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ISSUE #127: 2016 EndorsemANTs  10/19/2016

"It's easy to view politicians as corrupt, and voting as essentially an act of picking the lesser of two evils.  I understand that perspective and feel it's valid." 

-- Macklemore

Yep.  Another election looms.  Here in the People's Republic of Aspen, these darned things crop up nearly as often as the seasons change.  This one promises to be a whopper -- for reasons far beyond those even contemplated in our little burg -- and I encourage you to vote.  We will be arguing about the 2016 election outcome(s) for the rest of our lives, and The Red Ant always says, if you don't vote, then you are not entitled to an opinion.  (At least I'm not interested in it.)

First, some quick housekeeping.  This will be a mail-in ballot election.  Ballots will be sent to you on October 17.  You may drop off your ballot beginning on October 17 at the Pitkin County Clerk's office (501 E. Hyman Ave., Suite 106) 8:30a - 4:30p, Town of Snowmass Village Town Hall (24 hour drop box) and Basalt Town Hall (101 Midland Ave) in a 24 hour drop box in the parking lot.  Early voting begins at the Aspen Jewish Community Center at 435 West Main Street on October 24, 8:30a - 4:30p M-F and 10a - 2p on Saturdays.  If voting via mail-in ballot makes you queasy, you may also (but not additionally) vote in person on Election Day, November 8, at the Aspen Jewish Community Center, the Town of Snowmass Village Town Hall or Grace Church in Emma.  Bring a photo ID.  On Election Day you may also drop your ballot until 7p at The Church at Redstone.  Remember, additional postage is needed if mailing in your ballot.  Ballots received after 7pm on Election Day will not be counted.  Please direct your questions to the Pitkin County Clerk's office 970-920-5180 x5.  Register or confirm your voter registration HERE

I encourage you vote your conscience for our 45th president.  But buyer beware.  Regardless of your political affiliation or your views on the inevitable election of an un-indicted criminal or a narcissistic reality tv star/businessman to the highest office in the land, there is FAR more at stake than just who gets to wake up at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for the next four years.  Stop kvetching about who you WISH was on the ticket.  Focus on the issues!  The deficit.  National security.  The Supreme Court.  Race relations in America.  A politicized judiciary.  Our failed education system ... Among many other critical issues.  As abhorrent as each of the individual candidates is personally, their policies could not be more different.  I highly recommend ignoring the temptation to vote for (or against) one personality, but rather, vote for the candidate whose policies align most closely with your own.  The problems we face today are dramatically worse than anything we've seen certainly in my lifetime.  And if you don't think so, you are kidding yourself.  The outcome of a presidential election always has vast implications and consequences, however, this one will be particularly far-reaching.  Do the homework.  Colorado is one of several swing states that will determine the outcome of this election.  Remember the electoral college from civics class?  Let your pals in NY and CA argue til they're literally blue in the face.  Given how the electoral college works, their votes don't count.  Or, rather, they've already been counted.  Alternatively, your Colorado vote MOST DEFINITELY counts!  Exercise your right thoughtfully and responsibly.

The following are solely the opinions and endorsements of The Red Ant. This is NOT an election primer, nor am I touting it as a fair and balanced analysis of both sides of every issue.  It's not.  It's MY (well-researched and contemplated) opinion.  Period.  Every registered voter in Colorado has received a 79-page State Ballot Information Booklet.  Read it.  You can also search online for additional otherwise biased input.  And I encourage you to do so.  But because I hear from SO MANY of you each election cycle as part of your personal election research inquiring as to how I am voting, here's what I'm doing and why.  


This political outsider (and US Air Force vet) is an African-American constitutionalist who vows to fight the Washington establishment, address our crippling debt and focus on building our national security.  Sick of the rigged system in Washington and the elite insiders of both parties whose decisions are transforming America in the image of socialist European nations, Glenn will fight for those in Colorado who are equally sick of the failed policies of Barack Obama, and yes, that includes ObamaCare.  Lots of outside money is flowing into our state to oppose Glenn because he does have a shot against the incumbent.  Now is the time to send a message to Washington that the people of Colorado expect better.


