Bill Grant Columnn November 11, 2008
Dems suffer post-election blues while GOP has buyer’s remorse
Mesa County Democrats, jubilant on election eve at the return of their party to national power, found their enthusiasm at the victory party for Barack Obama dampened by the poor showing of local Democratic candidates.
The evening that began as a celebration of the rejuvenation of a two-party system in Mesa County ended in the realization that the extreme economic and religious right are still the dominant political force here. Local, state and federal Democratic candidates in Mesa County all went down in a clean sweep. Many Democrats are understandably discouraged to see their efforts fail so completely.
The major shock to Democrats was the stunning loss by Rep. Bernie Buescher to political novice Laura Bradford. Bradford’s campaign attracted the small-business community, including an endorsement from the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce, with an anti-tax message appealing to small-business owners and economic conservatives.
Religious conservatives were drawn to Bradford by her opposition to the so-called “bathroom bill” (Senate Bill 200), which did little more than make Colorado law consistent with the U.S. Supreme Court decision that invalidated the notorious Colorado Amendment 2. Buescher, along with a majority of the Legislature, supported the civil rights bill.
A strong campaign by Dan Robinson failed to unseat Mesa County Commissioner Craig Meis. Robinson ran on his long experience as a public servant and his reputation as a consensus builder. He also raised the issue of Meis’ potential conflict-of-interest based on his ownership stake in Cordilleran Compliance Services, a company that provides services to the oil and gas industry that is regulated in part by the county commissioners. Voters’ perceived economic interests clearly trumped questions of ethics or favoritism to industry.
Commissioner Janet Rowland handily defeated Clifton attorney D. D. Lewis to retain her seat on the Board of County Commissioners.
To complete the Republican sweep here, Barack Obama, Mark Udall, and John Salazar were each defeated in Mesa County, even though all won their overall races,
While the Democrats in Mesa County were feeling the post-election blues, some local moderate Republicans seem to be showing signs of buyer’s remorse, especially in discussing the defeat of Bernie Buescher. Currently chairman of the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee and vice chairman of the powerful Joint Budget Committee, Buescher was expected to become Speaker of the House when the 2009 Legislature convenes. Meantime his relationship with Gov. Bill Ritter developed into a close personal friendship that helped focus the governor’s attention on Western Slope issues and needs.
Local Republicans not driven by narrow self-interest, religious fundamentalism or right wing political ideology are beginning to realize the potential cost of losing Bernie’s place in the Legislature to a lackluster candidate who shows no possibility of replacing either the talent or earned power that Buescher held in Denver. With Democrats firmly in control of both state and federal offices, some Republicans are concerned that Mesa County just voted itself back into political oblivion. With a declining state budget, we shouldn’t expect much sympathy from Denver.
State Sen. Josh Penry played to his base by endorsing Bradford as having “all the tools to be a great representative for the Western Slope.” But Penry owes much of his success in the Senate to working across the aisle with Buescher to pass legislation and secure funding. As the next Minority Speaker of the Senate, Penry will seek new allies from among Front Range Democrats who can help pass legislation that will resound to his credit. While that may serve Penry’s fast-track personal ambitions, it will do little to benefit Mesa County. Of course, he need never fear losing the vote of his base here; after all, he is a Republican.
The greatest of political virtues is not ideological purity, but good old American pragmatism. Bernie Buescher brought that quality to the Legislature. Republican political purity brought him down. District 55 is unlikely to see his like again.
Regardless of party, we will all pay the price for his loss.