Party politics at the heart of negative tone

by Aaron Rawlins
Guest Opinion for the Times-Call
October 14, 2009

As I sat down to write this, I realized I have not spoken or written publicly since I gave my concession speech on Nov. 6, 2007. The Times-Call said the Ward 1 election was “a surprise” and council member Hansen was quoted as saying, “I did not think I had a great chance of winning.” I can honestly say I was stunned. I did all the things that people advised would make me successful. However, my opponent used a much more effective strategy. He won by a healthy margin.

Almost two years after that day, a lot of things became clear about the 2007 election. For the first time, political party power was used to pick and elect the candidates in Longmont city government.

Political parties were created to win elections. They have been doing it for more than 200 years in this country, and they brought many of the same tools that made them successful at the national level to our elections. Candidates choosing to band together was a powerful strategy that in the last election showed to be key.

There seem to be some lingering issues with choosing that strategy. When political parties pick candidates, the candidate takes a much smaller subset of the community than someone starting out as a whole. The edges of the party are the hardest support to get, so you get candidates even farther from the center. In the “old guard,” you in fact had people in parties but never driven by them or indebted to them. The bloc members selected and supported by a party during the last election are much farther from the center than what we have ever seen in the past and run an agenda that does not match issues important to running a city.

Another issue is you get candidates that in the past might not have been able to get elected on their own merits. We elected a bloc that has been shown to have weak communication skills or little ability to lead a city in such difficult times. Sadly, most of our current council can’t even run a meeting. Poor communication and incompetence often leads to increased anger. The few centrists left don’t have the votes or pull to move city business forward. The city’s business has quickly become a mess.

The parties and the voters brought partisan politics to our community last election. Sadly, or ironically, I can’t tell which, Richard Juday, who was a lead architect of bringing about this culture, has now called for a solution that can make things worse. Creating yet another partisan group to limit speech is much like the idea of bloodletting in the late 19th century. The cure is most likely much worse then the cause and is the exact opposite of what needs to be done. Why would we put four political partisans in a single group and think this will solve partisanship?

There is no group that can fix the issue of the candidates drifting farther and farther from the political center. This is up to you, the voter, to look at each candidate based on his or her own views and not which party he or she belongs to. If you want to change the political culture, you need to vote for moderates who will work together to solve common problems. We don’t need to vote for blocs. We need to vote for independent thinkers and people who will use their votes on council to push what is right for the people of Longmont, not to whichever party they belong to.

Sadly, the voters cannot fix this issue this year alone. I think we will have to deal with partisan politics for some time. If we vote for free thinkers, the civility will hopefully once again return to what it once was. But voting is a responsibility, and if the voters of Longmont step up and take ownership instead of letting people with agendas take the lead, then the voters can also take responsibility for fixing the issue as well. That is my true hope for ending the current political culture we are now in.

Aaron Rawlins has lived in Longmont for 11 years. In 2007, Rawlins lost his bid for the Ward 1 seat on the Longmont City Council to Brian Hansen.

2007 Election Autopsy Pt. 1


The election numbers are all in, and there’s enough fodder for several stories, so let’s get started with Part 1. 

Let’s get this out of the way first, as I know you’re all dying to know how the great prognosticator (me) did, being I’ve written about predicting elections. The Nintendo Wii has this cool polling feature called the “Everybody Votes Channel”. What I like about it is not only do you vote, but you also get to predict how the vote will go. Quite often my predictions do not correlate to my votes; this local election was no different. In the 11 votes I was able to cast (Mayor, council, school district, and ballot issues) I scored 82%, or 9-2. That doesn’t mean that’s how I voted, just how I predicted. Ever the finger on the pulse…etc.

The two I got wrong? SVVSD District G between Schiers and Bohaning, which I picked the latter, and was the last race to be called, and by a razor thin margin. So I can accept that. The other one was, ironically, my own Ward, the race between Rawlins and Hansen. The Times-Call, and Hansen himself, mentioned what a surprise it was. I had noticed more Hansen signs around this ward, but in the end I think it was a couple things. First, Rawlins youth, which I didn’t see as a disadvantage, could’ve been a factor to some voters. Second, the implication Rawlins was “hand picked” by some “good ol’ boy network“, which I never bought, probably didn’t help. The Times-Call endorsement may have turned voters away as well. Lastly, the gamble of this “gang of four” to run as a block of candidates may have been enough to put Hansen over the top.

