How do we define 2017? The year of the tweets that President Donald Trump, like a skilled magician, used to keep himself front and center and divert the “fake news” media’s attention? The year of the Silence Breakers? The year that Vladimir Putin and Trump started the Bro Presidents’ Club (no girls allowed in their tree house)? The year that Republicans passed bold, far-reaching and maybe even beneficial tax reform legislation? The year that the swamp was drained or the year that the toilet was clogged?
Sure, whatever — but let’s look at local politics. It was an interesting, productive, unpredictable, prosperous and hopeful year. It’s easy to be seduced by the Sturm und Drang of the national circus, but we live in Colorado Springs, not Washington, D.C. — and for that we ought to be profoundly grateful.
Home prices in Colorado Springs increased by 8.7 percent from October 2016 to October 2017, putting the median price of homes sold at $268,300. Given that for most of us our homes are our largest assets, such appreciation may have political consequences. If we feel more prosperous, we may be more willing to fund essential government services and more inclined to elect more progressive candidates. And while the celebrated economist John Kenneth Galbraith once observed that “The only function of economic forecasting is to make astrology look respectable,” after the fact, analysis is still fun.
The facts: On Nov. 7, 2016 Colorado Springs voters overwhelmingly supported Donald Trump, turned down two Colorado Springs School District 11 funding requests and helped elect three conservative Republicans to the county commission. Yet five months later, on April 4, voters in the nonpartisan municipal election transformed City Council, denying ultra-conservative Councilor Helen Collins a second term in favor of Yolanda Avila, re-electing Jill Gaebler, Andy Pico and Don Knight, and selecting Richard Skorman and David Geislinger to fill open seats. As presently constituted, council includes three moderate/liberal members (Skorman, Gaebler and Avila), three moderate/conservatives (Tom Strand, Merv Bennett and Geislinger), two conservatives (Pico and Knight) and one unclassifiable (Bill Murray). The lineup seems to work, thanks to the energy, intelligence and collaborative spirit of all nine.
Voters also approved a Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights retention measure that allowed the city to keep $6 million in “excess revenue” that would have otherwise been refunded to voters through utility bill credits.
Did the municipal election signal a political sea change in the Pikes Peak region, one that began in November 2015 when Colorado Springs voters approved a five-year, $50 million annual sales tax to fix the city’s deteriorating roads? It sure seemed so Nov. 7, when city voters resoundingly approved new funding for D-11 and a city-wide stormwater fee, and joined county voters in approving a TABOR retention measure as well as authorizing the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority to participate in funding the widening of the I-25 bottleneck between Monument and Castle Rock.
All of these measures received wide support in the business community. They weren’t perceived as partisan or ideological, but rather as necessary building blocks for a strong and sustainable local economy. Sensing the voters’ mood, Mayor John Suthers had characterized the stormwater fee as common sense conservatism, noting that every city in the country imposes such a fee — except Colorado Springs. In vain did anti-tax warrior Douglas Bruce repeat his once-successful gibes about the “rain tax.” The voters, it seemed, had moved on.
Will they keep moving? Will the generational shift that has been so pronounced in the business and nonprofit communities extend to politics? With the estimable Dan Nordberg’s decision to take a job as Small Business Association regional administrator, the El Paso County “youth caucus” in the legislature is down to one member -— House District 15 Representative Dave Williams.
Illinois Governor and two-time Democratic presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson once spoke of the liberal hour, the moment when “even the most obsolete men become reconciled, if briefly and expediently, to the modern age.”
Has our brief liberal hour already run its course? That’s hard to say. We’re in time of breathtaking change, one in which Colorado Springs seems like an island of political sanity, stability and good behavior. Looking forward, a couple of predictions.
For Governor in 2018: Cary Kennedy. Democratic candidate for president in 2020: Doug Jones. For the Colorado Springs economy: fair winds, blue skies and maybe even a little boost from retail cannabis — but no new taxes!