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ISSUE #143: VOTE! Without ANTipathy!

"No part of the education of a politician is more indispensable than the fighting of elections."

                               -- Winston Churchill




HERE is the Pitkin County ballot for the November 6, 2018, election.  It's a 5-pager should you print it out, but after reading this issue, if you want my "cheat sheet," print THIS instead. Your ballot was mailed to you on October 15.  If you don't have it yet, it's on its way.
This issue is solely an overview of how I am voting, and why. I am not telling anyone to vote in any particular manner.  But, what you have come to expect from The Red Ant is that I do my research.
Now, before anyone gets all hysterical about my choices and comes to any great conclusions ("OMG, she's a Republican!"), I will say it again, this is how I am voting.  Vote any way you'd like.  But I dug in and did the dirty work to form my opinions and am sharing them with you in this issue.  I do hope you find my research helpful.
Most importantly, vote, although it is indeed your right to abstain.  (Heads up, there's a strange undercurrent in Aspen to compel voter participation in the future.  Look for that to raise its strangely-shaped and ugly head!)  And don't forget, it's also a-ok to leave any of the issues blank. If you really don't have an opinion, or just don't care, it's ok, skip it!  Be deliberate!
ASPEN 2A: This measure seeks to move Aspen's municipal elections from May to March, ostensibly to increase voter participation.  Since May technically falls within Aspen's off-season, recent cries of "voter disenfranchisement" have led to a citizens petition to get this on the ballot.  (Technically, it's our cabal of Whiny Millennials who haven't figured out how to submit their mail-in ballots.)  When I hear about "voter disenfranchisement," the first thing I think of is - what are they REALLY up to?  Aspen and Pitkin County voters are among the most enfranchised voters in America.  To say they are "disenfranchised" is a slap in the face to Linda Manning and Janice Vos Caudill (our city and county clerks, respectively), who move mountains to ensure everybody who wants to vote can vote. No clerk in any other locale would make it ok to vote (provisionally) via fax from Bali when a resident forgot to send in his ballot!  First of all, our elections are mail ballot elections.  Up until 3 weeks prior to any election, you can arrange to have your ballot mailed to any address.  And you can do it in about 30 seconds online.  When you receive your ballot, you have 3 weeks to drop it off or mail it back in.  Those who cannot figure this out are either stupid or lazy. Likely both. That alone is one reason to vote NO on this measure.  

Another is, if the whiners really want to increase voter participation, city elections should be aligned with the state/federal election cycle (the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November).  Obviously.  Furthermore, there is a concerted effort in Aspen to register seasonal workers to vote in our elections.  This will clearly impact the power of SkiCo to push its progressive and environmental agenda, while also encouraging the transient workforce to impact our elections despite only being here seasonally.  And lastly, as if those reasons aren't enough, a March 5 election sets the ballot by December 26, with voting beginning February 11 (in the very height of ski season).  Read more HERE. While it might be tempting to elect a new mayor ASAP to get rid of Steve Skadron earlier than next May, who can run for elected office in this high-season timeframe?  Those who do not have to work, that's who.  We desperately need qualified candidates to join the circus!  We certainly should not be precluding them simply because they're out there earning a living and contributing to our resort economy when town is packed to the rafters!  I am obviously voting NO.
ASPEN 2B: This provision will allow the City of Aspen to issue debt in support of its "enterprise funds" (electric, water, sewer and storm drains). In essence, it permits entities created by the city to obtain funding sources outside the city budget process and without voter approval.  I for one don't want city council or city staff doing any such thing.  I'm voting NO.
ASPEN 2C: This overly broad provision would essentially allow city council to grant monopolies in the form of a "franchise." Without voter approval.  Clearly, it is an invitation for favoritism and spoils.  Besides, city attorney Jim True claims that the franchise agreements are too complicated for voters to understand so these decisions are best left to council (because council does whatever staff tells them to).  Huge red flag. The less power we give city council the better.  I'm voting NO.
