(A version of this article ran in the Saturday 10/29/11 Times-Call)
I get asked all the time why do I get involved in local politics? The answer is twofold. First, local ordinances and regulations have a far greater effect on your everyday life than some behemoth bureaucracy at the federal level. And secondly, it’s easier for a citizen to become knowledgeable of and affect those local policies – in other words, “take on city hall”.
A symptom of most people in a community like Longmont is apathy on local issues. They may vote every four years for President, maybe, but they are oblivious to the issues that more closely affect them. Turnout numbers support this as many registered voters don’t even bother filling out a ballot during odd years like this one. They probably don’t know what ward they live in, what a ward even is, who their councilmember is, or who the candidates are.
Oh well, you know that old saying about leading a horse to water…
If there was a third reason I liked following local politics it was because of its non-partisan nature. Most city issues don’t have to be ideologically driven, either right or left. In the first few years I followed and wrote about city council I couldn’t tell you the party affiliation of council members. I spoke to them all, and vice-versa, and it was never an issue.
That all changed in 2007. At around that time things were pretty, well, boring, for lack of a better word. In politics, boring can be a good thing. But beneath the surface an ideologically-driven agenda to transform local politics into a political machine was afoot. In Longmont it culminated with the election of four ideologically driven individuals taking majority control of city council.
They had the backing and support of much larger organizations that had nearly unlimited funds. Read the book “The Blueprint” by Adam Schrager and Rob Witwer to get a feel for this. Its epilogue reads “With discipline and focus, they have pioneered a legal architecture designed to take advantage of new campaign finance laws and an emerging breed of progressive donors who are willing to commit unprecedented resources to local races.”
For their efforts, they got current councilmembers Sarah Levison, Sean McCoy, Brian Hansen, and former councilmember Karen Benker installed on our council and a 4-3 majority. These four wasted no time in instituting the agenda they were groomed for. In fact one of their first efforts was amending Longmont’s own campaign finance law. They proudly wore their political ideology on their sleeves, falsely assuming the citizens supported their agenda.
They moved quickly to change Longmont in their ideological and partisan image – and for their efforts were met with one lawsuit after another from neighboring towns, the local newspaper, and citizens and local organizations. They took every cheap shot possible against a local church, LifeBridge Christian Church, essentially driving them out of town and into the hands of Firestone. They also voted to stall any possible improvements at the Twin Peaks Mall. This was all part of the plan, and all on the agenda.
But Longmont citizens paid the price for this “bloc’s” efforts – through multiple losses in court, a massively diminished Twin Peaks Mall, and the subsequent lost tax revenue and lost jobs. Their road to Longmont’s destruction was slowed in 2009 with the decisive vote against their leader, Karen Benker, who was as divisive and ideological as they come.
But three of them still remain on council – Levison, McCoy, and Hansen.
I don’t usually endorse candidates as my style is to point out voting records, statements, and positions of elected officials. The three above councilmembers are all running for re-election and do not deserve to be retained on city council. I’m endorsing Mayor Bryan Baum, Brian Bagley, Heath Carroll, and Bonnie Finley for Longmont City Council. These four candidates represent different political parties, not that it should matter, and I’d prefer for now on that it doesn’t matter. This is not about party; it’s about competence and confidence in our elected leaders, and learning from past mistakes for a better future for Longmont.
Don’t forget to fill out your mail-in ballot.