Bob Silbernagel Column November 16, 2008

This was bad year for school elections

Someday — eventually — the reporters, pundits and assorted hangers-on of the media are going to stop mining the minutiae of the 2008 election for more columns and analysis pieces.

But not me. Not yet. There’s still interesting info that you, faithful readers, may not have considered.

Besides, I need a column for today’s paper, so I’ll continue mining the election results like an old prospector working a depleted gold vein.

• School District 51 wasn’t the only district to lose a bond election this year. In fact, it was a bad year for school bonds in general, considerably worse than four years ago. Presidential elections are generally viewed as good events for school-bond issues, since more voters usually turn out and the hard-core, anti-tax folks aren’t as likely to carry the vote.

That certainly was the case in 2004, when 87 percent of school-bond issues put to voters in Colorado were successful, according to information provided by District 51. That included a school bond approved by School District 51 voters.

This year, only 52 percent of school-bond measures passed. Failed measures ranged from a $2.5 million request in Lake County to a $395 million bond in Douglas County.

In an election when Colorado turned from red to blue in national and most state races, one might think that those who voted for Democrats would be more likely to vote for increased taxes for public schools. But that isn’t necessarily the case. Voters in Rangely — in Rio Blanco County, where 77 percent of voters supported McCain — approved a $15 million bond issue for their schools. To the south in San Miguel County — 77 percent for Obama — Telluride voters rejected an $18 million bond issue for their schools.

TABOR override requests for school districts — some associated with bond issues and some not — were also split nearly 50-50 on passing or failing.

The economy no doubt played a part in some of the bond-issue failures, but it doesn’t explain everything. Bond issues passed in places such as Monte Vista, where the economy is struggling far more than in Mesa County.

School districts around the state, including District 51, are already considering when might be the best time to return to voters to ask for money again. Based on this year’s results, waiting until the next presidential election will offer little guarantee of success.


•  Presidential preference may not have been a good indicator of whether voters in a particular county would approve a school bond issue, but it was in the race for the State Board of Education seat representing the 3rd Congressional District.

Grand Junction Republican Marcia Neal won that seat by an overall margin of 51 percent to 49 percent over Democrat Jill Brake of Pueblo. Of the 29 counties in the district, all but one followed their presidential preference in the State Board of Education vote, according to data on The Denver Post Web site. Only in Ouray County, where 53 percent of voters supported Obama, did they cross
party lines and back Neal by slightly more than 50 percent.

Still, Neal’s victory shows that the 3rd Congressional District remains willing to elect moderate Republicans, even if the voter numbers lean slightly Democratic. Too bad the Republican Party didn’t find a stronger candidate than Wayne Wolf to run against incumbent Democrat John Salazar for the congressional seat.

•  Finally, while many Republicans are agonizing over what their party should do in the wake of the losses suffered Nov. 4, Jim Martin has the simplest idea: Scrap the party altogether and start over.

In a press release sent out last week Martin, a former member of the University of Colorado Board of Regents, said, “Today’s Republican Party is history. The times call for a new political party, one that looks forward and appeals to a new majority of Americans, ones who find themselves between the Democrats and the Republicans. The best place to launch this party — let’s call it the Progressive Party — is right here in Colorado.”

He lists a dozen or so Coloradans he thinks should join his new party, including former 3rd District Congressman Scott McInnis, a stalwart Republican.

Martin, who says he was a Republican for 28 years before switching parties, makes the same point that many others have about far-right members of the GOP exerting too much control over the party.

But he is wrong when he says the party can’t reform. Just like the Democratic Party, which was once
the home for Southern racists, the GOP has made itself over several times and will do so again.

The political pendulum swings, Republicans who are fiscal conservatives but moderate or even libertarian on social issues will regain control of their party.



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