I am voting for our incumbent representative for numerous reasons, but share two key ones here:  Truth and ObamaCare

Truth:  In this ugliest of election cycles, lies in campaign materials are rampant. Tipton's challenger, ever desperate to unseat him, is currently pushing an inane claim that Scott Tipton is trying to "sell" public lands.  Now's the time to blow the big BS whistle.  When asked to provide proof of this false claim, Tipton's opponent pointed to two bills.  Independently verified by The Durango Herald, one bill "does not issue any new land for sale," and the other "says nothing about transferring ownership."  This attempt to deceive western slope voters on Congressman Tipton's record is shameful and unethical.  Congressman Tipton has a record for sponsoring legislation that protects and promotes our public lands.  Do not be fooled by desperate attempts at deception by a desperate wanna-be politician.

ObamaCare:  As a self-insured resident of Pitkin County, I recently learned that my health insurance, for the second year in a row, would not be offered for renewal.  In fact, thus far this year no insurer in the state of Colorado is offering an individual PPO plan. I harken back to the days of "If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor.  If you like your plan, you can keep your plan."  What a joke.  Looking at my choices for 2017, they are abysmal.  I like my doctors, but most will not accept the insurance plans now available to me.  I have liked both of my recent insurance plans, despite the ridiculously increasing costs (over 40% in rural areas).  I'm not looking for a subsidy, I'm just looking to purchase quality insurance that meets my needs and allows me to see the doctors I choose.  That I cannot do this is absolutely unconscionable.  ObamaCare is unsustainable and simply MUST be repealed.  Even former president Bill Clinton calls it "the craziest thing on earth."  Scott Tipton in district 3 and a Republican-controlled congress is the only way to kill ObamaCare.  Otherwise we are barreling down the highway to a single payer system, and if you think your choices are bad now...  Oh, and by the way, Tipton's opponent recently said of ObamaCare, "This system, it's going to work.  It is working."  Yeah, right.

And don't take my word for it.  Tipton has been endorsed by The Denver Post as well as The Gazette.  Click to read those endorsements.



This amendments strikes the words "except as punishment for a crime, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted" from the state constitution concerning an exception to involuntary servitude.  Colorado has no slaves so this language is purely symbolic.  Those convicted of crimes under the law do not become slaves of the state, so voting yes will not affect inmate work programs, although legal challenges are certain to arise as a result.


This amendment proposes to exempt individuals or private businesses that use government-owned property for a private benefit worth $6000 or less from paying property taxes, beginning in 2018 and increasing with inflation annually thereafter.  Exempting these (or any individual or business) from property taxes on the government-owned property they use violates the principal of equal protection.  It inherently places a greater tax burden on others to pay for local government services.  These property taxes should continue being collected uniformly from all taxpayers.  A small tax bill does not justify exempting individuals or businesses from paying the tax.


Vote NO twice if you can!!  The establishment of ColoradoCare will create a statewide single-payer healthcare system in Colorado.  This is a HUGE state income tax increase (above and beyond the state's current 4.63% income tax) with an ultimate rate of 10% on earned wages that is expected to generate $2 BILLION initially and approximately $25 BILLION per year when fully implemented, and will nearly DOUBLE state government spending.  In the initial years, taxpayers will pay $2 billion into a system without receiving any direct benefits. Many will pay more in new taxes than they currently pay for healthcare.  And taxpayers must pay these new taxes even if they do not utilize the services offered through ColoradoCare.  Under ColoradoCare, all healthcare transactions will be funneled through the state.  There are no guarantees that ColoradoCare will improve patient services, access, care, or reduce healthcare costs, and it may additionally limit consumer choice.  No implementation date has been specified.  This may be Colorado's last chance to retain taxpayer independence for healthcare decisions in our ever-developing "nanny state."  ColoradoCare is a monstrous disaster waiting to happen.


This amendment seeks to increase the state minimum wage from $8.31 to $9.30 per hour, increasing $0.90 per hour beginning in 2018 until it reaches $12 per hour in 2020, and then further increasing with cost-of-living increases each year after that.  This is a classic liberal heart-string measure that is well-intended but will likely have significant negative consequences.  The entire idea behind the minimum wage was to provide subsistence level compensation while workers gain skills and education to move up the employment ladder or start their own businesses.  Increasing this wage to a level where it is perceived as a permanent living wage will likely create an even larger population of under-trained and under-educated workers who are satisfied with adding limited productivity to the workplace their entire lives.  Businesses will adapt by hiring fewer workers and finding other ways to reduce costs.  While the federal minimum wage may arguably be too low, a measure to set Colorado's annual minimum wage at $25,000 ($12 per hour x 2080 = $25,000), while still a low wage, is not the right approach.  The right approach is to provide education and training for workers to move up and out of the unskilled labor force and into the world of skilled labor where their productivity exceeds the six word phrase, "Do you want fries with that?"


