.

Colorado concurs, to the point of having different titles for its elections: In even-numbered years, it's a general election; in odd, it's a coordinated election.

Every registered active voter in El Paso County — nearly 340,000 in all — should receive mail ballots this week. But two years ago, with ballots mailed to all voters, turnout for the coordinated election was only about 151,000 (or 42 percent), but still better than 116,935 in 2011 and the paltry 60,446 of 2007.

Clearly, the strongest appeal to local voters will be the main Colorado Springs ballot question, 2C, asking for a sales tax bump of 0.62 of a cent (or 62 cents per $100 in purchases) to address the city's pothole problem.

The Independent's approach to endorsements this election is simple. We see three focal points for many reader/voters: ballot issues, local and statewide; District 11, with four board seats up for grabs and strange antics in play; and Manitou Springs, electing a new mayor plus four of seven seats on its Council and deciding vital city and School District 14 ballot measures.

Yes, there are other issues of localized interest in area school and fire districts. But because we don't report on those regularly, we don't think it's smart to step in now without the expertise.

We tackle ballot issues and District 11 for this installment, followed next week (Oct. 21) by Manitou Springs and D-14, where the voters have far more to consider.

Key ballot issues

Colorado Springs 2C: No ballot measure in the region comes close to the significance — and pure dollars — of 2C. The measure asks voters to approve a sales tax increase of less than 1 percent (projected to total $50 million annually for five years, renewable thereafter) to begin catching up with resurfacing and upgrading neglected roads and bridges.

This was the main plank of Mayor John Suthers' campaign this spring, when he emphasized crumbling infrastructure as the city's most pressing issue. Suthers was elected with almost 68 percent of the runoff vote, a mandate to pursue his top priorities. He never skirted the idea that a tax increase was the best way to make a dent in citywide problems — and he pushed 2C onto this ballot shortly after taking office.

There is some opposition from the anti-tax crowd, which is trying to ignite the masses. Despite money and attention from the Koch brothers and their notorious Americans for Prosperity PAC, 2C's backers have raised far more money and polling indicates it has broad support.

That's because it's hard to criticize the proposal. All money must go toward fixing roads and bridges, meaning zero for new hires. And it means no bonding debt for the city.

We shouldn't even be having this conversation, but Colorado Springs created the problem by gutting its municipal tax structure in recent decades. 2C begins to pay the price for the city neglecting its infrastructure. The good news is that we should see immediate results, starting in 2016.

But only if 2C passes. Supporters can't afford to take anything for granted. Vote YES.

Colorado Springs 2D: This measure would put $2.1 million in excess tax collections into badly needed maintenance and repairs on high-priority multi-use asphalt trails across the city. The alternative, thanks to TABOR, would be a mere $11 refund to residents. The work would take place on the Homestead Trail, Palmer Mesa Trail, Pikes Peak Greenway, Rock Island Trail, Sand Creek Trail, Shooks Run Trail, Sinton Trail and Skyline Trail.

This question has the support of Mayor Suthers as well as business groups, the Catamount Institute and the Trails and Open Space Coalition. No hesitation. Vote YES.

State Question BB: The only measure voters across Colorado will decide together this election is Question BB, which would allow the state to keep $40 million in recreational marijuana tax revenue (the amount of collected taxes that exceed first-year projections). Money would go to poor and rural school districts for construction and other needs, as set forth in the initial vote legalizing recreational marijuana. This is a no-brainer, but voter approval is required by law. Otherwise, the excess amount collected goes back to marijuana wholesalers and retail purchasers. Vote YES.

School District 11

With almost 28,000 students, D-11 remains one of the state's largest school districts. But it has been plagued in recent years by shifting population trends, with more local families moving into suburban areas and schools.

Fifty-nine percent of D-11 students are now eligible for free or reduced-price lunch (16,467 out of 27,676 enrolled as of April) based on household income. The only local urban district with a higher percentage is Harrison D-2 with 72 percent. (Academy District 20 stands at 12.75 percent, Lewis-Palmer District 38 at only 8.75 percent.)

Despite repeated state funding cuts, D-11 has implemented many creative tactics to battle the problem of having so many students below the poverty line. But the tactics leading into this election have shown that some residents don't understand the challenges that face low-income districts.

About two months ago, El Paso County Republican Chair Jeff Hays sent an email message to the party faithful:

"Upcoming school board elections provide outstanding opportunities to positively influence our county's youth, contribute to your local community's success, and gain valuable experience in campaigns and governance. In particular, districts such as Colorado Springs School District 11 need strong, thoughtful, and bold conservative leadership.

"If you are interested in running for an open position in your school district in this November's election, we want to hear from you. Let's help elect people who believe that educational standards should emanate from their own communities instead of from Washington."

The result is a group of three conservatives labeling themselves as the "reform team" and running as a group. They haven't used the word "Republicans" in their rhetoric, but their backgrounds and motives indicate their determination to push for major disruptive changes in D-11. We won't go into the details, but none of the three — Dan Ajamian, Karla Heard-Price and Jeff Kemp — have served on any D-11 committees, a common path to the board. Their involvements have been only with charter schools, yet they boast endorsements from Republicans, and it's clear they'll be armed with an agenda.

We were also insulted to see the Gazette's repulsive editorial openly embracing those three, despite the daily paper not identifying any D-11 problem other than low scores on standardized tests, actually a direct correlation to the high poverty level.

So much for nonpartisan school elections, as required by law. This should have caused an uproar — but it's not too late.

This doesn't pass the sniff test for us, so much so that we call them the "deform team," repeating a strategy from 2003 (then, and now, largely funded by developer Steve Schuck) that initially worked until those "deformers" were recalled. We also smell a Koch-AFP connection,

Thankfully, there are alternatives in the field of seven seeking four at-large seats.

Nora Brown and Elaine Naleski, elected in 2011, have served admirably through their first terms, in no small part because both had deep history in D-11, Brown as a parent and volunteer, Naleski as the district's spokesperson. They fully deserve to continue serving and provide leadership another four years.

We're also very impressed with Martin Herrera, a 19-year Colorado Springs police officer and Air Force reservist who grew up in D-11 and has been heavily involved in the Latino community, as well as being a graduate of Leadership Pikes Peak.

That leaves Theresa Null, whose husband Bob is term-limited after serving the past eight years on the D-11 board. Her awareness and involvement make her worthy.

Those four have their heads, and hearts, in the right place.

Vote for: Nora Brown, Elaine Naleski, Martin Herrera, Theresa Null.

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