Westsiders mull state, county election choices

       Like everyone in the region, Westsiders have a lengthy ballot in the Nov. 4 election, with choices from president on down plus a plethora of ballot questions.
       Westside residents also get to decide state and county office-holders representing at least part of the Westside - state senator (District 12), state representatives (Districts 18 or 21, depending on where you live) and county commissioner (District 3). These candidates are:
  • Senate District 12 - Former District 21 Republican state representative Keith King faces Democrat and first-time candidate Pete Lee in the race for the four- year seat. King founded and directs Colorado Springs Early Colleges High School while Lee is an attorney in private practice.
  • House District 18 - Democrat incumbent Michael Merrifield (a former Coronado choir teacher) is going for his fourth (and last under term-limitation laws) two- year term. His opponent, Republican political newcomer Katherine Szot has experience as a paralegal.
  • House District 21 - A repeat of the 2006 race. Republican lawyer Bob Gardner, who won then in his first state race, faces Democrat Anna Lord again. A former government analyst, she is a mother and president of the Manitou Springs Board of Education.
  • County Commissioner, District 3 - Incumbent Republican Sallie Clark, also a former City Councilwoman, is running against first-time candidate Pam Berry, a Democrat. Clark, a Westside resident, is also a bed-and-breakfast owner. Berry is a former county employee, now a real-estate agent.
           For more information on election issues, where to vote and other details, call the County Elections Department at 575-8683.
           This issue of the Westside Pioneer includes local candidate questions/answers (from those who chose to respond).
           The questions of each Statehouse candidate were:
           1. Why should people vote for you and not your opponent?
           2. What do you think about CDOT's Westside Highway 24 expansion plans? (250 max)
           3. How will you vote on Amendment 47 (joining a union should not be a condition of employment) and why?

           SENATE DISTRICT 12
           Keith King

           1. Why? One of Colorado state government's main missions is the education of students
           in public schools and higher education. I have devoted many years of service to enhancing the opportunity for students to receive a quality education. I helped start three charter schools in Colorado Springs:
           Cheyenne Mountain Charter Academy, James Irwin Charter High School and Colorado Springs Early Colleges. I carried legislation that changes the way K-12 schools are evaluated on the School Accountability Report by tracking students over time to measure their academic growth. I sponsored the legislation that created GT [Guaranteed Transfer] pathways. This allows students to start at the community colleges in Colorado and transfer their credit to another college or university to finish their degree program. I will continue my work, if elected, in making public education accountable to parents and students.
           Secondly, I sponsored legislation that has lowered the cost of auto
           insurance in the state of Colorado by over $400.00 per year. This
           legislation eliminated the mandates of no fault insurance and allows people to pick the coverage that best fits their needs. I will continue to work to improve the opportunity for small business to grow and be successful in Colorado.
           2. Highway 24?
           With the revenue from gas taxes down, it is highly unlikely that there will
           be money over the next 10 years for the expansion. The original plan is far
           too intrusive and not needed. CDOT planners must work in cooperation with the county, city and neighborhoods. I would support improving the off ramp of north bound I-25 at Highway 24. That off ramp is quite busy and many times traffic is backed up onto the Interstate.
           3. Amendment 47? I will vote yes on Amendment 47. We need to encourage business to come to Colorado, especially during this economic slowdown. This amendment will only make it more difficult for business to compete in a global marketplace. The contracting of employees for a business must be between the
           employer and employee. Let's encourage small business development. Union membership should not be a condition for employment.
           SENATE DISTRICT 12
           Pete Lee

