Priority races

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Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 7, is fast approaching. What follows are the Independent's endorsements for selected offices and local initiatives. Last week, we made our picks for statewide initiatives; if you missed that issue, visit csindy.com. You also can find all our recommendations to date in the box at the end of this package.

Colorado's 5th District, U.S. Congress: Jay Fawcett (D)

By far, the most qualified person to represent the citizens in the 5th Congressional District is Jay Fawcett, a retired Air Force colonel, Air Force Academy graduate and former AFA professor who earned a Bronze Star in Desert Storm.

Even most local Republicans agree that Fawcett's opponent, state Sen. Doug Lamborn, has run a disappointing campaign. After winning a nasty six-man primary race, Lamborn has ducked numerous candidate forums, including those sponsored by local veterans' groups, women's organizations and African-American and Latino groups. In doing so, Lamborn has sent a clear message that he has little interest in serving all of the 700,000 citizens living in the 5th CD.

Lamborn is even too extreme for many in his own party. Look at his endorsers: Douglas Bruce, the Club for Growth, the Minutemen, the Christian Coalition, Focus on the Family Action and every gun owners' rights organization on the planet. Colorado Springs already has a reputation problem. We need Doug Lamborn representing us in Washington like we need a hole in the head.

Fawcett is a pragmatic moderate whose passion is the nuts and bolts of governing that reflect the common-sense values of our community.

His call to concentrate on border protection to help prevent terrorism on U.S. soil can hardly be considered extreme. His desire to fight for the rights of veterans, including reversing devastating cuts to their benefits, can hardly be considered liberal. Ditto for Fawcett's stance on finding solutions to spiraling health care costs, such as encouraging the federal government to allow states to develop their own innovative programs.

Fawcett also supports legislation that will allow government agencies to jointly purchase prescription drugs in bulk. This simple solution will enable millions of U.S. citizens to purchase needed medicines at the same lower prices Canadians pay.

.Lamborn's self-proclaimed major claim to fame is that he has introduced more anti-abortion bills than any legislator in Colorado. Such rhetoric sounds catchy, but the reality is, none of his bills have passed.

What will happen if Fawcett wins?

Around the nation, 62 Iraq war veterans are running for Congress this November. If, as expected, at least two dozen of these men and women get elected, there will almost certainly be a new influential freshman congressional caucus led by people who not only understand and cherish our Constitution, but also understand the power and the danger of war.

These veterans realize that recent presidents have sought to significantly overreach their constitutional powers, and that it is the explicit role of Congress to push back to ensure that presidential authority is not abused. America needs a Congress with a backbone to restore our historic system of checks and balances.

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If elected, Fawcett likely will land a seat on the influential Armed Services Committee, and also will head a bipartisan Iraq war veterans caucus. He will be perfectly positioned to represent the needs of our district as well as the needs of our nation.

Fawcett will be beholden to moderate Republican voters, conservative on fiscal issues but tolerant and compassionate socially. This will ensure that Fawcett will support bipartisan, pragmatic solutions while in office.

If Fawcett wins, our city's reputation as an intolerant, difficult place for non-fundamentalists to live will be altered, making it much more likely that the types of companies we seek to bring here think Southwest Airlines will do so. And local Republicans will be educated that if they want to win in November, they no longer can nominate extremist candidates.

Can Fawcett win?

Earlier this year political pundits, including those at this paper, wrote off Fawcett's chances to win the 5th Congressional District, with its 2-to-1 Republican-to-Democrat voter registration ratio. But due to Lamborn's missteps and Fawcett's growing popularity among veterans, as well as independents and moderates, this race is very much in play.

Moderate Republicans are the key to this contest. Will one-quarter of the registered Republicans join with such mainstream GOP stalwarts as former City Councilor Mary Ellen McNally, current Councilor Scott Hente and past chairman of the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce Marvin Strait in supporting Jay Fawcett?

Jay Fawcett is a smart, caring, hard-working, decent family man. He deserves your vote, plus all the support you can give him.

