"A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship."
-- Alexander Tytler, 18th Century political theorist
I'm never one to leave The Red Ant readership alone to ponder and decipher the election outcome, so this issue comes together en route from Aspen to Moscow via London. (Nope, the irony is not lost on me -- a report on the election in the People's Republic of Aspen while headed to the land of the Bolsheviks!?)
ARRRRGGGHH: 50.6% OF THE VOTES GIVES MICK HIS THIRD TERM
Mick was so certain of his own victory that he took a week-long vacation at the beginning of campaign season. At the time, he thought he was running unopposed. Thankfully Ruth Kruger and Andrew Kole stepped up in the 11th hour to challenge him and make him work for it. But in the end, Mick got 892 votes, where Ruth got 719. Andrew brought in 150. At press time, it appears that his tally NARROWLY eliminates the need for a run-off. Oh-so narrowly. So there we have it. Mick again. But the community is VERY Sick of Mick just the same. It was no landslide and therefore no mandate. 869 citizens voted AGAINST him. Problem is, 892 voted for him. Two more years and he's term-limited out. That is, unless he changes the law to abolish term limits..... Good grief. But I promise, The Red Ant will be on him like "white on rice" every step of the way. It's the least I can do.
COUNCIL RUN-OFF IS OFF
Incumbent councilman Steve Skadron and challenger Adam Frisch handily won the two available council seats with 925 and 853 votes, respectively. (The threshold was at 717 votes.) These two candidates raised the most campaign funds and were the beneficiaries of "bullet voting" endorsements. (The Red Ant loathes being grouped with Aspen Times columnist Su Lum for anything, but alas we both promoted a bullet-voting strategy that helped get our candidates elected!) With six challengers for two seats, it was unexpected to have such decisiveness for both seats in the first round, but given the choices, ok, I see where that could happen.
THE PRECINCTS: The bulk of Mick's support came from precincts dominated by subsidized housing, and 4 of the 5 precincts are: Precinct 1 (East Aspen, the Midland/Park neighborhood), Precinct 2 (the downtown core), Precinct 3 (Hunter Creek area) and Precinct 5 (Castle Ridge and Burlingame). This confirms what we've long believed: subsidized housing residents vote for their own, despite terrible problems with the well-intended program, including an incumbent mayor who breaks the same housing rules so many honest residents abide by, and a capital reserves scenario that is solely the result of the city and county creating the housing program and then letting it run itself into the ground! (Remember, Mick was a 3-term county commissioner before becoming mayor, and is effectively the godfather of Aspen's subsidized housing program.) His anti-business / pro-entitlement stance keeps the local economy in shambles, with an estimated 50% of subsidized housing residents out of compliance with their rental agreements or deed restrictions because they CAN'T find enough work to fulfill their employment obligations. Voting is a strange animal -- often frighteningly predictable and making no sense whatsoever in the same breath. But as The Red Ant has said before, there has been great success for a guy like Mick when he can say, "Vote for me, I got you a house." Incidentally and no surprise, Precinct 4 (the West End and Cemetery Lane) was where Ruth beat him.
TURN-OUT: Voter turn-out was notably low this year. In the 2009 race when we employed the controversial Instant Run-off Voting (IRV) vote-counting method, we were thrilled by the fiery Marilyn vs Mick mayoral contest and provoked by the yes/no vote on the Aspen Art Museum's desire to purchase the old Youth Center space. This season's race has been anemic at best. Just 1761 voters cast a ballot in the mayoral race. Certified totals are not available yet for this year, but in 2009 it was 2544. The Red Ant ponders, was it the snooze-fest of a campaign that kept voters away? Or was it that we finally had accurate vote counts, adult supervision of the clerk, a locked ballot box in her office, reconciliation of mail-in ballots, voter ID mandated at the polls, and tight controls throughout the process to prevent the long-suspected election fraud from occurring yet again!? Probably a combination of both.