           1. Why? I am running for the Colorado Senate as a non-politician. The divisive partisan politics of the past have not served our community's interests. I represent a moderate, non-ideological and reasonable alternative. My commitment is to building consensus for practical long term solutions for the best interests of our entire community. I am open minded, listen to others and am receptive to new ideas. I will bring a different perspective, a new way of thinking, to the Colorado Legislature.
           The success of my approach was proven by the passage of HB08-1117, Restorative Justice in the Children's Code. I drafted the bill as a private citizen with help from the district attorney, juvenile magistrates and children's and victims' advocates. It received bipartisan support and passed 99-1.
           We now face major economic challenges. To address them, we need innovative, out of the box thinking and collaborative problem solving, the very approaches that I employed to pass the restorative justice bill. I am committed to working cooperatively with small businesses, local government and economic development officials to move our community towards sustainable funding and economic prosperity.
           2. Highway 24? CDOT's proposal is an attempt to relieve congestion and expedite travel on the major highway providing access to the mountains, Manitou Sprints and Woodland Park. The challenge is to accommodate all of the local traffic that accesses Highway 24, ensuring safety and minimizing impact on adjoining neighborhoods and businesses.
           My initial reading of the CDOT plan was that it was a bit draconian. The proposal calls for a six-lane Highway 24 expansion from Interstate 25 to Manitou Springs at a cost of over $240 million and the demolition of homes and businesses. I believe we can achieve the goals of the project while preserving most of the businesses and neighborhoods. I urge continuation of the meetings with citizens, business groups and local government officials to obtain input and to find alternatives with less impact. The proposed plan needs to enable bicycle and foot travelers to access the homes and businesses in the neighborhoods along the east west corridor and to safely accommodate the inevitable increase of traffic caused by the development of Gold Hill Mesa.
           3. Amendment 47? For over 60 years Colorado's Labor Peace Act has struck a balance between labor and management. It sets the rules to enable parties to bargain collectively over wages, hours and working conditions, rights secured by federal law. As it exists now, Colorado's law is one of the most difficult ones in the country for a union to obtain a union security clause; it requires one vote for a union to be certified as the bargaining agent and then another vote to require employees to pay dues to be represented. Amendment 47 is the result of out- of-state interests coming to Colorado to take advantage of Colorado's easy procedure to amend the constitution. This amendment would allow employees to obtain the benefits of the collective bargaining agreement without having to pay dues. It seems to be unfair to obtain the benefits without paying ones fair share for them as Amendment 47 allows.
           HOUSE DISTRICT 18
           Rep. Michael Merrifield

           [Merrifield did not reply to the questionnaire.]
           HOUSE DISTRICT 18
           Katherine Szot

           1. Why? If you look at my opponent's voting record, he has voted for unconstitutional tax raises (School Finance Act) and voted on bills that violate citizens' rights. Every time my opponent votes against a parent's choice to school their child, he violates Colorado Constitution Art 5, Sec. 43: A member of the General Assembly who has a “personal or private interest” in pending legislation must disclose the fact of such interest and may not vote on the legislation. Mr. Merrifield is a retired school teacher. Every time he votes to stop home schooling or charter schools (SB 61), he places a vote that he has a “personal or private interest” in, which violates his oath to uphold the Constitution.
           2. Highway 24? I hear that it is not wanted by many Westside residents. The relocation of homes and businesses for 4 1/2 miles of a six-lane highway that shrinks back into four lanes going up Ute Pass does not sound safe, nor all that effective to make traffic safer. Is the cost of $240 million really worth the 4 1/2 mile “race track to the mountains?” I do not think that price tag makes the benefits justifiable.
           3. Amendment 47? I believe people should have the choice not to join a union. People need to back each other up and do what is right. Paying dues to have “protection” should not be an issue. Doing what is right, fair and in the best interest for the employees of a company makes a good company that people will want to work for and be a loyal employee. In this world of disposable items, nothing can be more solidifying to a community than employers that look out for the welfare of their workers, products and the environment. If there are problems they need to be fixed, not covered up so they can grow into bigger issues that can not be fixed.
           HOUSE DISTRICT 21
           Rep. Robert Gardner

           1. Why? Over the past two years, I have represented HD21 effectively, working across the aisle, for the good of all Coloradans. I have been the prime or co-sponsor of bills to assist crime victims, help schools obtain needed funding to deal with growth, secure private property rights and limit taxation.
           I have been recognized by the Greater Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce as Legislator of the Year for 2007, and was recognized as 2008 Alliance Legislator of the Year for my work on behalf of the developmentally disabled.
           As for the choice between my opponent and me, if you believe that more government, higher taxes, and more government intrusion into your life and family is a good thing, then you should vote for my opponent. On the other hand, if you believe that government works best when it is accountable to the people and empowers individuals and families and allows them to keep more of their own money and decide what is best for them, then I ask you to vote for me.
           2. Highway 24? The Highway 24 expansion is an important project that will benefit many in House District 21, as well as the larger community. So, I support the expansion and am anxious for it to be completed. At the same time, I believe it needs to be done in a way that imposes the least burden possible on property and business owners. Likewise, these owners must be properly and equitably compensated for their losses resulting from the expansion. So often, one of the problems that property owners and business owners encounter is that they are really not properly compensated for their losses. For that reason, I have supported legislation to properly limit the use of eminent domain and am studying possible new legislation that would require greater compensation to property owners when their property and business are taken for necessary public projects, as well as limit the use of eminent domain in certain circumstances.
           3. Amendment 47? I support Amendment 47 (Right to Work). Contrary to the very misleading TV and radio ads, the passage of Amendment 47 will not destroy our economy. Other states with right-to-work laws thrive economically. So, the ads are deceptive and even dishonest. Amendment 47 simply protects a worker from being forced to join a union as a condition of employment. No American citizen should be forced to associate with any group in order to be employed. Yet, under our current law, a worker may be forced to both join a union and pay dues even if they disagree with the policies and politics of the union bosses. Amendment 47 does not prevent unions from organizing and collecting dues from willing employees and it does not prevent collective bargaining. Studies show that up to 80 percent of an employee's union dues go to political campaigns and other things not related to negotiating with the employer for better wages and working conditions. An employee should not be forced to pay for things they disagree with.
           HOUSE DISTRICT 21
           Anna Lord