This amendment requires that a certain number of signatures be gathered from each state senate district (5% of the votes cast from each senate district in the most recent election for Secretary of State) to place a constitutional initiative on the ballot.  It requires that a proposed constitutional amendment demonstrate a minimum level of statewide support prior to being placed on the ballot.  (It SHOULD be difficult to change the state constitution -- requiring that signatures for constitutional initiatives be gathered from each senate district ensures that citizens from across the state have a say.)  Due to the relative ease of collecting signatures in urban areas compared to sparsely populated rural areas, rural citizens currently have a limited voice in determining which issues appear on the ballot.  Everyone should have a say in amending the state constitution and this amendment provides a path for an appropriate level of inclusiveness for all Coloradans.


This amendment quadruples state cigarette taxes (from $0.84 to $2.59), a $315.7 million tax increase, with revenues required to be spent on a variety of very specific programs with no guarantee that such programs will reduce the societal costs of tobacco use.  Any future change to this measure will require another vote, and in the meantime, the tax will continue indefinitely.  (In other words, if/when tobacco use declines, this amendment will have locked in state spending on the original specific programs, even if these become unnecessary or are shown to be ineffective, and other new needs and priorities are identified.)  Besides, a "sin tax" is a regressive tax that may or may not alter behavior -- if it does, such reduction in tobacco purchases will eliminate the income it was intended to provide in the first place.


This amendment provides access to medical aid-in-dying medication in the case of a terminally ill patient under certain conditions, such as a six month or less to live prognosis.  The measure allows a mentally competent individual to peacefully end his or her life in the time, place and environment of his or her choosing after voluntarily requesting and self-administering the medication.  Prop 106 also provides protections from criminal penalties for physicians and family members who choose to support a terminally ill individual through the dying process.  The state of Oregon has proven that this kind of program can work successfully and give individuals the final say in how they choose to end their lives with dignity.  Prop 106 is modeled after Oregon's program.


This amendment to the Colorado statutes establishes a presidential primary election in Colorado that allows participation by unaffiliated voters. All registered voters in Colorado should be allowed to participate in the selection of presidential nominees, even if they are not affiliated with a political party.  (In Colorado, unaffiliated voters make up more than one third of all registered voters.) A presidential primary system serves Colorado voters better than the (current) caucus system which is confusing and inaccessible to many voters.  A presidential primary will be conducted in the same manner as all other elections by experienced county election officials.


This amendment enables unaffiliated voters to vote in a non-presidential primary election without having to affiliate with a party at any point up to and including election day (the current requirement).  Instead, with the passage of Prop 108, unaffiliated voters will receive a combined ballot that shows all candidates for elected office for each political party; unaffiliated voters may then only vote in contests for one political party.  Think of it as a streamlined version of the "day of" party registration that exists today.  The measure also allows political parties (private organizations) to opt out of holding a primary that is open to unaffiliated voters.  Instead, they may choose to nominate candidates in an assembly or convention that is limited to voters affiliated with that party.



The OST mission is to acquire, preserve, maintain and manage open space properties for multiple purposes, including but not limited to recreational, wildlife, agricultural, scenic and access, and to acquire, preserve, develop, maintain and manage trails for similar purposes.  1A asks for reauthorization of the current 3.75 mill levy (not a tax increase) for a 20 year term beginning in 2020, as well as allowing for a greater percentage of funding for maintenance (the more space acquired, the more money needed to tend to the properties), including the protection of historic buildings on the properties as well as funding for bike lanes along roadways.  This was not an obvious "yes" for me, but the 25-year-old Open Space and Trails program HAS proven to be an incredibly valuable community asset that has enhanced our outdoor lifestyles while maintaining the county's rural character through the preservation of over 20,000 acres of land and 70 miles of trails, plus 90km of our Nordic ski trail system.   Maintaining the same 3.75 mill levy is probably appropriate because the OST fund is a healthy one, with a 2016 starting fund balance of $5 million, anticipated revenues from the mill levy of $12 million and projected expenditures of $5.5 million.  However, faced with a reputation for being the ultimate insiders club with little communication with and input from the community, the 5-member OST board would be very well served by some fresh, diverse blood (and perhaps term limits) while the organization adjusts to the growing concerns of balancing the often conflicting objectives of acquiring, conserving and maintaining land and providing access via recreational trails.  I am personally wary of the 20-year extension term (it seems excessive when previous extensions have been for 10 years, but alas that is not the question at hand), but have no good reason to think that (with proper oversight by the county commissioners) the stewards of OST will not continue their good work to the benefit of us all.  


