Longmont Advocate on the 11/17/09 Amy Oliver radio show

Another great big thanks goes out to Amy Oliver (AM1310 KFKA) for asking me to come on to her show to discuss Longmont politics.

We discussed several items, including

  • the ’07, ’08, and ’09 elections
  • Karen Benker
  • Wrongmont
  • Executive Sessions and ensuing Times-Call lawsuit
  • Firestone/LifeBridge annexations litigation
  • The price of activism and free speech
  • Longmont’s Fair Campaign Practice Act

Longmont Mayor Election analysis

The 2009 Longmont Election had four council seats up for grabs, including the office of Mayor.  Running for re-election was long time councilmember and one term mayor, Roger Lange.  There was some chatter that he couldn’t run for mayor due to term limits, but it didn’t get much traction, I never gave it much credit, and it became a moot point as it turns out.  Initially, Dan Benavidez announced he was running, but dropped out before collecting petitions.  Jeff Thompson did collect enough signatures, ran for a short while, but then also dropped out of the race.  Eventually, the race boiled down to two candidates, Roger Lange and late into the race was political newcomer Bryan Baum. Continue reading…

Longmont At-Large Election analysis

There were two city council seats up for grabs in the 2009 Longmont At-Large race.  Everyone in the city was eligible to vote in this race, and got to pick two candidates.  Those candidates were: Gabe Santos (Incumbent At-Large councilmember), Alex Sammoury, Bill Van Dusen, Kaye Fissinger, and Ed Dloughy.  The two candidates who received the most votes were elected.  The final tally came out like this:

Santos        11,048  36.38%
Sammoury   8,149  26.83%
Van Dusen    5,408  17.81%
Fissinger        4,832  15.91%
Dloughy            934  3.08% Continue reading…

Longmont Dems: “Pray for locusts”

These gracious words come as no surprise to me, it’s pretty much what I’ve been saying all along.  Thought you might like to know about the people who thought they controlled this city for the last 2 years.  Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.
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LAD (Longmont Area Democrats) member Shari Malloy has some very important words to share with you:

“The Progressive Voice in Longmont received a giant set-back in our local city council election Tuesday and in 2 out of 3 environmentally friendly county ballot measures. How debilitating the impact is up to us. Our city election could be a microcosm of future local, state, and national elections….

We could pray for locusts in Longmont, but we live here too…. Here’s some alternatives that might be more productive:
 

1.  November 9 at 7pm
Come to the swearing in ceremony on Monday night wearing BLUE. 7:00 at City Council (CC) Chambers at Civic Center. Apparently the Council will be assigning City Council members to the various boards and commissions they will serve on.  Sean, Brian and Sarah need a showing of support so they don’t get ousted out of the positions they currently hold including P and Z, Historic Longmont, Board of Environmental Affairs etc. It will be much harder for the newly bought CC members to carry out their partisan agenda with lots of people in blue shirts thre watching… There will be some signs and bumper stickers (hopefully) available for you to have/use if interested.
November 10 at 7pm
2. Attend Tuesday and future CC mtgs and always wear blue.
(might I suggest red with a single yellow stripe down the back might be more appropriate?)

November 11 at 6:30pm
3. Attend a “What Now?” (If you’re looking for suggestions, how about a long walk off a short pier?) meeting to debrief the outcome of this election and discuss next steps. Thursday 11/12 at 6:30 p.m. 2713 15th Ave. Longmont 80503 (west of Hover) Home of Charles and Caroline Hanson. 720-684-6827. SNACKS and Deb Gardner playing the piano!”
(thank you Shari)
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On a personal note: Thank you to all of the candidates that ran this year.  Congratulations to Debbie Lammers for her victory. Roger Lange and Karen Benker left council too soon. Bill Van Dusen, Strider Benston, Kaye Fissinger, all fought the good fight. They deserve our appreciation. I choose to honor our candidates by rededicating myself to civic action. I hope to see many of you next week and beyond.

Regards,
Jonathan Singer

Election results send message

There will be plenty of time in the upcoming days, weeks, and months to do the proper autopsy of what occurred today in the Longmont election.  As I expected, this election was a continuation of the 2008 Special Election – people were engaged and not asleep at the wheel as they were in the 2007 election that brought us one of the worst city councils in a long, long time.Turnout appears to be ridiculously low, but the margins of victory for each of the new (and in Gabe Santos‘ case re-elected) councilmember was large, none of these weak pluralities that brought us the likes of some of the (now former) Benker Bloc.

 

This was a particularly nasty campaign, much of it you may not even be aware of.  I’m not talking about posts on this site, but things done behind the scenes that go beyond politics.  It may help to explain why I was focused like a laser on those who I believed had to go.  I’ll go into some of it, and name names in some cases, and show the ugly underbelly of local politics.

