Election endorsements, part II 

Leading off this ballot's close-to-home questions: Who should run our city?

After examining the "strong mayor" argument for much of the past year, for us it boils down to two issues:

1. Would a strong mayor for Colorado Springs be in the best long-term interests of current citizens?

2. Is the proposal from Nor'wood Development Group and its bipartisan group of supporters the right solution for Colorado Springs?

Colorado Springs ranks 46th among the nation's most populous cities, and we believe it is time to consider a directly elected, accountable chief executive, especially after having seen Mayors John Hickenlooper, Wellington Webb and Federico Peña succeed in Denver. We also endorse paying the mayor a decent wage, enabling many more people to consider the job. In addition, we like the election process proposed here: If no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote, the top two finishers meet in a runoff.

We do, however, have significant reservations regarding specific aspects of Question 300.

• Colorado Springs Utilities is the largest single city-owned entity, with 1,850 employees and a $1.1 billion budget in 2010. It makes no sense that the new strong mayor would not be a voting member of the Utilities board.

• We believe City Council would lose importance — and thus, quality of candidates — by sliding into a secondary role, with its members earning $121 a week while the mayor takes in nearly $100,000 annually. We wish Question 300 had raised pay for Councilors to about $30,000 a year, enabling more and better people to run and invest more time in their offices.

• While the strong mayor, if enacted, will be with us for decades to come, we worry about who would be our first strong mayor in April. No currently announced candidate has served in elected office or shown the vision and expertise to assume such a dominant role. We're asked simply to trust that if 300 passes, impeccable mayors-to-be would appear. About the only persons who fit our ideal are two entrepreneurs: former City Councilor/Vice Mayor Richard Skorman (1999-2006) and current County Commissioner/former City Councilor Sallie Clark (2001-03 on Council, commissioner since 2004). Skorman says even if the strong mayor is enacted, it's unlikely he'd run next April. Clark, a mayoral candidate in 1999 and 2003, has said that she doesn't see herself running again, though that wasn't in the context of a strong mayor. She has taken no position on this issue.

• We'd feel more comfortable if the strong mayor would go into effect in 2013 or 2015, giving city officials, candidates and citizens sufficient time to prepare. We'd also like to follow the lead of San Diego, which in 2005 enacted a strong-mayor system, but also mandated another citywide referendum in five years, enabling citizens to give a thumbs-down or thumbs-up — with needed tweaks. Last June, San Diego voters re-approved their strong-mayor government but also enacted several needed reforms to their structure.

• Finally, we are concerned that proponents have invested more than $400,000, almost all from local developers. Their misleading campaign messages imply Question 300 will solve Colorado Springs' troubles with the mayor running the city like a business. In fact, we fear that many developers see the next wave of unbridled growth — whenever that comes — as the only way out of our current hard times.

The opponents, led by former city managers George Fellows (1966-1985) and Lorne Kramer (2002-07) along with the League of Women Voters, have had minimal resources to effectively communicate their concerns.

Like many voters, we see the merits and demerits of Question 300. But we also know that after next April's municipal election, with seven of the nine seats in play, we'll see a "new majority" of beginners on City Council, as well as a new mayor (no matter what the form of government). Maybe little will change. But maybe these new individuals will have the new vision, direction and personalities that Colorado Springs needs. Also, perhaps the city has just been unlucky in recent years, burdened with a direction-less mayor and a short-term city manager.

While we support the strong-mayor concept, we don't see it as a now-or-never proposition. They say the devil is in the details. And when one reads the fine print of Question 300, there are just too many problems as it is written.

We would rather see it lose, with proponents bringing back a refined proposal in November 2011. And if the strong mayor passes, its backers should promise, and voters should demand, an opportunity to make needed revisions. Not in five years, but as soon as possible.

Vote NO on Question 300

El Paso County Commissioner, District 5

Peggy Littleton (R),Michael Merrifield (D)

For nearly four decades, the Board of County Commissioners has been a Republican-only club. But now, with Jim Bensberg term-limited, this seat has attracted the kind of race we should see more often: two caring, articulate candidates competing vigorously for votes.

Peggy Littleton, coming off the state Board of Education, pledges to maintain the status quo and has the usual Republican machinery behind her, while Mike Merrifield brings new ideas along with a high recognition factor from eight years in the state Legislature.

Littleton talks a good game, and is to be commended for going to BOCC meetings since deciding to run. Merrifield, of course, didn't have much free time while at the Capitol, but he already had a broad understanding of county and state government.

Several factors separate these candidates. Littleton is big on platitudes but not on details. She pledges to stop wasteful government spending, but when pressed, doesn't name a specific county program as an example. She has little interest in investing in public health services, which will cost little now but will save lives, and millions of dollars, in the long term. She also has spent too much time degrading Merrifield, rather than talking about her own accomplishments and positions. There are other questions about Littleton's business dealings while on the state board of education, which we cover in a story here.