ASPEN 2D:  This is the question we've all been waiting for! Kinda. To Taj or not to Taj. It comes down to Option A vs Option B.  One is awful, the other is good+.  But Option B is the dreaded Taj Mahal City Hall on Galena Plaza.  (I've written about it HERE and HERE.)  And finally, this is the vote to shoot it down for good.  Instead of a long-desired vote up or down on the Taj, we find ourselves with a good-but-not-perfect alternative, Option A: office space at 517 E. Hopkins, 50 feet across the street from the Armory (which will remain the primary location of city government). It's already under contract pending the outcome of this election.  Yes, it's true that genius negotiator Steve Barwick did yet another astonishing deal that spends between $5 - $7 million more taxpayer dollars than the property's appraised value (that's another story for another day), but Option A is a known entity, to be built by the developer at a fixed price.  Read more at  Option B finds the city as developer, again.  And we sure don't want that!  I won't even get into the numbers put forth for Option B because a) they're too incomplete and sketchy, b) the city is not being transparent and releasing a comprehensive cost analysis, and c) the city can never stay on budget, which makes their estimates - whatever they may be - absolutely worthless.  A commercial building is going in at 517 E. Hopkins one way or the other.  Let's put city offices there, in the downtown core across from the Armory, and preserve Galena Plaza.  Oh, and regarding the street-front level of 517 E. Hopkins, don't worry, those spaces aren't for sale, they will still be stores.  And don't forget that Bill Stirling and Howie Mallory AGREE with me!  Anything but the Taj.  I'm finally voting for Option A.
1A:  This measure seeks "a stable funding source for health and human services, and community non-profit programs" though the extension of the existing mill levy and a property tax increase.  I am always wary of a tax increase.  I also see the good that comes from these programs.  But it's not about that, nor are these programs technically in financial jeopardy.  (The county has plenty of money to fund them, it's a matter of prioritizing them.)  My beef with this increase to and extension of the existing mill levy is rather straightforward.  This mill levy is constantly held up as a "critical" funding source for the many programs that rely on it.  But as "critical" as these programs may be, this funding source regularly requires a vote to fund it!  This is a perfect example of how governments intentionally ask voters for extra money to pay for "critical" items, while the bureaucracy is funded from ongoing sources that are safe from the voters.  It's quite disingenuous to tell voters how "critical" something is and then ask them to pay extra for it.  If this is so "critical," why doesn't the county prioritize funding these grants from its recurring revenues as part of its base budget?  There are certainly several million dollars in base operating costs that are of lower importance to the community than the healthy community fund! How about fund the "critical" stuff with the money taxpayers already provide the county, and then decide whether or not to ask voters to fund the genuinely discretionary parts of the budget? And again, don't worry, nobody is going to let these grants go unfunded. It will send a loud and clear message to the county to fund these "critical" programs as a priority from their existing budget, that's all.  For that reason, I am voting NO.

6A:  The city of Aspen has relied on the Aspen Volunteer Fire Department since the 1880s. Its current 0.874 mill levy has been in place since 1953.  Even with the requested 1.325 increase, the first in its history, Aspen will still have the lowest mill levy of any fire district in Colorado.  Read more HERE.  Did you know that despite the enormous city ($150 million) and county ($120 million) budgets, the AVFD does not get a single dime from either?  Aspen Fire protects over $25 billion in real property value throughout its 87 square mile district on a $2 million annual budget. That's significantly less than the Aspen Chamber's advertising budget!  Currently, the fire department's 37 volunteer firefighters are supported by 6 paid staffers. The new revenue will fund a paid training officer, support the construction of firefighter housing near the North 40, provide funds for capital improvements to equipment and stations, and establish a reserve fund in the event of a wildfire or other emergency. (This issue comes to us now because of the impacts of the Gallagher Amendment** which requires that 45% of all property tax revenues come from the residential sector and 55% come from all other property types.  The recent growth in Denver has created a scenario that despite residential property values soaring, the property tax revenue remains at 45% of the total, dragging down the revenue that counties and special districts collect.  In the case of the Aspen Fire Protection District, the estimate will be a $557,000 decrease, a crippling scenario for a department that strives to maintain its volunteer model.)  How about those fires over the summer??  Given Aspen Fire's vital role in protecting our community, and its long history of fiduciary responsibility, I am unequivocally voting YES.
