Ballot Cheat Sheet

The Telegraph’s annual nuts and bolts voter’s guide
by Missy Votel

With months of campaigning, robocalls, mail, conventions and debates behind us, the end to the 2012 election season seems so close – yet so far. Sure, at this point, showing up Nov. 6 (or earlier) and checking the appropriate box may seem easy. But what to make of those lower-profile, not-so-cut-and-dry, less presidential choices staring you in the face?

Sometimes reading the fine print can be a bit daunting in the pressure cooker of the voting booth. But before you throw up your hands in defeat or take a wild guess, have a gander at the Telegraph’s annual voting guide. Here, we’ll try to cut down the issues most pertinent to our readers into bite-sized, digestible pieces so you can make an informed decision.

It sure beats eenie, meenie, miny, moe, and when you’re done, you can bask in that warm, fuzzy “I Voted” glow and even hum a few bars of “Proud to be an American.”

Local Issues/Elections
- LPEA Franchise Agreement
This is the second time this issue will be put to Durango voters. The first one, last April, was narrowly defeated amid concerns that not all city residents (only property owners) could vote on the franchise and that the fee was actually a tax on a tax.

In a nutshell, the 20-year franchise agreement allows La Plata Electric Association to “rent” city right of way in order to perform maintenance and upkeep on its facilities. In return, a 4.67 percent tax is levied on customers’ electric bill. For an average household, that comes out to about 12 cents a day, or around $3.50 a month. This money goes into the city’s General Fund to pay for services such as street maintenance, the Rec Center, library, parks and community service agencies.

The previous franchise agreement expired last year, and without a new one in place, the city is facing a potential shortfall of $1 million annually.

Pros: City leaders went back to the drawing board to include all city voters in the election this time around. The fee will  be tied to actual electric usage vs. the bill’s bottom line, which will in theory encourage energy conservation and not tax people on something they already pay a city sales tax on.

Franchise fees are common in municipalities throughout the country and would offset roughly a quarter of maintenance costs on City streets, alleys and sidewalks.

The agreement also requires LPEA to report annually to the city on energy efficiency and renewable policies, better ensuring a continued discussion on how to green the grid.

Cons: Opponents maintain that the fee is still a double tax that will hurt the poor disproportionately more. They also say the city could negotiate rights of way without such a large franchise fee.

Telegraph’s 2 cents: The truth is, without the fee, the city will still be staring a $1 million shortfall in the face, and that money will have to be cut from somewhere. Given the $5 million shortfall and cuts of more than 37 city jobs due to the recession, the fee is a relatively painless way to keep some of the services we depend on,  and expect, in place.

Plus, if your beef is with the way LPEA operates, don’t let city services suffer. Express your dissatisfaction to the LPEA Board and vote in LPEA elections.

La Plata County Board of Commissioners
-District 2: Kellie Hotter (incumbent) vs. Gwen Lachelt
Republican Kellie Hotter and Democrat challenger Gwen Lachelt are battling it out for the county’s District 2 seat, which covers the smallest yet most densely populated central part of the county, including the City of Durango.

Hotter, a former small business owner, is running on a platform of business-friendly, fiscally responsible, and streamlined, “fair” land-use policies. If re-elected, she will push for a natural-gas vehicle fleet for the county and will continue working to promote an initiative called REAL Colorado, (“Responsive, Efficient, Accountable and Local”) whose objective is a strategic reform of state and local governments.

Lachelt is a lawyer and founder of the Earthworks’ Oil and Gas Accountability Project, which protects landowners rights and the environment from impacts of gas drilling. She has lived in Durango for 31 years and has been involved in BearSmart, San Juan Citizens Alliance and is a Fort Lewis College graduate.

If elected, she promises to work to balance landowner rights and environment protection with energy development. She also would like to see La Plata County become a leader in clean energy and sustainable agriculture.

Telegraph’s 2 cents: The whole Comp Plan/Planning Commission/U.N. Agenda 21 debacle of 2011 still leaves a bad taste in our mouths. And if sheer volume of letters is any indication, Gwen Lachelt is superbly qualified for the job of picking up the pieces of the county’s broken planning process and moving forward.

-District 3: Harry Baxstrom vs. Julie Westendorff
In this district, which makes up all of eastern La Plata County, including Ignacio and Bayfield, Republican Harry Baxstrom and Democrat Julie Westendorff are duking it out for the seat soon to be vacated by Wally White, who is term limited.

Baxstrom is a veterinarian who supports a fair, predictable and timely land-use code “we all can live with” and creating a business-friendly climate.
Westendorff, a real estate agent ,  lawyer and former judge, also advocates finishing the Land Use Code revisions to make the planning process more predictable and less cumbersome for businesses wanting to expand or move here.

