The Outsider 

Dj vu: the inescapable feeling that you've read every one of the post-election stories in all of the dailies before.

Regardless of the election, every post-election story in the past 20 years has followed the same script, to wit:

Ponderous theorizing about the deeper meaning of it all. The state/city/county is moving to the right/left/center. Compared to their predecessors, the winning candidates are marginally qualified/functionally illiterate/make Saddam Hussein look good.

The election was cleaner than usual/dirtier than usual/ just what you'd expect.

Special interests contributed lots of money/massive amounts of money/uncountable fortunes to Republicans/Democrats/ Whoever was for sale.

Voter turnout was low/substantially lower/virtually nonexistent. Voters stayed away from the polls in droves because they didn't like the candidates/were turned off by negative campaigning/preferred to spend their day in topless bars.

This ritual breast-beating will go on for a few days and not resume until November, when the same stories will run again with a few minor changes.

Inevitably, the voters will be blamed for their slothful indifference, for allowing a few thousand loony zealots to hijack the democratic process, thereby putting democracy itself at risk, blah blah.

This just in: Folks, if you look at the results of last week's primary election, we no longer have a democracy. In a metropolitan area of close to half a million people, 19,554 total voters in the Republican primaries selected three county commissioners. That's the total number of voters in all three contested elections combined.

In other words, only four or five percent of the eligible citizens participated in the process which will almost certainly lead to the election of a voting majority on the five-member county commission -- an elected body which is arguably the most powerful government group in the Pikes Peak Region.

We can all wring our hands over this and yammer interminably about the reasons that we've come to such a pass, but the root of the problem is simple and obvious: one party has taken over the two-party system.

Because receiving the Republican nomination in El Paso County has proven to be equivalent to election, it's not surprising that activists and insiders control the whole shebang. It's a confusing and opaque process, with its caucuses and conventions, petitions and primaries. The system is tailor-made for folks with plenty of time on their hands, who relish the kind of nasty infighting and routine treachery that is usually confined to the faculties of liberal arts colleges.

Now if we junk the two-party system, and enact an amendment to our state constitution providing for the nonpartisan elections to state and county offices, then what would we have? We'd have the kind of open, transparent system that we have when we elect our Colorado Springs City Council members.

If you want to run for council, all you have to do is turn in a petition to the city clerk with the signatures of 150 registered voters and -- Bingo! -- you're on the ballot.

After that, it's up you. Republican or Democrat, Libertarian or Independent, you win or lose on your own merits. Not surprisingly, the City Council has historically been and continues to be, far more diverse, thoughtful and accomplished than any comparable locally elected body.

Over the last two decades, we've had some extraordinarily capable and thoughtful people who have chosen to serve on council (Bob Isaac, Mike Bird, Mary Lou Makepeace, Randy Purvis and Fred Sondermann come to mind). But none of them, in all probability, could ever have been nominated for a partisan office.

Come November, the ballot will be full of dreary Republican hacks, anointed by a closed and secretive process from which the public is essentially excluded.

Unfortunately for us, virtually every last one of 'em will be elected, and saunter up to Denver, and pretend to govern. By now, no one pays much attention; people interested in innovative government create citizen initiatives, which bypass the legislature altogether.

But next April, we'll have a real election -- a ballot featuring tough-minded community activists (Sallie Clark, maybe Promise Lee), right-wing crazies (at least one or two), successful business owners (Judy Noyes), a college professor (Jim Null), and a dozen or so others who haven't yet surfaced.

It'll be combative, not dirty; spontaneous, not scripted; with debates about growth, traffic, and public safety, not about guns, gays, and God. It'll be fun to watch, fun to participate in, and fun to write about.

-- johnhazlehurst@aol.com


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