Surprises to me? The margin Roger Lange won the mayors seat by. I figured he’d win, but not by the largest margin of any of the council races. Karen Benker, more than any other candidate, ran on the anti-Lifebridge annexation and her sole “no” vote on it. Lange voted for the annexation and I don’t remember seeing him apologize for it. More people voted on this race than any other, and Benker was soundly defeated. Is this an indicator of how the Lifebridge vote will go in January? Hard to say, I think Lange had name recognition and more council experience on his side.


I can’t say for sure, only by what I hear and read, but I never got the impression that people disliked Lange. I can’t say the same for Benker. I think it may, may, have played into peoples minds that no matter who won, the other would still be there on council. The only difference being whose seat would sit vacant for almost 3 months, and from what pool would the next councilmember come from. Turns out it will be Lange’s “at-large” seat, so anyone in the city can run and vote on it. With Gabe Santos getting over 6,000 votes for the at-large race he lost, it makes sense to put him at the top of the list of potential candidates in January.

But I could be all wrong about the above, but a 9-2 chance I’m not.  (Gabe Santos did run in the special election, and won handily)

Do Endorsements Matter?

Who do you trust with endorsements? They’re coming out of the woodwork right now for the upcoming election, and even one for the Lifebridge Annexation which isn’t even on the ballot.

Endorsements can either be a blessing, or the kiss of death, depending on your views. Something I figured was going on was verified in a recent letter in the paper: ” If you endorse this guy, I’m voting for the opposite!” was basically how it went. I’m going to assume most people figure in more than just that when picking a candidate, but you never know.

“Belonging” is important to some people. A club, a party, an association, a loose group of like-minded people, etc. Sometimes these groups, especially political parties, send out their mailers with their roster of picks. It’s so easy to just take this along with you to the voting precinct. Or take the suggestions of your little activist group, with the only question being ” how do we think and vote about this?” Yes, endorsements just make life easier – for the unthinking or easily steered.

Now to specifics on this election. The Times-Call has endorsed candidates Lange, Rawlins, Santos, and Finley and is in favor of the Lifebridge/Union annexation. Longmont’s Fraternal Order of Police and Longmont’s Firefighters’ Association have endorsed candidates Benker, Hansen, McCoy, and Levison. The anti-Lifebridge group, as far as I can tell, has only publicly endorsed Benker for Mayor, and of course is against the Union annexation.

While endorsements do have their place, usually in the back of your mind as you prepare to cast your vote, it’s okay to question those that would have you vote a certain way. Don’t be a lockstep lemming, even if you agree with your fellow lemmings 90% of the time. If you have to “walk off the reservation”, that’s alright, it’s called being in-de-pen-dent, give it a whirl.

Election’s Only The Beginning

There will be a special election in early 2008 in Longmont, we’re just not sure yet who or what will be on the ballot. If Roger Lange wins the Mayor seat, his ” at-large” seat goes up for grabs and Karen Benker remains the Ward 2 councilmember. This means more than likely the two candidates who didn’t win the “at-large” seat in November’s election will run for this seat. Not a bad deal, a second chance at winning a seat. So it’s possible that two candidates that go at each other very well could later be sitting next to each other in city council chambers.

On the other hand, if Karen Benker wins the Mayor seat, her Ward 2 seat needs to be filled by a special election. I don’t know if any of the at-large candidates actually live within Ward 2, but if they don’t, someone we don’t currently know of will have to hustle and get some signatures to run for it.

The other item is the Lifebridge Annexation question. The 10/17/07 Times-Call article may have left a few confused about what really happened in the most recent City Council meeting, hopefully as you read this or soon it will be a little more clear. They ” agreed” to put it to voters, but won’t actually ” vote” to put it on the ballot until October 23 or November 13. This may be just a small procedural issue, but if I’m reading past stories correctly about this, they may not necessarily vote YES to put it on the ballot. Then what happens?

I suspect they will vote to put it on the special election ballot, or expect pitchforks and torches at their doorstep. There always is the option of rescinding their earlier annexation vote and leaving it up the next council to handle it. On the surface this may seem a victory for the petition gatherers, as an election is not a sure winner. But in reality the new council may vote the same way, probably not 6-1, but 5-2 or 4-3 is very likely.