Governor: Bill Ritter (D)

The differences in leadership style between Bill Ritter and his opponent, Bob Beauprez, have grown more distinct by the day. It is clear that Ritter has emerged as the sophisticated and savvy leader that Colorado deserves.

When Ritter, a former Denver district attorney who is staunchly pro-life, first announced his candidacy, few gave him a chance of winning. But the more the people of Colorado saw how hard Ritter worked to understand our state's varied constituencies whether they live in the Pikes Peak region, in Metro Denver, the Western Slope or the more rural areas of the state the more people came to realize that this former prosecutor truly listens and learns from what he has heard.

As a result, Ritter now speaks passionately and eloquently on how his administration would address myriad complex issues, including rising health care costs, regional economic development and developing Colorado's enormous solar energy potential.

By contrast, Beauprez's campaign has lurched from one crisis to the next.

Numerous flip-flops during this campaign reveal a man directed by polls and focus groups, rather than core principles. Beauprez's nickname, "Both Ways Bob," has stuck because it fits. For example, he enraged his hard-right constituency when he only lukewarmly opposed last year's Referendums C and D while at the same time disappointing business and civic leaders who supported the measures as crucial to Colorado's economy.

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This year, Beauprez again disappointed business and civic leaders when he proudly became the very first person to sign a petition to reverse much of last year's voter-approved Referendum C. Luckily, this effort to dismantle the will of the people did not make this year's ballot.

Beauprez also signed onto, and then off of, the controversial Amendment 38 proposal to expand petition rights to all levels of government, which critics including the Independent believe would cripple local governments. Within a day of his announcement of Mesa County Commissioner Janet Rowland as his running mate, Beauprez was forced to explain his support for a woman who compared homosexuality to bestiality.

Colorado needs a sensible, focused, visionary and pragmatic leader. Bill Ritter has proven he's the far better choice.

Senate District 11: John Morse (D)

John Morse, the longtime Colorado Springs police officer, former Fountain police chief and past executive director of Silver Key Senior Services, is compassionate, articulate and approachable. His expertise extends well beyond public safety and senior care.

His platform includes working to provide quality, affordable health care and access to affordable prescription drugs, as well as working to tamp down skyrocketing college tuition rates. He knows firsthand that effective public safety must incorporate community-based crime fighting. He is committed to finding creative solutions to provide quality care to seniors.

As importantly, Morse's approach to bipartisan problem solving stands in stark contrast to that of his opponent, Ed Jones. When Jones was elected to the state Senate four years ago, he squeaked in, winning by just 621 votes. But far from taking to heart the message to represent all his constituents in this diverse district, which encompasses much of central, south and western Colorado Springs, Jones has consistently proven to be the lackey of big-money developers, school voucher proponents and drug company interests.

Jones sponsored bills to abolish affirmative action, voted against establishing a commission for health care reform and opposed purchase pools for prescription drugs. He even opposed setting up a system to notify parents when their children's immunizations come due, as well as efforts to increase poor children's access to preschool.

Such representation has done little to improve either the district or the state of Colorado. Voters of District 11 would be well served to elect Morse their articulate and energetic senator.

House District 17: Mark Cloer (R)

For six years, Republican Rep. Mark Cloer has fairly represented the racially and economically diverse district that includes much of southern Colorado Springs. Long a champion of public schools, Cloer has also focused much of his legislative work not on ideological issues, but instead on the nuts-and-bolts issues that help our government better serve the needs of citizens.

To give just a few examples:

Cloer successfully sponsored a bill to prohibit telemarketing cell phone solicitation.

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His medication recycling legislation prevents unused drugs from being flushed down the toilet, and instead diverts the perfectly good medicine toward Medicaid programs, saving more than $1 million a year.

His prescription monitoring program adds checks and balances to prevent "doctor shopping," helping to prevent drug abuse and illicit dealing of prescription medicine.

He has worked to inject private money into nursing education programs at UCCS, Pikes Peak Community College and other schools around the state. These funds will help increase the number of Colorado's skilled nurses.

Christine Varney, Cloer's opponent, should be applauded for her focus on the need to give parents more options for good quality pre-school and kindergarten programs. But Cloer's deserves re-election for his common-sense service to our community.