**THIS VIDEO contains an incredible explanation of Colorado's Gallagher Amendment.
7A:  If you think a MASSIVE property tax increase for RFTA "to pay for the cost of growth" will reduce congestion along Highway 82, you surely think pigs can fly.  This one is a pig.  We are already taxed to support RFTA via our sales tax, and I'm sorry, unless there are wholesale changes to the commute on the entirety of 82, I don't care if you're in a nifty new Veloci-RFTA electric bus or on an old Greyhound, you're still gonna be stuck in traffic.  There's a lot of nice-sounding fluff built in to this measure, such as access to and maintenance of the Rio Grande Trail, construction and maintenance of down-valley park-and-ride lots, and of course the purchase of new electric buses, but in the end, the key is getting commuters out of their cars.  Enough carrots.  Time for the sticks.  Over the years, throwing more and more money at RFTA and buying some new buses have helped to a point, but now we're at or likely beyond the point of diminishing returns when it comes to efficiency (too many empty seats being driven around the growing service area). Read THIS.  It seems that RFTA is not really preparing for future growth; they're covering a budget problem due to underfunding their capital replacement needs.  When it comes to RFTA, I am not going to give them permission (via hiking my property taxes) to perpetuate their inefficiency. And in case you're wondering, I'm a RFTA rider.  Hunter Creek is my jam.  Charge me to ride if it helps.  It's ok, and frankly long overdue. But I'm voting NO.
7D: Colorado Mountain College (CMC) is asking voters for relief from the impacts of the Gallagher Amendment by enabling their elected trustees to adjust their mill levy in order to maintain the revenues that would otherwise be lost. Affected by the same legislation, Aspen Fire (6A above) approached it differently.  They touted their issue, their needs and their reputation, and boldly asked voters for a mill levy increase.  The ability of a board (elected or not) to monkey with a constitutionally protected mill levy formula is not my preferred choice for addressing revenue shortfalls, regardless of how justified they may be. I'm sympathetic to the need, but I just don't like the method.  I am voting NO.
Amendment A: While it didn't pass last time (WTF?), this amendment changes the language in the state constitution dealing with imprisoned convicts. Current language mimics the 13th amendment to the US Constitution, "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as punishment for a crime where the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States."  The proposed language prohibits slavery and involuntary servitude in all circumstances. Convicted felons are not slaves, they are convicted felons. Maybe we can get it right this time. I am voting YES.

Amendment V: Shall there be an amendment to the Colorado constitution concerning a reduction in the age qualification for a member of the general assembly from 25 years to 21 years?  Seriously??  All you need to do is look at the buffoons in our city government to know that having little-to-no real world work experience (having a real job, budgetary responsibility, making a payroll, ability to read a spreadsheet) is not a great resume for public office.  Do we really want college students in the state assembly?  I don't really see that as highly likely, however, 25 is still plenty young and millennial, but still with a modicum of time to gain scant real-world experience.  More experience, even in life, is more.  Good grief. It should be 30.  I am voting NO.
Amendment W: Under current law, a separate judicial retention question must be listed for each judge or justice on the ballot. This amendment to the state constitution would allow for judicial retention questions to be grouped together on the ballot according to court type.  This will help shorten the ballot by allowing the clerk to use one common caption for each level of court with the mandatory language, and just the names below.  Easy.  I am voting YES.
Amendment X: Amendment X is a housekeeping measure that removes the current definition of "industrial hemp" from the state constitution and gives the term the same meaning as in federal law and state statute. In the event that federal law changes, Colorado would maintain compliance with federal regulation.  I am voting YES.
Amendment Y  
Amendment Z:  
These kissing-cousin amendments address the very real problem in American politics of gerrymandering, the manipulation of boundaries of an electoral constituency so as to favor one party or class.  Y & Z amend the Colorado constitution to establish new processes for state congressional (Y) and legislative (Z) re-districting.   The formation of 12-person commissions, comprised equally of representatives from the Democrats, Republicans and unaffiliated voters, will replace the state legislature (Y) and apportionment commission (Z), who currently have these responsibilities.  This is to ensure that no political party controls the re-districting process, lobbyists are prohibited from serving, there is a structured court review process, and approvals require a super-majority (8 of 12) which encourages compromise.  I am voting YES on both.
Amendment 73: This constitutional amendment puts an end to Colorado's flat income tax rate (currently 4.63%) and creates a massive income tax increase from Coloradans earning more than $150,000 a year by establishing income tax brackets. The amendment exempts itself from TABOR, so it can increase unabated in excess of TABOR's annual limits. Income tax on both individuals and corporations will be impacted.  (Corporate rates will increase 1.36%.)