Rest assured, the dirty and ugly aspect didn’t come from Wrongmont, or WTP, or Longmont Leadership Committee, or any of the candidates who won this election.  If you have been reading this site closely, you probably already have a good idea of who and what I’m referring to.  But you only know a fraction of the story.

It makes this victory all that much sweeter.  If people want to play dirty and make it personal, and think they can win the day using these tactics: they’re wrong.  The voters today proved that if people think they can make up wholesale lies about their political opponents and expect to get away with it, they will lose.

In this game you make your arguments and accept the outcome, win or lose.  The voters are the jury and there’s little to no chance for appeals.  I made a series of arguments, often quite strenuously – and I’m pleased with how the jury has decided.  In nearly every race it wasn’t even close enough for the losing parties or their supporters to even think about crying foul.  The winners won fair and square, and the losers basically got stomped. How the latter reacts will be interesting to watch.

…much more to come.

Your vote is your voice

If you haven’t mailed in your ballot yet, it’s probably too late.  Luckily, there is a quick and easy way to drop off your completed ballot at the Boulder County Clerk and Recorder Office.  It is located at 529 Coffman St, Longmont. Below is a map of the area:

They will have a “drive by/drop off” on Monday Nov 2 from 8am – 5pm, and again on Election Day, Tuesday Nov 3 from 7am – 7pm.
If you’re still unsure on how to vote, there’s plenty of information out there to peruse (as well as on this very site).  Here is the Nov 1 Times-Call editorial to remind you to cast a ballot, and their endorsements.
Now go vote!

Election Committee must start all over

Something’s rotten in Denmark.  Well, actually here in Longmont.  Something about the preliminary findings that the Longmont Election Committee has done so far just didn’t pass the smell test for me – and now I know why.

A fair chunk of the people chosen for this committee had the full backing of the Benker Bloc, which is no surprise and I guess is their right as they were elected.  (Full disclosure, I volunteered for this committee to make a point.  But oddly, and as I expected, I had 4 people vote against me, wanna guess who?  Considering the fiasco the Longmont Fair Campaign Practices Act and this committee have become, I couldn’t be more thrilled to not be a part of it).  From the very first meeting (and I’m the only member of the public, other than most of the committee members, that has been to every EC meeting), some members were concerned with possible conflicts of interest over past associations and contributions to candidates.

This became much more of an issue when it was time to do the first set of preliminary findings that were based on complaints by Council member Karen Benker.  Election Committee member Marilyn Hughes had to make a “declaration of association”, saying “earlier this year before the campaign season started, I did write a letter to the editor of the Longmont Times-Call and it was published where I supported a number of endeavors that Councilwoman Benker was instrumental.”  She didn’t believe she needed to recuse herself – and didn’t.  She had, and has, to repeat this for every single hearing. 

Well, I found it.  It was on June 14, 2009.  Depending on how you view when the “campaign season started” keep in mind that Ms. Benker’s challenger for the Ward 2 seat, Katie Witt, filed for her candidacy on March 6, 2009Three months before Ms. Hughes op-ed.

But what is the Election Committee’s view of when the “campaign season” starts?  One only has to go back to the October 19, 2009 Election Committee meeting to find out.  On this night, Karen Benker’s complaint against Greg Burt was tossed out as it fell outside the 90 day window before an election, therefore not meeting the definition of “electioneering“.  Some EC members said maybe the election cycle should be changed to election year.  Why not go with infinity, plus one?  Another member asked about when other candidates announced their candidacy, hinting that’s when the election cycle, or campaign season, started.

But more to the campaign season and Ms. Hughes timeline:
March 6 – Katie Witt announces she’s running for Karen Benker’s Ward 2 seat 
April 1 – Ms. Hughes encourages fellow Longmont Area Democrats at their meeting to submit their names for the Election Committee
April 28 – Ms. Hughes’ is appointed to the Election Committee (Benker voted for her)
June 14 – Ms. Hughes’ overly favorable Karen Benker Open Forum letter in the Times-Call

August 2 – Karen Benker announces candidacy

I’m willing to bet a cheeseburger that Ms. Hughes heard about Ms. Witt’s announced candidacy, and/or saw this quote from Ms. Benker:  “declaring your intent to run for City Council office in March, I think, is way premature. It’s too early.  This is not a presidential race; this is not a congressional race; this is Longmont City Council. Let’s get some perspective here.”  And while I acknowledge that it was a different election cycle (a whole 2 years ago), Ms. Hughes donated $150 in cash and in-kind contributions to Ms. Benker as well.

Based on all of the above, Ms. Hughes should have recused herself from the discussion and votes on these, and any future cases involving Ms. Benker.  Ms. Hughes was the acting Chair for the first round of preliminary findings and drove the discussion.  All of the preliminary findings found in the positive regarding Karen Benker should summarily be disregarded and the process needs to be started over from the beginning.