House District 18: Michael Merrifield (D)

Last year, incumbent Michael Merrifield, the sole Democrat holding an elected partisan office in El Paso County, found himself the only member of the county's 13-member legislative delegation to support Referendums C and D which the region's civic and business leaders rightly recognized was crucial to the health of the community and our state.

The energetic Merrifield, a retired schoolteacher and former small business owner, is now the influential chair of the House Education Committee. He has proven to be a tireless champion of public education and proposals that benefit children. In addition, Merrifield does his homework and provides excellent service to his constituents in the west side, central Colorado Springs and Manitou Springs areas.

Merrifield, a past target of nasty personal attacks, has also been an ardent opponent of dirty politics, and was a primary sponsor of a successful bill to criminalize false political advertisements.

If, as expected, Democrats retain control of both branches of the Legislature and capture the governor's office, Merrifield's role as the senior Democrat from El Paso County will be critical to ensuring that the entire Pikes Peak region gets its fair share of transportation, education, health care, arts and other state funds.

Not to mince words, we are disappointed that Merrifield has so far ducked debating his opponent, Kyle Fisk, the associate pastor of the 200-member Boulder Street Church, an evangelical church affiliated with New Life Church. Merrifield has agreed to debate only if Sen. Ed Jones, the Senate Republican seeking re-election in the district that overlaps most of Merrifield's House district, will respond to requests to debate his challenger, Democrat John Morse.

Granted, we, too, are disheartened that almost all El Paso Republican incumbents, including Jones, have so far refused debate their opponents. But no matter what anyone else does, Merrifield should give the citizens of his district an opportunity to directly compare candidates.

We are greatly concerned about Fisk's positions on numerous important issues. For example, he opposes giving scientists the access to the stem cells needed for life-saving research; he would not enable women who have been raped or are the victims of incest to legally terminate their pregnancies; and his libertarian, Gazette-like stances on how to alter our schools and health care system would only increase the disparity between wealthy and low-income Coloradans.

Issue 3B: Manitou Springs School District 14 tax increase

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This measure will raise about $250,000 annually, with funds earmarked to attract and retain teachers as well as provide upkeep on aging buildings. Currently, D-14's $28,500 base salary for new teachers is far below the regional average. In order for this district to continue to attract great teachers, higher salaries are needed. In addition, four schools need roof maintenance and if repairs are not made now, they will be far more costly later.

District 14 schools are jewels administrators and educators are responsive to both parents and students. In addition to the 3 Rs, district schools focus on art, athletics, drama, music and civic engagement, as well as making sure that both kids and their parents have fun. Due to convoluted property tax laws, mill levy rates are set to raise only a certain amount of funds. As a result of ongoing regular inflation as well as increased commercial and residential building in the district, this means that every year, property taxes decline. If enacted, this measure will increase taxes, but to a lower level than they were in 2002.

Downtown Development Authority: A tax by downtown, for downtown

This November, the 4,000 owners of and tenants in commercial and residential property in downtown Colorado Springs can vote via a special mail-in ballot to create a new Downtown Development Authority. The DDA will raise money through an additional tax levy of up to 5 mills (50 cents on every $1,000 valuation) on property within the DDA boundaries. The DDA zone will also incorporate Tax Increment Financing (TIF), a plan in which property owners pay a base tax to the city's coffers, while additional tax revenue created through growth is invested into downtown.

Between 2007 and 2037, the DDA will generate a lot of money, most likely somewhere between $75 million and $125 million. These funds will be used to directly subsidize:

the creation of new or refurbished downtown housing;

employers that locate downtown;

and grocery stores, drugstores and other retailers, as well as arts and cultural organizations that open downtown locations.

DDAs aren't new; state law permits their use, and Fort Collins has had a successful DDA since 1981.

The DDA district makes an imperfect cross shape around the core of the city; it's bordered by Cache la Poudre Street to the north, Fountain Boulevard to the south, Interstate 25 to the west and El Paso Street to the east.