Here's how:  
Yes, our school funding is definitely screwed up, but the issue has far more to do with how current funds for education are allocated and individual district's willingness to fund their educational systems. Almost half of Colorado schools already spend more than the national average per pupil.  (Aspen's per pupil funding is $21,283, the second highest in the state FYI.)  The problem is not the amount of money spent on education but how it is prioritized and allocated.  I am voting a resounding NO.
Amendment 74This measure will expand the circumstances that require a state or local government to compensate a property owner if a law or regulation reduces the fair market value of his or her property.  Currently, the loss in value must be near total to trigger compensation. This Libertarian's dream will have far-reaching consequences due to the potential liability for large payouts. Municipalities, such as ours, will have to think long and hard before enacting restrictive laws and regulations that negatively impact our property values.  The dollars at risk will be enormous.  In the end, many frivolous, self-serving, idealistic regulations will surely be avoided by our local government for fear of devastating financial backlash.  I am voting YES.
Amendment 75:  This measure attempts to "level the playing field" between candidates for state office by increasing the amount candidates can collect from individuals when another candidate contributes more than $1 million to his or her own campaign.  Current individual contribution limits in Colorado range by office from $400 - $1150.  A candidate may make unlimited contributions from personal funds.  This, while definitely an individual's right, creates a tremendous disparity.  Colorado's individual limits are among the lowest in the country, and candidates who rely on individual contributions are at a significant disadvantage when running against a wealthy opponent.  I am sick and tired - and outright disgusted - by the obscene spending on elections. This measure is not likely to change that, unfortunately, but it will make it more difficult for a wealthy candidate to simply buy an election.  I am voting YES.
Proposition 109:  This proposition authorizes $2.5 billion in transportation bonds for transportation projects to address our failing transportation infrastructure.  It proposes to compel the state to issue bonds without any new taxes or fees to pay them back, and to complete 66 priority projects already identified by CDOT as priorities.  This would require the legislature to re-prioritize funds from the state budget to pay for these improvements.  It's a priority - they should.  But to borrow $2.5 billion (with a 20-year repayment limit of $5.2 billion) specifically dedicated to road and bridge expansion, construction, maintenance and repair is a heck of a lot of debt to take on when the state (in 2018) has made $1 billion in initial commitments from existing funds, and under current leadership, CDOT has not been held to account.  And where is all that gas tax revenue going?  It's increased 30% since 1999.  Without CDOT transparency and a specific plan, the proposition in its current form is irresponsible. It's headed in the right direction, but still needs more time at the drawing board. I am voting NO.
Proposition 110:  Where Proposition 109 (above) asks voters to use existing revenue to build 66 identified projects, Proposition 110 asks them to increase the state sales tax rate from 2.9% to 3.52% to generate $766.7 million annually, and to finance $6 billion (with a B) in bonds, and pay for unidentified state, local and multi-modal transportation projects. Yes, our transportation system certainly needs funding, but this is a general revenue raising measure that is not tied to any performance requirements or specific improvements. For perspective, Aspen's sales tax is currently 9.3%.  It will go up to 9.92%!!  And Snowmass Village!!  You're looking at a 11.62% sales tax! No way. I am voting NO.
Proposition 111:  This proposition, clothed as a moral issue, would restrict the annual interest rate charged on payday loans to 36% per anum, but it would likely result in the very opposite of its intended outcome.  Payday loans are a form of credit, utilized by individuals who are unable to qualify for bank credit, or who choose to avoid the credit markets for whatever reason.  These are intended to be short-term loans, lasting no more than days, to bridge the gap between a cash-flow need and an individual's payday. Currently, payday loans can include a finance charge of up to 27.5%, an interest rate of up to 45%, and a monthly maintenance fee of up to $7.50 per every 30 days a loan is outstanding.  By lowering the cost of this last resort source of credit to 36% per anum with no fees, this initiative will likely increase not decrease the number of low-income, poor-credit borrowers who end up in a debt spiral.  This is because it will incentivize both lenders and borrowers to come to longer loan terms for larger loan amounts.  This is a bleeding heart proposition that will have grave unintended consequences. I am voting NO.  