INTEGRITY: For the first time in recent memory, the city -- as keeper of the election records -- does not know HOW you voted! This is thanks to the countless hours and tireless behind-the-scenes work of election integrity activist Marilyn Marks, election commissioners Ward Howenstein and Bob Leatherman, and Pitkin County election manager Dwight Shellman III who the city hired to oversee and begin to fix our election process. There were significant changes to the election code -- steps to ensure voter anonymity and to re-establish voter confidence in our previously sketchy system. And boy did Dwight have his hands full, cleaning up several decades' worth of sloppy records, questionable practices and erroneous voter rolls, among other messes too numerous to mention! As you know, until now, Aspen has long played fast and loose with our voting procedures. No more! THANK YOU! And a special thank you to the fine group of citizen election judges who "worked" the election. It was great to see so many dedicated citizens making the commitment to ensure fair and accurate elections in Aspen!
OUTLOOK: From the political/legislative perspective, despite Mick's re-election, there is good news. We have guaranteed ourselves at least a political break-even with Adam's election: when Dwayne left in February, Ruth was appointed to keep his seat warm. Adam will now sit in that seat for the next 4 years. Theoretically, we are no worse off than we were before this election. And we're likely better off, especially if Adam takes a no-nonsense approach with Mick. (It's Aspen politics - we've gotta take good news, however lame, if, when and where we can get it!)
FUNDRAISING: Many of the candidates elected not to fundraise at all during this race or to simply fund their campaigns themselves. Ok, it's noble, I guess. But it was also B-O-R-I-N-G and ineffective! There were very few goofy and self-aggrandizing "I'm great" campaign ads and even fewer hosted "meet & greets" to casually chat with the candidates over wine and cheese. Most candidates simply relied on the debates to get their messages out. Bad idea! The winners raised money, advertised and held various diverse outreach events! C'mon folks: Aspen voters like to see their candidates put a little skin in the game and WORK for their votes! Even the Sick of Mick campaign raised nearly $3000 in mostly $19.99 increments!
ENDORSEMENTS: Endorsements by the local papers were generally (and boringly) predictable. While The Aspen Times went waaaaay out on a limb with their endorsement of Adam Frisch (along with Steve Skadron), it was "despite his support from conservatives and the pro-business crowd." Good grief. While on one hand laughable, it's both telling and frightening that the Times vilifies those who call for fiscal restraint in government AND the very same business types they rely on for advertising revenue! They also predictably endorsed Mick yet again. (Have they ever NOT endorsed him?) Ok, it is their paper, but when they tout "(he) embodies the values that define the town," while admitting "he's stubborn, prickly and occasionally rude," you know just why they are the town joke. The Red Ant implores you to do your part -- keep The Aspen Times and their strong anti-business stance in mind when YOU buy advertising. In other words, don't. The Aspen Daily News also endorsed Mick. That too was to be expected. The Daily News' weak endorsement was admittedly based "not on style but substance," telling readers that Mick "brings a strong work ethic to the job." Folks, that's because he does nothing else. He has successfully made a less-than-part-time board-type position into a $27,000 a year career! NOTE: The Aspen Times hardly sold any campaign ads this election cycle. It could have been their pricing -- nearly 40% above the Daily News -- but it was probably more a result of their predictable Mick love-fest. (Aside from Marcia Goshorn, no candidate wanted to be associated with him!) But it's most likely because the Times condones "anonymous blogging," where the local haters Pete Louras ("We Deserve Better"), Marcella Larsen ("Stop the Greed Now"), Phyllis Bronson ("Animal Safety") and others have a venue to spew their venom from behind the "cloaks of secrecy" of their noms de plume. Well, not so secret. But I digress....
Yes, I am disappointed. Very. I am simply delighted by Adam's victory, but I had really really hoped for a mayoral run-off -- and we nearly got one. My biggest fear now is the voting power of the electorate as demonstrated by those who voted for Mick in an environment where he was so solidly on the wrong side of many, many issues. What does that say? What kind of community-wide litmus test was this? I fear the looming $50+M ballot measure for a general obligation bond to build Burlingame 2. Thankfully it wasn't on this ballot. But given these results and the precinct voting numbers, it will be a BIG FIGHT to defeat it when it does come before us. (Notice how I didn't say "if.")