Merrifield, meanwhile, has offered exciting ways to market the region as an outdoor adventure mecca and Baby Boomer retirement capital. He sees himself as bringing a different voice and outlook to county issues, but with the collaborative experience to forge solutions instead of constantly being on the wrong end of 4-1 votes. We applaud his specific ideas on how to combine city and county programs in the law enforcement and fire protection arenas, as well as parks and road maintenance. And instead of pushing for the lowest taxes possible, he would strive to offer voters choices of how to fund the services they want.

Sure, he would be feisty and sometimes controversial. In our view, that's exactly what the county needs.

Endorsement: Michael Merrifield

County Clerk and Recorder

Tom Mowle (D),Wayne Williams (R)

Of all the contested races on this ballot, none has proven more difficult for us than this one. Williams, after eight years as an El Paso County commissioner, sees himself as a logical replacement for the term-limited Bob Balink. Mowle, a clear-headed and fiscally conservative Democrat currently serving as the county's governor-appointed public trustee, feels his Air Force background and his lack of political baggage make him the better choice. Both sell themselves well, with effective arguments and answers to questions.

We like Williams' legal expertise, and we haven't forgotten his leadership in the crucial ballot issue that created the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority, which funded badly needed road projects. We also like Mowle's fresh outlook, his ideas for implementing social media (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) into the clerk and recorder's operation, and his focus on improving efficiency within the office's everyday functions, like handling vehicle registrations and document requests.

Williams, a past local Republican Party chair, can be very partisan. We wish he would follow Mowle's lead and pledge, if elected, to discontinue Balink's practice of actively engaging in partisan races while running the county elections. It creates the appearance of a conflict of interest, and in politics and public opinion, perception often is more important than reality.

Williams could have run for the state Legislature, where he likely would have earned our endorsement. And if there were no opposition here (as has often been the case), we certainly could support him. But in a decision between two viable candidates, our nod goes to the former Air Force officer who will get the job done.

Endorsement: Tom Mowle

Senate District 11

Owen Hill (R), John Morse (D), Doug Randall (Libertarian)

When Morse ran for the Senate in 2006, he surely couldn't have envisioned himself being the Senate majority leader before his first term was even over. But that's the reality now, and we don't know of anybody in the Legislature with a keener view of the state's treacherous budgetary outlook and how to deal with it, based on his CPA credentials, his years in law enforcement, his nonprofit experience running Silver Key Senior Services and his fast rise to prominence as a lawmaker. He has championed various causes, from public safety to developmental disabilities and domestic abuse services to benefits for surviving spouses of those killed in military action.

It's invaluable to have someone from our area in a leadership position, but especially when that person has such a passion for regular people and their needs, is willing to work on both sides of the aisle, and obviously understands the issues that matter.

It's a difficult time in the Legislature, but our county will be well-served by having Morse there as Senate majority leader.

Endorsement: John Morse

House District 15

Marcus Troy Cimino (D), Mark Waller (R)

Two summers ago, when Waller first ran for this seat, he toppled Douglas Bruce, the irascible anti-government activist, in the GOP primary. Waller still has enormous credit in our bank for pulling that off. In his first term, Waller has also impressed us with his responsiveness to constituent concerns as well as his interest in substantive legislation, particularly sentencing reform, a measure that will not only save money, but if properly implemented, can lead to significantly less recidivism.

While there are plenty of issues on which we disagree with Waller, it is refreshing to have a lawmaker from one of the county's most conservative districts who will listen to both sides. The bills he has sponsored, such as parole revocation for parolees who were sexually violent predators, show his legal expertise as being helpful to the state. His opponent has good ideas, but Waller has proven that he's worthy of continuing in office.

Endorsement: Mark Waller

House District 16

Larry Liston (R), Janet Tanner (D)

In a few other races here, with Colorado facing such uncertain times, we're using incumbency as an argument for staying in office. But we simply don't see Liston as a vital presence inside the Capitol, and we were particularly offended recently by him somehow convincing ONE Colorado, a gay-rights organization, to back him in this race despite his record of voting against LGBT causes.

Tanner has been far more open-minded while on the School District 11 board. Obviously serving in the Legislature is about far more than gay issues, but Tanner also held up admirably in the volatile D-11 environment during major changes, and we see her as being the kind of spirited presence we need more of in Denver.

