Our purple state

So much for the polls.

The big story, of course, is that late Tuesday night, Donald Trump appeared poised to be our next president. Instead of electing our first woman president, we elected an outsider — who behaved a lot like an independent while running against the Washington, D.C. establishment.

Going forward, we’ll all be keeping an eye on how much the Trump candidacy affects the future of politics in Colorado, which lived up to its reputation as a swing state by delivering purple results.

Mesa County commissioners came out in support of Trump shortly before the election. Trump got nearly two out of every three Mesa County votes cast in the presidential ballot.

But Colorado’s nine electoral votes went to Clinton and the state Legislature appears to remain divided. As near as we could tell late Tuesday, Republican maintained a slim majority in the state Senate, while Democrats appear to have strengthened control of the House.

Coloradans re-elected Democrat Michael Bennet to the U.S. Senate, but Mesa County and the rest of the 3rd Congressional District voted to send Republican Scott Tipton back to Washington.

Results of statewide ballot measures are a similar strange brew. “Progressive” measures to raise the minimum wage and allow the terminally ill to seek life-ending prescriptions passed, but the measure to create a universal healthcare program failed. So did a no-brainer to tax tobacco users to raise revenue for health programs.

Our purple state is a pockmarked with red and blue counties. No question that Mesa County remains solidly Republican, even if Trump has made us rethink what it means to be one.

The two incumbent Republican Mesa County commissioners, John Justman and Rose Pugliese, were re-elected by comfortable margins. Justman’s challengers, Democrat Mel Mulder and unaffiliated Jim Doody combined for 44 percent of the vote.

Pugliese won more handily, 63 percent to challenger Dave Edwards’ 37 percent. Still, if Justman and Pugliese are smart, they’ll realize that a sizable chunk of Mesa County’s electorate were dissatisfied with their job performance. They should take that to heart when plotting a course for Mesa County.

After the votes were tabulated, Pugliese said jobs and stabilizing the economy would be her chief focus over the coming four years. Since Justman and Pugliese took office, the world has changed under their feet. The oil and gas industry is a shell of its former self.

Sitting around and waiting for the natural gas market to rebound is no strategy at all. Perhaps a Trump presidency will revive it, but it can’t be the cornerstone of any concerted effort to diversify the economy. Sure it makes sense to lobby for approval of an liquiefied natural gas export facility that will take Piceance gas to the Pacific Rim — but only because it takes uncertainty out of a boom-and-bust industry.

We need to develop a post-energy economy. Our commissioners can be the tip of the spear on that effort. They need to collaborate with other civic leaders to create a vision of what Mesa County is to become and take steps to get there.


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