It's about time.  Approximately 20% of the students in the Aspen School district reside in Snowmass Village.  This measure asks the town to FINALLY financially contribute to the school district.  It's only right.  It should not solely be Aspen's financial burden.  The Snowmass community has an obligation to cover their fair share of the costs of educating their children.  While those of us in Aspen cannot vote to levy this tax on our Snowmass neighbors, it's important to know what's going on here.  Unfortunately, this may not be an easy nor obvious "it's for the schools" victory -- Snowmass Village has three property tax measures on the ballot -- this one, one for the Wildcat Fire Protection District and one for Snowmass Water and Sanitation.  (Incidentally, this is quite a dilemma in the community where the sales tax is already at an astronomical 10.4%, which does not bode well for a future sales tax measure for the schools as a fix should 2A fail.). Without the $500K annually expected from 2A, you know all too well who will have to pick up the slack..... Yes, guilt your Snowmass friends into supporting this one.  And shame on them if they don't.


This one is a matter of housekeeping.  Current law prohibits local governments from providing cable tv, telecommunications, high speed internet, etc. unless an election is held granting it such permission.  At issue in Aspen is only the high speed internet aspect.  The city seeks to gain the ability to provide such service within the city limits.  This vote DOES NOT automatically "give" the city any specific authority nor a competitive place at the table vs Comcast or anyone else at this juncture, but it serves as a first step toward creating the OPTION for the city to consider upgrading city-wide high-speed internet service (a la a utility).  In other words, a yes vote removes a bureaucratic hurdle.  The inevitable how, who, when and costs cannot be even contemplated yet alone addressed by the city until this door is opened.  Simply speaking, this one is a reasonable YES vote.  It does not give our fine municipality control nor any proprietary advantage should improvements be deemed appropriate or necessary.  Rather, it simply opens the door to consideration of a variety of options (and competition -- public and private) in the future as opportunities, technology, funding, etc. for such an endeavor arise.  (I was particularly impacted by THIS brief article on the long term implications of providing high speed data to cities.)


Say what you will about the city manager and his decisions.  And I've said plenty.  But don't let this yes vote alarm you.  It is the city manager's job to hire and manage city staff.  Our friends on city council are elected by the populace to deliberate and adopt policy, not slide down the slippery slope of meddling in staffing decisions.  The only two city employees who report to city council are the city manager and the city attorney.  The community development director and police chief are critical city staffers who, by definition, oversee vital areas of responsibility.  We cannot allow these two positions in particular to be politicized by the revolving door brought on by city council elections every two years; both employees should be governed by the land use code and the law, respectively, and report to the city manager.  Now, if the city manager cannot be trusted to appoint the best candidates for these roles and effectively manage them, then we clearly need a new city manager.  But that's another matter for another day.


Admittedly, I am falling on my sword here.  Sure, the schools make a compelling argument for needing the funds, there is no question.  But for several years leading up to 2E (below), I have lobbied the Aspen Education Foundation and anyone school-oriented who would listen to organize and make a compelling case to go after some of the Wheeler Opera House's portion (0.5%) of the real estate transfer tax (RETT), which amounted to $5.4 million in 2015.  I even offered to help.  (Imagine, the matter could have been on THIS ballot!)  No one was willing to step up and make the case.  I see it as laziness and entitlement.  The prevailing wisdom of those who make such decisions is "It's for the schools so who is going to vote no?"  It's my belief that this wisdom WOULD have prevailed in a "re-allocation of a portion of the Wheeler funds for education" measure.  In this (sales tax extension) case, I am going to vote NO. And I encourage you to do the same.  I pay plenty for the schools with my property taxes and so do you.  When a generational opportunity presents itself and that opportunity is ignored outright, I say "enough."   (It will probably pass, but I say send the message anyway.)


The Real Estate Transfer Tax (RETT) money that goes to the Wheeler Opera House was first directed there in 1979.  In 1997, the tax was extended and is set to expire 12/31/19.  This question asks for another 20 year extension.  Originally, the RETT money was designated for "the purpose of renovation, reconstruction and maintenance" as well as "supporting the visual and performing arts."  This round, funds will be earmarked for "maintenance" of the building and "support for the visual and performing arts."  Notably, in the 40 years since deriving funds from the RETT, the Wheeler sits on a fund balance of $29.17 million.  The RETT is not the Wheeler's only source of income -- in 2016, it is projected to generate $744K from event productions, $212K in rental income, $290K in investment income and $88K in loan repayments, a total of $1.34 million in non-RETT revenue.  Such funds are used to support production, operations and art grants.  What cannot be afforded is covered by the healthy pot of gold from the RETT ($5.4 million in 2015). Incidentally, the Wheeler's reserve fund is the city's largest fund balance, and the city is known to dip its sticky fingers into this readily available cash bucket at will.

