Outnumbered 3 to 1, county Dems can count on minority status
They are among us.
They work alongside everyone else in the Grand Valley. They dine at area restaurants, shop at area stores, and live, laugh and love seemingly like regular people.
No, they’re not the sub-human, underground-living species in H.G. Wells’ book, “The Time Machine.”
They are Democrats.
But like the Eloi in that 1895 tale, many are afraid to come out of the shadows.
In a county where conservative voters dominate Democrats by nearly 3–1, the left-leaning progressives oftentimes are reticent to show their politics for fear of retribution.
“As the polarization of the parties has gotten worse, so has the fear in Mesa County for people on the left to openly state their affiliation because they’re in the minority,” said Martelle Daniels, a former Mesa County Democratic Party chairwoman who remains active in the party. “When I was canvassing for the president, I found people who would be reluctant to talk to me. When they did talk to me, it would almost be like they were telling me a secret that they supported the president.”
Of course, they often whispered to Daniels that they did plan to vote for President Barack Obama, but when asked if they would allow a sign stating their political leanings on their front lawns?
Not a chance.
“They didn’t want to have a yard sign because of how it might affect their neighbors, or their relationships with their neighbors,” Daniels said. “It wasn’t always like that. When (my husband) and I came to town in 1983–84, the number of Democrats and Republicans was much closer. So there was a period where people said how they felt and there didn’t seem to be much of a push back.”
That’s changed in recent years, and seemed to reach a peak when Obama was first elected to office four years ago, she said.
“In 2008, the polarization was worse than I’ve ever seen it and people actually became a little fearful,” she said.
Getting Democrats to show themselves in public also has made it difficult for party leaders to field candidates in countywide races, Daniels said.
Getting them to the polls isn’t where the politics ends for many Democrats. It can impact other aspects of life in the Grand Valley, including work.
When Joyce Wingerter started a new job at a Grand Junction dentistry earlier this year, she learned quickly to keep her mouth shut about her political leanings.
The receptionist realized almost right away that the four other people in the office were not only conservative, but far right conservatives.
Wingerter stopped commenting on certain left-leaning posts she’d see on Facebook or other Internet sites for fear her co-workers might see it, never mind those same co-workers were not careful about displaying their political leanings on those same sites.
“My boss was posting these horrible things on Facebook about what needs to be done and that we need to take the country back and blah, blah, blah,” Wingerter said. “I would just erase them. I never commented on them unless it was a support-the-troops kind of thing.”
Around the office, other workers would make similar comments, giving her the impression “they were getting ready for Armageddon.”
“They were canning every weekend, they’ve got lots and lots of guns, and they would always be talking about their hatred for the president,” she said. “They were talking about President Obama needing to be hanged for treason because of the Benghazi thing. They didn’t mince words.”
But when Obama won re-election in an Electoral College landslide last month, Wingerter thought things would calm down.
“The day after the election, the (dentist) said all the flags were flying half-staff and upside-down,” she said. “At the end of that work week, they gave me my last paycheck. I said, ‘I’m fired?’ They said, ‘Yeah.’ “
The reason, however, was not because Wingerter was a Democrat and the others weren’t, she was told.
The reason was because Obama was re-elected. Consequently, it won’t be long before the nation’s economy falls over a fiscal cliff so the office needs to save as much money as it can.
“They didn’t really say, ‘Because you’re a Democrat, you’re fired,’ ” she said. “But it seemed like it had a lot to do with it, like they would have kept me if I had been joining in on their bandwagon.”
Wingerter said she’s not complaining about losing her job, though. While she wants a job, she doesn’t want one that badly.
“The stuff that I had to listen to every day makes it worth it to not be working there anymore, because every day I heard horrible, horrible stuff,” she said. “I just had to bite my tongue the whole time.”
Not every Democrat in the county thinks things are all that bad.
While Republicans control nearly every level of government in the county, there are two elected posts actually held by Democrats, albeit less important ones.
Neither job, however, carries much political weight.
“Politics doesn’t come into play at all because regardless of what political affiliation we may have, it can’t influence anything we do in our office because we have a set of rules and regulations we follow,” said Mesa County Surveyor Patrick Green who, like Mesa County Coroner Dean Havlik, is a registered Democrat.
One hundred and thirty-six years ago, when Colorado became a state, the office of surveyor was eminently important, Green said. That person had great power over land-use decisions.
Today, however, most county surveyors aren’t even full-time jobs.
As a result, party affiliation is hardly a consideration when it comes to the electorate, Green said.
“It makes a difference where you’re working and where you live in terms of how extensive (party hatred) is, but overall I think it’s better than it used to be,” Green said.
“We probably experience it more over here because we are a highly Republican area, and you tend to see it more in a small community.”
When someone’s politics aren’t known, Green said, people in the Grand Valley are very nice to each other.