The Independent has a dog in the fight, as our building is inside the DDA. We guesstimate that over the next 30 years, our taxes will increase by between $500 and $2,000 per year.

It is predicted that three decades from now, more than a million people will live in the Pikes Peak area. If DDA funds are invested wisely, our downtown will become amazingly vibrant, with thousands more people living, working, shopping and socializing downtown. Just like LoDo catalyzed Denver, the DDA will invigorate our downtown.

If we lack the will to act, Colorado Springs could evolve into one of the many sprawling American cities without true centers.

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The best aspect of the DDA is that it is a self-financing tool, paid for by the very people who stand to financially benefit if our downtown flourishes. It deserves our support.

Issue 2A: Cable competition from Falcon Broadband

City Council members put forth this ballot measure, which will grant Falcon Broadband a 10-year franchise to offer city residents cable TV services from 2007 until 2017. If endorsed by voters, the company that now serves about 5,000 customers, mostly in the Falcon area 15 miles east of Colorado Springs, could offer cable hookups (as well as phone and fast Internet connections) through El Paso County.

Comcast, which earlier this year took over the local cable monopoly from bankrupt Adelphia, argues that this measure is unfair, because, by law, it must offer service to all parts of Colorado Springs, while Falcon Broadband will be under no such constraints. Thus Falcon Broadband could cherry-pick the places they serve, and not offer service to many areas of the city.

How can citizens be fair to our historic monopoly cable provider that has invested tens of millions of dollars setting up a citywide network, while also giving consumers the benefits of a competitive marketplace? We think the Colorado Springs City Council did the right thing by requiring Falcon Broadband to pay a slightly higher annual fee for every customer it signs. This $4 additional access fee will help ensure a more competitive playing field. In addition, this council should pass a non-binding resolution that a decade from now, a future council should require Falcon Broadband to offer all its services citywide.

With this measure, we will have a more competitive cable marketplace, with customers receiving better services at lower prices.

Election info to know

Tuesday, Oct. 10, was the last day to register to vote in the Nov. 7 general election. Absentee ballots can be requested in person at:

Clerk & Recorder's office, 200 S. Cascade Ave.

Chapel Hills office, at the north side of the Chapel Hills Mall

Powers office, 5650 Industrial Place, at the southeast corner of Powers Boulevard and Airport Road

People can also request an absentee ballot by calling 575-VOTE (8683) or visiting car.elpasoco.com/election. All requests for absentee ballots must be received by Oct. 31. All absentee ballots must be returned to the election office either by mail or in person by 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 7. Early voting locations will be open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, from Oct. 23 to Nov. 3. In addition to the three offices listed above, people can also cast early votes at the following locations:

Monument Hill Church: 18725 Monument Hill Road

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Fountain City Hall: 116 S. Main St.

Falcon Elementary School: 12050 Falcon Hwy.

Additional information about elections can be found on the Clerk & Recorder's Web site at car.elpasoco.com.

State initiatives

Amendment 38: Expanding petitioners' rights NO

Amendment 39: A mandatory school spending measure NO

Amendment 40: Establishing judicial term limits NO

Amendment 41: Banning lobbyists' gifts YES

Amendment 42: Increasing the minimum wage YES

Amendment 43: One-man, one-woman marriage NO

Amendment 44: Limited legalization for marijuana possession YES

Referendum E: Tax break for home-owning veterans NO

Referendum F: A recall petition fix NO

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Referendum G: Deleting obsolete constitutional provisions YES

Referendum H: Limiting tax breaks for businesses hiring undocumented workers NO OPINION

Referendum I: Domestic partnership benefits YES

Referendum J: Another 65 percent school solution NO

Referendum K: Suing the feds over immigration NO

Priority races

5th CD: Jay Fawcett (D)

Governor: Bill Ritter (D)

Senate District 11: John Morse (D)

House District 17: Mark Cloer (R)

House District 18: Michael Merrifield (D)

Local initiatives

Downtown Development Authority YES

Issue 2A: Cable competition from Falcon Broadband YES

Issue 3B: School District 14 Tax Increase YES


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