Telegraph’s 2 cents: While both candidates have a long history of involvement in La Plata County, Westendorff has continually proved her commitment and willingness to learn by attending virtually every county meeting and coming up to speed on staff and the issues.

-State Congressional District 59: J. Paul Brown (incumbent) vs. Mike McLachlan
Republican J. Paul Brown, a sheep rancher from Ignacio, will be fighting Durango Democrat lawyer Mike McLachlan for the state’s newly redrawn House District 59. The 59th, which borders New Mexico, includes the counties of Archuleta, La Plata, Hinsdale, San Juan and Ouray and the southern half of Gunnison. The district includes the towns of Durango, Pagosa Springs, Ouray, Ridgway, Lake City, Silverton and Gunnison as well as millions of acres of public lands and the Southern Ute Indian Reservation.

 A native of the Four Corners, Brown has served as a La Plata County planning and county commissioner as well as on the Ignacio School Board. He is committed to promoting “meaningful” jobs, reining in wasteful government spending, reducing needless bureaucracy and instilling respect for the individual.

Since being in office, he has voted for an immigration enforcement bill, a bill that would change voter ID requirements and for the so-called “personhood” amendment, which would illegalize abortion. He also worked to rename Western State College to “university,” got bath salts banned and worked to reinstate a bear hunt, a bill that he later withdrew.

Brown was recently named to the League of Conservation Voters’ “Dirty Dozen” list, as one of the 12 most anti-environment state-level candidates in the country.

McLachlan, a Vietnam veteran, has lived in La Plata County for 38 years. He has served as La Plata County attorney as well as Colorado’s Solicitor General under Ken Salazar, during which time he successfully argued for Colorado’s women’s health clinic shield law before the U.S. Supreme Court.

 He has served as president of the Durango Rotary Club; trustee of the Durango Hundred Club, a charity dedicated to helping injured police officers, fire fighters and their families; worked for and the Southern Ute Tribe and State of Colorado’s Environmental Control Commission. Most recently, he served  as chairman of the Judicial Performance Commission for the 6th Judicial District.

His top priorities are education, the environment and the district’s economic future.

Telegraph’s 2 cents: While we can’t say we don’t enjoy the J. Paul Brown ads or the fact that he is trying to keep the spirit of the Wild West alive in the State House, we think it might be time to give the outdated shtick a rest. Plus, there’s no denying the hypocrisy of decrying government intrusion and spending while holding out one’s hand for a subsidy (not to mention taking away a woman’s right to choose and a way to feed her kids). Perhaps it’s time J. Paul and his nostalgic set of ideals ride off into the sunset.

State Elections/Amendments
Colorado’s 3rd U.S. Congressional District: Scott Tipton (incumbent) vs. Sal Pace
Republican Tipton, a 55-year-old businessman from Cortez, is battling to represent the state’s 3rd Congressional District in Washington against Sal Pace, 36, of Pueblo, who represents state House District 46 and served as the House Minority Leader.

The sprawling 3rd District spans much of south-central Colorado and the Western Slope, including Pueblo, Grand Junction, Durango, Rangely and many of the state’s mountain towns.
Since winning his seat from John Salazar in 2010, Tipton chalks up his accomplishments to supporting the extension of the wind production tax credit, pushing for more federal funding for Native American students at Fort Lewis College and helping persuade the Air Force to drop plans for low-altitude training flights over southern Colorado.

Although a self-proclaimed moderate, he ranked as the 50th-most conservative member of the 435-member House in 2011, according to the National Journal.

He pledges not to increase taxes, get national spending under control, get government out of the private sector and is a staunch conservative aligned with the Tea Party agenda.

Tipton passed five bills through the federal government’s lower chamber, including the Small Conduit Hydropower Development and Rural Jobs Act of 2011.

Tipton voted to support the “Ryan budget,” which aims to privatize Medicare and create a voucher system that critics say would increase health-care costs for seniors. Opponents also contend the Ryan budget would enact deep spending cuts in order to lower taxes for the nation’s wealthiest.
Ryan’s plan also would drastically cut the federal food-stamp program.

Prior to being elected to the state house in 2008, Pace, a Fort Lewis College graduate, served as a legislative aide to state Rep. John Salazar.

If elected, he would work to end partisan bickering and says he is proud of his record working across party lines to get things done for Colorado families. As the Minority Leader in the State House, he worked to increase education funding by $90 million while still balancing the budget; passed bills to protect property rights of families from abusive eminent domain seizures; cut taxes on farmers and ranchers; and streamlined regulations to keep jobs in the state.

Telegraph’s 2 cents: The controversy over the shady “packing of the Ouray Town Hall with Conservatives” during Tipton’s supposed public hearing on the San Juan Wilderness Bill, as well as his unwillingness to support the bill or even engage Pace in a debate in Durango, shows he isn’t listening or plain doesn’t care. Either way, it’s time for Tipton, and his $1.3 million in attack ads from Grover Norquist, to pack his tea bags and hit the road.