Endorsement: Janet Tanner

House District 17

Dennis Apuan (D), Mark Barker (R)

In 2008, Dennis Apuan rose from a background of nonprofit work and political activism to win this seat in the area's most economically challenged district. Since then, he has done more than any other local legislator to connect with constituents, conducting dozens of forums and town halls, and bringing in expert guests from Denver. He has authored or co-sponsored bills to help military vets who want to become teachers; cracked down on payday lenders; created license plates for Iraq and Afghanistan vets; and sought to reduce racial profiling.

It's worth noting that the state Fraternal Order of Police endorsed Apuan over his opponent, a longtime law enforcement officer with no experience in public office. With another term, we see Apuan emerging among the Legislature's leaders.

Endorsement: Dennis Apuan

House District 18

Karen Cullen (R), Pete Lee (D)

No local candidate we can think of has worked harder for, and is more deserving of, a place in the Legislature than Pete Lee. For 35 years, Lee has served our community on many civic boards, including those of AspenPointe (formerly Pikes Peak Behavioral Health Group); Community Prep Charter School; Workout, Ltd.; and several School District 11 committees. Also, Lee has worked for large companies, including Holly Sugar Corp., has run his own law firm for more than two decades, and served as legal adviser to scores of small businesses — all useful experiences when top legislative issues include the economy and jobs.

Lee is a practical, effective problem-solver, an independent thinker with a record of accomplishment. While it is always difficult for a Democrat to win in El Paso County, Lee's extensive list of bipartisan endorsements reflects his ability to listen and work in a collaborative manner. He also has championed restorative justice for young people, and he wrote state legislation on restorative justice that passed.

We also endorse his ideas to use the Legislature's platform to push for more renewable-energy, green-economy and "Buy Colorado" initiatives. All of these factors make Lee the obvious choice, and we see him as being very capable of having an immediate and positive impact in Denver.

Endorsement: Pete Lee

House District 21

Jonathan Dooley (D), Bob Gardner (R)

We must admit that we had deep concerns about Bob Gardner when he first ran for the Legislature, based on his hardball tactics when he worked as a local Republican leader and consultant. But Gardner has shown himself to be a hardworking, intelligent, caring lawmaker. We disagree with Gardner on many issues, but at a time when the state's finances are so fragile, he has the experience and savvy to continue as an effective legislator and advocate for the region.

Endorsement: Bob Gardner

County Question 1A

Prohibit medical-marijuana dispensaries in unincorporated areas

We've heard many moving stories from people, including military veterans, who have lived in pain for years and discovered that medical marijuana can help. The measure that El Paso County commissioners have placed before voters will make life more difficult for these patients as well as their caregivers, plus cost the county tax revenue, and not help remedy any of the minor, but important, problems in the current law.

This measure, if enacted, will do away with medical marijuana centers, or dispensaries. This will force patients to use the caregiver alternative, which is largely unregulated, untaxed and totally insufficient to deal with the needs of legitimate MMJ users. We also feel the ballot measure should have grandfathered the already-approved centers in unincorporated areas.

Another primary concern is the wording of the question. If you support keeping dispensaries legal in unincorporated El Paso County, you must vote no. And if you want to ban dispensaries, you must vote yes. Please be sure to read the actual ballot question carefully before casting your vote.

Vote NO on 1A

County Question 1B

Longer term limits for district attorney

If we wanted to be sarcastic, we could call 1B, 1C and 1D the county's "bad three." We question why the commissioners chose to ask for extra terms in these offices, with no real public input or debate. In the case of 1B: Lots of attorneys are capable of serving as DA, so why give one 12 years?

Vote NO on 1B

County Question 1C

Longer term limits for county commissioners

It's puzzling that four of the five commissioners (all except Jim Bensberg) opted to push this now, with trust in local governments at a low ebb and with an already-cluttered ballot. We also totally disagree with making the allowed third term effective immediately, so that three commissioners could benefit from their own ballot issue.

Vote NO on 1C

County Question 1D

Longer term limits for county clerk, assessor, treasurer, surveyor

No, no, no and no. We've also been convinced that the surveyor, in this age of technology, shouldn't even be elected, but appointed. And as we've seen with the clerk and treasurer, some of these offices can lead to musical chairs, with the same politicians rotating to different high-paying jobs.

Vote NO on 1D

City Question 2B

Keeping excess TABOR revenue for roads and bridges

This amount of $600,000 might not seem large, but currently, every dollar helps. And the public doesn't have to be sold on the problem with filling cracks and potholes.

Vote YES on 2B

City Question 2C

Using some TOPS money for maintaining non-TOPS parks

We already saw this as a small Band-Aid that didn't come close to fixing the problem. Now we learn that the proposed city budget for 2011 would have money to maintain all parks again. Some still will push for this, but TOPS is one of our few long-term, sustainably funded, taxpayer-approved programs. It should remain intact.

Vote NO on 2C

Cheat sheet

2010 Indy endorsements

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