HYDRO UPDATE: THE BIG ISSUES REMAIN
On April 26, council voted 5-0 to yank its controversial, environmentally indifferent and ethically challenged "conduit exemption" application and will now pursue a more environmentally stringent review with greater federal oversight. The new plan is to pursue a "minor water power project license." Did the city really think they could sneak the original shenanigans past the neighbors, the environmentalists, The Red Ant? This turn-about (just prior to the election -- what a coincidence) is a result of ongoing citizen outcry, condemnation by national environmental groups and threats of lawsuits. (The Red Ant first covered the hydro mess in July 2010, and has subsequently followed up in 4 additional issues. See www.TheRedAnt.com, issues 45, 47, 49, 54 and 55.) This decision followed a closed-door executive session with the city attorneys in which council learned about the city's "vulnerabilities" and the "legal exposure" of staying on the "conduit exemption" application path.
The new license will add time (2+ years), costs (TBD but in the hundreds of thousands) and uncertainty to the beleaguered project. It will also put much-needed oversight and responsibility in the hands of the feds as opposed to the city. However, with $4.4M of the $5.5M bond funds already spent (more like wasted), the financial picture is bleak at best. (Recall that $2.3M has been spent BUILDING an emergency drainage line from Thomas Reservior -- not for emergency purposes, rather to "create" a conduit so the sought-after "exemption" could be applied for using this "existing" infrastructure!) Dust in the wind now. And the custom $1.5M turbine has already been purchased. It's in storage in another state. Could there be some securities fraud here, given the funds were used for something other than the voter-approved hydro plant for which the bonds were issued? Hmmmm. You can darned well bet I'm looking into it! Regardless, there was definitely some "misrepresentation." With just $1.1M of the bond money remaining, how will this thing ever get built, even if it gets approved someday?
It was funny if it wasn't so pathetic to hear mayor Mick, in a 10-minute sermon on the mount, espouse the glories of hydro power while lamenting the city's continued reliance on coal-fired electricity until the hydro plant is built and productive. Mick felt the need to remind everyone that this hydro plant is "the right thing to do" because it sets "an example for other communities," and besides, "carbon is killing our community in so many ways." His favorite scare tactic to rally the declining support for the hydro plant is to tell people that if the hydro plant doesn't get built, our water will be sold to Denver or Phoenix in what's called a "trans-mountain diversion." It's total BS. The city will always have the rights to our water for municipal uses. Their problem is that when they decommissioned the old hydro plant in the 1950's, they lost those hydro plant rights in a use-it-or-lose-it situation. Thus, they are having to re-apply.
Mick is simply obsessed with the Koch family who owns a large parcel of land at the far upper end of Castle Creek, and constantly vilifies them for some imagined nefarious plot to sell off our water. Utter nonsense. I see it as Mick lamenting a lost "claim to fame" on his resume and trying to guilt the community into feeling bad about it -- when in reality it's Mick whining because he and the boys tried to skirt the law but they got caught! Questions remain about the feasibility of the new license application, but for now we can breathe a sigh of relief. Thanks to citizen activists Yasmine DePagter, Maureen Hirsch, Connie Harvey and Ken Neubecker (of Trout Unlimited) who have tirelessly worked to expose this issue. Look for information on their community forum on the hydro plant in mid-June!
HE SAID WHAT??? (AND APPARENTLY IT DIDN'T MATTER!)
Did you hear? On April 25, during the city council meeting, mayor Mick spoke both of "borrowing" a local kid from the Animal Shelter for a family day at the rec center AND of bringing your "circumcision" to the polls as I.D. I have a hard time even writing about it so I posted the succinct clips on YouTube. Watch the :30 piece for yourself HERE. You can't make this stuff up! This is a very disturbed man. Given he now has a third term, it's time for Mick to grow up. He is 61 years old! Sixteen years in public office have enabled him to completely lose touch with reality and completely disregard the principles of common decency. What do you think the odds are of his behavior changing?