Taking back democracy

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote, apropos of City Council, that we, as citizens of a democratic country, have the power to toss out incumbents and elect whomever we please.

It is -- or should be -- a simple, transparent and fair process. In politics, and perhaps in the life of the nation itself, nothing is more important. Absent elections, we have no way of protecting our most basic rights.

Fair, open and honest elections both guarantee and refresh our democracy, and they breathe new life into these words of the founders: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

During the springtime City Council elections, the process is eminently fair, open and transparent. Anyone can run, and every voter may cast a ballot. We can complain that voter turnout is low or that pro-business candidates have an unfair fund-raising advantage, but these are minor quibbles. It's like baseball -- everyone plays by the same rules, even the Yankees. And everyone has a shot -- even the Red Sox.

That's because council races are nonpartisan, and our locally overpowering Republicans can neither designate candidates nor control the ones who actually get elected.

But let's compare council elections with next Tuesday's primaries. A tiny minority of voters are about to select three county commissioners, a district attorney, and, in District 17, a state representative. Most of us can't or won't vote in these so-called elections, which are as elitist and as rigged as those in a third-world dictatorship.

That's because they're not really elections; they're Republican primaries, exclusionary in both fact and law. If you're a Democrat, get back! And if you're unaffiliated, you can declare yourself Republican on Aug. 10 and vote, but few bother to do so.

You could argue that the two-party system works fine -- witness the lively Pete Coors-Bob Schaffer and Mike Miles-Ken Salazar contests. And for statewide races, it may well work. But here in Colorado Springs, where the GOP has ruled for over a century, it doesn't work at all. A clear majority of the electorate -- all the Democrats and most of the independents -- has been effectively disenfranchised. Republicans designate the candidates and then decide upon the winner.

This isn't the American democracy we learned about in school. This isn't the democracy that 19-, 20- and 21-year-olds are fighting and dying to defend in a distant, broken land. This is a simple disgrace, a vicious, inbred system not unlike that of the segregated South 50 years ago.

This isn't about political advantage, or liberal versus conservative, or electing another Democrat or two. This is about fairness.

So here's how to fix it. Let's start now on an initiated amendment to the Colorado Constitution, mandating nonpartisan elections. Just as candidates for City Council qualify for the ballot by collecting a statutorily mandated number of signatures, so too would candidates for county commissioner, for district attorney, and for the Legislature. Once on the ballot, they'd be listed by name only -- no party affiliation.

Successful candidates would run on their own merits, not on their label. We'd see campaigns targeted not at the extreme right of the Republican Party, but at all likely voters. And once elected, we'd have public servants who'd be responsible and, hopefully, responsive to all of us. Imagine -- no more partisan sniping and squabbling in Denver, no more blame games.

It's interesting to contrast our nonpartisan City Council with, say, the proudly Republican county commissioners. Council's far from perfect, but it's light-years ahead of the Commission. I can't imagine Council, against the expressed will of the voters, borrowing $100 million to build a jail and a courthouse. I can't imagine city government suffering from the continual scandals that have plagued the county. And I can't imagine thoughtful people like Richard Skorman, Scott Hente, Randy Purvis or Jerry Heimlicher ever participating in the shenanigans that plague the county government.

If we could create and pass such an amendment (which, believe me, would be as fiercely opposed by power Dems in Denver as by power GOPsters here in the Springs), we'd all win. We'd get our democracy back; we'd probably elect a whole bunch of moderates to the Legislature and put an end to the Legislature's ideological wars.

Imagine: a bunch of quiet, practical adults just taking care of business at the Capitol. No vitriolic attacks, no grandstanding legislation, no legislative paralysis. So tedious, so boring, so dark suit/pantyhose/sensible shoes, so, like, grown up.

So inspirational.

-- johnhazlehurst@earthlink.net


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