Proposition 112: This measure seeks to increase setbacks for oil and gas development from occupied structures or vulnerable areas to a minimum of 2500 feet from the current regulation of 500 feet for residential and 1000 feet from high occupancy buildings, such as schools and neighborhoods with at least 22 buildings.  It also increases the land unavailable for exploration per well to 450 acres from 18 (residential) or 72 acres (high occupancy building), effectively barring exploration from 80% of non-federal land. I'll say it again, barring exploration from 80% of non-federal land.  This proposition won't improve drilling safety or environmental impacts, but it will make Colorado less competitive in the energy sector.   It will reduce revenue, dramatically reduce private property mineral right values and create incentives for drillers to seek permits on protected public lands, including places like Thompson Divide. While the Democrat and Republican candidates for governor, Jared Polis and Walker Stapleton, disagree on how to best regulate the oil and gas industry, both oppose this measure.  I am joining them in voting NO.
I am voting for the following candidates:
Representative to the US Congress, District 3: Scott Tipton
Re-elect our incumbent congressman, a small business owner and entrepreneur who understands and values not only the importance of agriculture and water in our unique district, but also the critical balancing act of being able to access and preserve our public lands while responsibly developing them.
Governor:  Walker Stapleton
Regardless of your political leaning, Colorado is a fiscally conservative state with economically responsible voters who have supported Walker through the past 8 years (two terms) as State Treasurer.  Colorado's Public Employee's Retirement Association has underscored his fight for fiscal sanity in the face of bipartisan criticism. Proven economic stewardship.  Yes, please.
Secretary of State:  Wayne Williams
Responsible for election integrity, among other things, Williams was lauded by The Washington Post (HERE) for his dedicated efforts to make Colorado the safest place to cast a ballot.  In his first term, Williams has paved the way to establish Colorado as the leader in election security, doing "virtually everything election experts recommend" to stave off a repeat of 2016, when Russian hackers targeted 21 states in their election interference campaign.
State Treasurer:  Brian Watson
Attorney General:  George Brauchler
I love a former DA and military prosecutor in this role.
CU Regent (at large):  Ken Montera
CU Regent (District 3)Glen Gallegos
State Senator, District 5:  Olen Lund
Bipartisan community leader Lund has a proven record of working across the aisle and against big-spending politicians of both parties.  He will bring those skills to the state house to stand up for western Colorado priorities: roads, access to healthcare, and creating good jobs. 
State Representative, District 61:  Mike Mason
Pitkin County Commissioner (District 1): Rob Ittner
It's time to get this strong business and community leader back on the BOCC, where he served as chairman of the board in 2014.  As owner of local-favorite Rustique restaurant for the past two decades, Ittner has lived the daily challenges facing his constituency in this seasonal resort economy, including retention of employees, housing, access to healthcare, and parking impacts, among others. The perspective of an independent local business owner is invaluable at the table where governing happens.  He knows the real-world implications of bureaucratic decision-making and how good ideas can easily become laws of unintended consequences instead of solutions.  Too many of our elected leaders lack fiscal understanding, not to mention discipline, and live in a parallel universe where the harsh realities of their idealistic decisions have terrible impacts on those who actually make our economy run. Rob is who we need on the BOCC as we look toward generational decisions for the future, specifically the improvements to Sardy Field and the new Aspen Airport Terminal.
Pitkin County Commissioner (District 2): Kelly McNicholas Kury
Pitkin County Clerk:  Janice Vos Caudill
Yay, Janice!  She's running unopposed so we get this kind, honest and dedicated woman as our county clerk for the next four years.  We are incredibly lucky!
Pitkin County Sheriff:  Joe DiSalvo
I'm no fan of Joey's sanctuary city policies, but we still have law and order in Pitkin County and for that I am grateful.

I am voting to retain all.
Pitkin County Assessor:  Deborah Bamesberger
If you need just one reason to vote for Deb, it's "Mick." Yes, the meanie is back.  Seeking not only a government paycheck and health insurance, this vengeful man wants nothing more than the power to pry into your private property ownership records and tax you. My favorite comments on his bid for office include: "Ireland keeps turning up like a bad penny," and "What better way for a notoriously mean and vindictive person to punish his enemies than to become their tax assessor."  Deb currently works for retiring assessor Tom Isaac.  If it ain't broke, don't fix it.  Aspen is SICK OF MICK so let's keep him out of office.  If you vote in this election and don't care about anything else, vote for Deb.  Read more HERE.



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