Farmers know that monocultures don’t work. Plant corn in a field year after year, neglect water, fertilizer, pesticides and herbicides and you won’t have a crop.
Be diligent in such application, and you may poison your soil.
Adopt the best organic and conventional practices, and you’ll have good yields, lower costs and long-term sustainability.
Farmers can adapt, but political monocultures resist change. As an example, the solidly Democratic South became the solidly Republican South after Lyndon Johnson bulled through the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but not much changed. The South remained what it had been since after the Civil War — insular, resentful, often racist and economically challenged. It was the same old monoculture, if differently labeled; think soybeans instead of corn.
Our politics in Colorado Springs are for the most part reasonably diverse, if conservative. Our legislative delegation includes only two card-carrying Democrats, but Republicans and Democrats alike know that they have to work with their opposite numbers to get anything done in Denver. The state seems to function best under split government, when neither party controls both the governor’s office and the Legislature. In such times, thoughtful compromise often trumps ideological posturing.
Colorado Springs City Council occasionally descends into dysfunction, but nonpartisan elections have removed it slightly from party politics. Today’s smoothly functioning body is politically diverse, featuring passionate advocacy, lively debate and even a little hard-earned wisdom.
The El Paso County Board of County Commissioners, by contrast, is a stubborn monoculture. Republicans have controlled the five-person body for generations. No Democrat has been elected to the BOCC since 1970, and voter registration figures in the county suggest that any Democratic candidate faces very long odds indeed.
That’s unfortunate. Partisan labels don’t matter much where local issues are concerned, but having five commissioners from a single party is a problem.
Take the Terry Maketa situation. It now seems clear that the once-loved sheriff did whatever he pleased in office from 2002 through 2014, legal or not. So powerful was he that none of the five commissioners ever challenged him, ever sought to rein him in or ever called for an independent investigation of the rumors that swirled around his office. His abuses were an open secret, but so what?
Challenge the ruthless Maketa, who was widely perceived as a future GOP governor or congressman, and you might be in an unwinnable war. Goodbye, sweet government job; goodbye, political future; hello, disgrace and obscurity.
One Democrat on the BOCC and it might not have happened. An elected Democrat wouldn’t have been afraid to take down a GOP kingpin — he/she would have done so with delight. Similarly, Maketa might not have overstepped his bounds had there been a Dem or two on the board.
There’s another reason to elect a non-Republican to the commission — equitable representation.
As the county and city grow, our representatives are increasingly distant from their constituents. With an estimated county population of 675,000, each commissioner represents 135,000 residents.
By contrast, in 1970, nine councilmembers represented the 135,517 residents of Colorado Springs.
In such an environment, it’s hard to reach out to your constituents, especially independents and Democrats. It’s easy to dismiss their concerns — after all, they didn’t elect you.
Does any Dem have a chance in November?
Electra Johnson, the Democratic nominee for District 3, is a possibility. Liz Rosenbaum also hopes to pull a surprise in District 4.
Johnson, an architect, urban designer and planner, would bring a breath of fresh air to the commissioners’ musty chambers. She’s not a devoted party hack, a political careerist or an ambitious nothing-burger. She’s a young mom, a woman of the generation that will recreate and reimagine the Pikes Peak region — and hers is a generation that is unrepresented on the Board of County Commissioners.
Johnson is a reluctant politician who surprised herself by allowing a friend to nominate her for the District 3 seat at the Democratic County Assembly. Smart and quick, she’s a person who both talks a lot and listens a lot. Her passion for policy, for dynamic innovation and for regional rebirth is impressive and delightful.
Three commission seats are in play. All three Republican candidates are middle-aged veterans. They’re all good guys, including Johnson’s opponent Stan VanderWerf. If elected, they’ll join Peggy Littleton and (if he isn’t elected to the U.S. Senate) middle-aged veteran Darryl Glenn, both of whom will be term-limited in 2018.
This year and two years hence, we can make a few changes. The choice is clear — take a risk or keep on keepin’ on. Bad pun ahead: Will the voters amaze us or maize us?