See where I'm going with this?  There is a crazy wealth of money parked at the Wheeler.  I don't see why we should, as a matter of course, automatically renew this tax and lock it in for another 20 years.  For one thing, the current RETT for the Wheeler is in place through 2019.  There is still time to regroup and properly evaluate alternatives, and return to the voters in another year or so.  Additionally, the operating subsidies and excessive fund balance tell me that, at the very least, we should give the Wheeler operations a good hard look to determine "real" needs, and at the same time, look hard at other "real" needs in the community.  With this kind of money at stake (an annual average of $4 million), how about a re-allocation of SOME portion of this "free money" to the schools?  What about mental health care -- a local hot button topic if there ever was one.  What about both of those as well as funds for the Wheeler?  No one says the 0.5% has to go to just one recipient.  There are many ways to skin this cat.  (And shame on the Aspen School District for not making the case to share in this revenue!!)

No one is saying "Leave the Wheeler out in the cold."  Not even close.  But perhaps, given the Wheeler's strong financial position, there are other worthy beneficiaries of SOME of those RETT funds.  Considering that RETT funds come directly from those buying real estate in Aspen, the burden of the tax falls mainly on wealthy property owners.  Many locals (especially those who live in subsidized housing who do not pay a RETT upon purchasing their properties) argue that the Wheeler RETT provides them with affordable tickets to Wheeler programs.  That shouldn't change if the Wheeler sticks to a realistic operating budget.  And if the Wheeler needs supplemental funding for programming or capital improvements, they can go before council and request funding, just like other city departments.  I just think the time has come to share the spoils across a broader community spectrum.


Poschman is a pragmatist.  This Aspen native approaches his decision-making in a calculated and collaborative manner.  A life-long Aspenite, Poschman appeals to me for a seat on the BOCC because of his philosophy of measured growth, public-private partnerships for subsidized housing, and most notably, his realistic views that just because someone is born and raised here, it's probable that many may not be able to live here.  The Aspen Times has also endorsed Poschman, stating, "(He) has proven throughout the campaign that he has the chops to tackle county business.  As an outspoken preservationist, Poschman would bring a smart approach to county land-use decisions.... He has the demeanor to work with diverse personalities and appears to be a good listener.  His consideration for the environment and the general direction of the county would be a welcomed addition to the board."

Poschman's opponent is someone I cross swords with time and again and could NEVER support.  This weird agent is hell-bent on the belief that Aspen should drastically expand its subsidized housing program so as to additionally subsidize "the middle class," and favors government subsidies of local businesses.  His "cradle to grave" subsidy concept for those who are from Aspen as well as those who pass through its pearly gates and set up camp here are not only impractical and ridiculous, but illustrative of exactly who we do not need anywhere near the $105 million annual county budget!!


Why are Steve Child and George Newman running unopposed?  I can't stand it when this happens!  Can't we as a community do better and at least challenge the incumbents?  As I've recommended in such cases in the past, go ahead, vote for them if you must, but you can also send a message.  If you think they are good and you want them back in office, go for it.  If you're indifferent (as I am) and only wish someone more interesting would have thrown their hat into the ring, well then, leave it blank.  Obviously these two are on the glide path to re-election, but if you're not thrilled, do your part to keep their re-election percentage low.  It may just entice someone to run in the future.


First and foremost, McCrory is an independent.  He is not beholden to the political insiders.  And yes, in a perfect world, the DA should be apolitical.  As a highly respected defense attorney for over 20 years, McCrory served as the chief deputy DA who ran the Aspen office in the 1980s and 90s.  In an increasingly politicized judiciary, now is the time to bring McCrory back.


As I have said before, DO NOT skip this important part of the ballot, even if you neither know nor care about who they are or how they dispense justice.  By not explicitly voting NO on each "shall (judge) be retained" question, you are implicitly voting YES to keep him/her on the bench.  Unless you personally know a given judge to be honest and fair (i.e. non-activist), vote NO on retention!



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