Why Karen Benker should lose

I’m sure the title “Why Karen Benker should lose” was instantly assumed to be some kind of political philosophy or opinionated piece, but that’s not really the intent.  This is all about the numbers.
Vote breakdown, by the numbers

First, a little history.  Karen Benker (pictured at left) was appointed (selected, not elected) to City Council in early 2005 due to a vacancy in the Ward 2 seat.  She ran for retention of that seat in November 2005 and won.  But the numbers are interesting:  She only got 2,355 votes (or 37.1% of the vote) and only beat Alex Sammoury by 278 votes.  In 2007 she ran for Mayor, and in Ward 2, her ward, she only got 2,942 votes and lost citywide to Roger Lange by 7%.  Some people chose to vote for someone who pulled out of the race (Doug Brown) instead of her.  Total votes over two elections in her home ward 5,297 – her reputation has only declined since that time.


For reference, her opponent Katie Witt (pictured at right) ran for Colorado State Senate in November 2008 and was clearly identified on the ballot as Republican.  Even in an admittedly terrible year for Republicans, she received 6,105 votes in Ward 2.  This was less than a year ago, Karen Benkers last race was 2 years ago.  The 6,105 people who voted for Katie Witt knew then and can assume now what her political affiliation is, and there’s little reason to believe they would change their vote for her in a larger statewide race now that she’s running for a municipal seat.  These people may have donated money, put up yard signs, and obviously marked their ballot for Katie Witt – I see no good reason why a large percentage of them wouldn’t do the same again this year.

The money, by the numbers

In any normal year, a city council candidate raising the kind of money Karen Benker raised in the first reporting period would be impressive.  That number was $6,885.37 in contributions and in-kind contributions spread over 69 people (70 counting her own $777.65 contribution).


But this isn’t a normal year.  Her opponent Katie Witt more than doubled Ms. Benkers fundraising by collecting a whopping $14,628.81 in contributions and in-kind contributions, which was by far the most raised by any of the ten candidates running for city council.  These contributions were made by 112 individuals (add to that those that had their spouses listed) and 7 organizations/companies, which are nothing more than groups of people pooling their resources together.


Of even greater importance is what’s left in their accounts for their campaigns to work with.  This shows the managerial and money management skills of the candidates.  After the first reporting period, Karen Benker had $1,879.59 of funds on hand.  Katie Witt had $7,187.77, which is more than the entire amount Karen Benker has raised to date ($6,885.37)!  In the election before the election – the money race – Katie Witt has doubled up on Karen Benker on contributions and tripled up on remaining funds on hand.  


Money doesn’t always equal votes come Election Day.  But the people who do contribute have a vested interest in their candidate, and are usually motivated to get the word out to have their investment pay off.  If the larger contribution amount was just due to a few big donors, that would be one thing.  But the vast majority of Katie Witt’s donors were small amounts, and the number of donors was at a rate of 1.6-to-1 of Karen Benkers.  

You’ll also notice on Karen Benker’s report a lot of the same names, or last names, spread around in the money and in-kind contribution sheets.  There is some creative math to keep some donors just barely under or at the contribution limit, with 94 cents here, 6 cents there.  Her report tells me that she just doesn’t have widespread, grass roots support – pretty much the same cast of characters you’d expect to see – and/or their family members.


Money has a way of creating momentum – everybody wants to back a winner and jump on the bandwagon.  Who wants to throw away good money after bad, or after a losing effort?  Money also has a way of compounding momentum with the ability to send out more mailers, more phone calls, more advertising and signs – and more volunteers who want to get in on the action.  This is politics at its best as these people are not likely to go away after the election and a fair percentage will remain engaged.  


Unless there’s cheating involved.  I’ll cover this and the amount of ballots that were mailed out in an upcoming piece.
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(UPDATE) The 10/20/09 reports are out and the financial trends continue to go well for Ms. Witt, and poorly for Ms. Benker.  In a week, Ms. Benker raised $695 – $250 of which was from the Fraternal Order of Police, and the rest divided up amongst 6 individual donors.  Ms. Witt raised $1,107 – $80 were from 2 companies, the remaining $1,027 from 19 individual donors.  Total donors are roughly 76 for Benker, 138 for Witt, which improves the ratio to 1.8-1 for Witt.



Of greater importance was the available funds on hand for the last two weeks of the campaign.  Ms. Benker had $484 left.  Ms. Witt had $5,837 left.  Where before Ms. Witt had a 3-1 advantage in funds on hand, it is now 12-1.  If you get any mailers or robocalls from Ms. Benker, be suspicious.  These things cost money, usually more than $484.


Like I said in a Times-Call comment “No wonder Benker is lashing out in all directions, including wasting the Election Committee’s time and insulting citizens. She’s not quite the budgetary wizard she paints herself to be, as these numbers clearly show. It appears no one wants to give her any money, comparatively speaking. Why throw good money after bad? While contribution differences don’t always equal election results – who’s shoes would you rather be in right now?

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.