-Amendment 64 - Use and regulation of Marijuana
Surely the most-talked about amendment to the State Constitution this year, 64 would legalize marijuana use and possession of an ounce or less by people 21 or older. It would also allow people to grow up to six plants and legalize industrial hemp.

Basically, it proposes treating marijuana like alcohol and selling it in state-run stores where it will be regulated and taxed like anything else.

Colorado voters approved a medical marijuana amendment in 2000.  In 2006, however, Colorado voters rejected an amendment that would have legalized the possession of up to 1 ounce of marijuana by persons 21 or over.

Pros: Regulating marijuana like alcohol will replace an underground market and drug cartels with a controlled system of regulation. By making pot legal, law enforcement will be freed up to pursue  more violent and serious crimes.

Taxes from marijuana will generate hundreds of millions of dollars in new revenues and law enforcement savings over the coming decade, with the first $40 million going to public school construction.

Regulated marijuana and industrial hemp markets will create jobs and provide new business opportunities and is not expected to impact the medical marijuana regulations.

Government studies have concluded that marijuana use is less harmful, less addictive and less likely to trigger violent behavior than alcohol.

Driving while impaired by marijuana will still be illegal, and companies, schools and other entities can prohibit its use on their property and employers can maintain their current pot-use policies.

Cons: Although this proposal would fully legalize marijuana for recreational use, its possession and use would still violate federal law.

This proposal would allow opening of marijuana retail stores and of growing, manufacturing, and testing facilities in communities across the state. By legalizing marijuana, this proposal increases its availability and attractiveness to young people at a time when schools are already reporting a rise in problem drug use. For children and young adults, smoking marijuana permanently affects brain development, impairs learning and contributes to depression. Adolescents are more likely than adults to develop problems with marijuana abuse and addiction.

This proposal would increase the incidence of impaired driving. Smoking pot reduces coordination and impairs decision making.

Telegraph’s 2 cents: Let’s make one thing clear, the majority of Telegraph staffers are not habitual or even occasional users of pot – although they probably should be. However, given that for all intents and purposes, it already is legal in Durango and many other part of the state, why not quit the charade? (Newsflash: Teens are going to smoke pot whether it’s legal or not. In fact, one could argue legalizing it may take away from its rebellious allure.) Legalize it, tax the crap out of it and let the feds confiscate your hemp belt if they don’t like it. Besides, who knows? Maybe it will make people slow down and act a little nicer.
- Amendment 65 - Campaign finance limits
A bit of a snoozer, this proposal would amend the state Constitution to encourage campaign spending limits rather than voluntary spending limits. It would also “urge” lawmakers to establish campaign spending limits and on state and national levels.

Ten years ago, Colorado voters passed comprehensive campaign finance reform that set contribution limits, banned corporate contributions and required full disclosure of campaign spending. However, that law was recently overturned by the Supreme Court, which ruled that monetary donations somehow constitute free speech and cannot be restricted. Therefore, spending limits or restrictions on campaigns are not allowed. If this proposal is passed, it will be mostly symbolic with no legal teeth.

Pros: The role of money in politics should be limited. Public trust in elected officials is at an all-time low, partly because of the belief that wealthy interests exert disproportionate influence. The surest way to change the campaign finance system is to amend the U.S. Constitution.

By encouraging Congress to take action, this proposal is a step in addressing money in politics and correcting the court’s ruling, thus ensuring all citizens, regardless of wealth, have an opportunity to speak.

Cons: This proposal is extremely vague. New laws restricting participation in elections should be written carefully and precisely. The proponents do not disclose exactly what new laws this proposal will require, and if passed, it cannot be enforced.

Telegraph’s 2 cents: Although we agree with the sentiment, the wording is ambiguous, opening it up to all sorts of creative interpretations, unintended consequences and potential free speech violations. Plus, campaign finance reform is something that should occur on a national level, not via an amendment to Colorado’s constitution, which we discourage – unless there is pot involved
- Amendment S - Reform of the state personnel system
Hey, wake up! Yet another DBI – dull but important – issue. Voters are being asked to approve another amendment to the state constitution that will change how the state hires and fires employees. Existing rules were adopted in 1970, and proponents, including Gov. Hickenlooper, say they are inefficient and outdated.

The measure will apply only to the 32,500 people who are designated as “classified” employees for the state.

The state’s largest employees union, Colorado WINS, is neutral on the proposal.

Telegraph’s 2 cents: If you happen to be among the 32,500 who would be affected by the amendment, we recommend reading the State Ballot Legislative blue booklet that came out in the mail a few weeks back. If not, vote yes – anything that hasn’t changed since the ’70s deserves swift and thorough action.