I’ll ask some of you to remove your rose colored glasses in your hoped-for election outcomes, and ponder this prediction. Here is the future (post special election) council: Lange (Mayor), Rawlins, Benker, Blue, Levison, and Santos. Ward 3 is too close to call, but even if McCoy wins, that’s not an anti-annexation friendly council. Of course this all changes if Benker becomes Mayor, but not by a lot. And it is just my prediction, which might not be worth the paper this is printed on.

Don’t be in a rush to cast that vote. Watch the candidate forum that is being played on Channel 3, visit the candidate’s websites and read their positions and platforms. Call or write them, see where they sit on issues important to you. Be suspicious of the ad pushing a ” block” of candidates, not saying you shouldn’t vote for them, but beware the ” package deal“. Unless you prefer someone else to do the thinking for you.

Longmont Election ’07 update

This upcoming election will be a mail-in ballot election. You have to be registered by October 9th to receive a ballot. They can’t make it a whole lot easier, let’s see if we can bring up the low turnout numbers.

Here is an update of the candidates for Longmont City Council. Also, I want to share a link to a website I stumbled across that I thought was pretty informative.

http://community.livejournal.com/longmont/22611.html

It has a ward map, pictures of candidates, and something I haven’t touched on – ballot initiatives and school district candidates. I found this by accident, don’t know the author, and he doesn’t know I’m linking to it. But when I find something worth sharing, and/or when someone’s just done a better job, why not expose more people to it?

There have been a couple of changes to the candidates running:

Current council members Roger Lange, Karen Benker, and Doug Brown are the candidates for the position of Mayor. This is an at-large position, everyone in the city can vote for this spot.

One of the At-Large seats is up for grabs, the candidates are Gabe Santos, Paul Tiger, and Sarah Levison. Like the Mayor position, anyone can vote for this position.

Ward One Councilmember. To vote for this seat you must live in the ward. Aaron Rawlins, James DeVore, Brian Hansen are the candidates.

Ward Three Councilmember. Same rules apply as with Ward One. Sean McCoy and Bonnie Finley are running for this seat.

There are a lot of hot topics in this city. Figure out which ones are important to you and find out where the candidates stand on them. Instead of complaining that you were snookered by politicians after they’re in office, get your questions answered before you vote for them. This isn’t rocket science.

City Council Needs You!

November’s not that far away, and that means election time for Longmont’s City Council. We’re bound to see some new faces as three members are being term-limited out, and one won’t be seeking re-election. As in the past, I’ll put the candidates on my site so you can get to know them. Although I’ve yet to endorse anyone, which could be the kiss of death anyway, the more people involved, the bigger the turnout, the better. This is an off-year election, not a general election, so interest usually runs pretty low. But with the possibility of turning over the majority of City Council, we should pay attention.

First off, the Mayor position. Mayor Julia Pirnack is being term-limited out, and I thank her for her service. This is an at-large position, everyone in the city can vote for this spot, and anyone in the city can run. So far, current councilmembers Roger Lange, Karen Benker, and Doug Brown have announced they are running.

Ward One Councilmember
. This ward is generally the east-northeast side of town currently being served by Doug Brown, who is being term-limited out of his seat. To run or vote for this seat you must live in the ward. Aaron Rawlins has announced his candidacy.

Ward Three Councilmember
. This ward is generally the northwest side of town currently being served by Marty Block, also a member being term-limited out of his seat. Same rules apply as with Ward One. Sean McCoy and Bonnie Finley are running for this seat.

One of the at-large seats is held by Fred Wilson, and he is not seeking re-election. Like the Mayor position, anyone can run and vote for this position. Gabe Santos, and Paul Tiger are running for this position.

All I’m looking for from a prospective council member is accountability and accessibility to their constituents first, and their staff members second. Remember who runs this city, you, the council, not some of these staffers who hide behind you, safe from the voter’s wrath. Don’t look for new and interesting ways to spend our money with more taxes and fees. Find ways to get more value out of what we pay, and find ways to lessen that burden, all the while being fair to your employees.

Candidates: Speak your mind, get heard, and good luck.