           1. Why? As a member and president of the Manitou Springs Board of Education, I have worked with a limited budget and achieved outstanding results. Combining practical business management and a passion for public education, I helped increase student enrollment, increase student performance and put district assets on a 10-year maintenance plan. My educational background, professional experience and countless hours of community service on a wide variety of boards and committees demonstrate that I not only have the tools I need to be an effective legislator but also the desire to serve my community.
           My opponent, throughout his first two years as an elected official, has continued to solicit for clients on his business web page: www.rsglaw.net, where he offers clients services in helping them with government contracts, lobbying strategy and representation in front of legislative rule-making committees, leading to serious perception of conflict of interest and raising questions about who he is actually working for.
           As representative of House District 21, I will be working for the citizens of House District 21, not clients.
           2. Highway 24? Having accepted a seat on the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments Citizen's Advisory Committee, I am aware of the time-consuming process that CDOT has used to gather community input before drafting a plan. I think the plan for a parkway, incorporating hiking and biking trails and improvements to Fountain Creek, will be a benefit to residents and business owners on the Westside, who prefer the idea of a parkway rather than a high-speed freeway. The planned improvements will also ease traffic congestion and decrease driving time, by reworking interchanges and retiming traffic lights. Manitou and Old Colorado City are prime tourist and shopping destinations, and an attempt to beautify that important access route while adding to our trail systems will be beneficial.
           However, the current plan results in the demolition of several homes and businesses, never a popular option. This expansion isn't scheduled to begin until 2016. The positive side is that there will be further opportunities to amend this plan to maximize the benefits while minimizing the detriments. The negative side is that this area will continue to live “in limbo” until a plan is finalized and work begins.
           3. Amendment 47? I will be voting against Amendment 47. Due to tough conditions in the Colorado Labor Peace Act of 1943, non-union workplaces outnumber union work places in Colorado. Workers who wish to work in a union work place probably wish to do so because of the better working conditions, better wages and better benefits union representation provides their members. To expect the benefits without paying for them is simply selfishness. The big business backers of Amendment 47 are counting on voter selfishness to pass this. I believe that people are more fair-minded than that.
           If someone wanted to live in a house where their lawns are mowed and hedges trimmed, they could probably do so. They would, however, be expected to pay Homeowner's Association Fees. Will there be an amendment on our next ballot amending our state Constitution to says that anyone can live in any community they wanted to but not have to pay HOA dues? I can't imagine anyone thinking that would be fair.
           The questions of each county commissioner candidate were:
           1. What will it take to restore the county to the service levels of a few years ago?
           2. The county has responsibility for a portion of the Westside along Colorado Avenue called No Man's Land, but for years it has been neglected. Should high priority be given to improvements in that location (roughly from 33rd Street to Manitou city limits), or are there county areas that are in worse shape?
           3. Why should people vote for you and not your opponent?

           Com. Sallie Clark
           1. How to restore service levels? El Paso County, as an arm of the state, is required to provide for these specific statutory offices: Clerk and Recorder, Treasurer, Assessor, District Attorney, Sheriff/Fire Marshal, Surveyor, Coroner and the Board of Commissioners. In addition, other services are required according to state and federal mandates which include: law enforcement, wildland firefighting, environmental services and solid waste, transportation, stormwater management, justice services, Department of Human Services, courthouse facility and security, Criminal Justice Center (jail) and the Health Department. Based on population growth and inflation, the county's unrestricted general fund should be approximately $136 million in 2009 in order to provide the same level of service as in 2006 (a mere three years ago). The unrestricted general fund was only $108 million in 2006 and in fiscal year 2009 it is projected to be $89 million. El Paso County has the lowest property tax per person in the state of Colorado out of 64 counties and the lowest combined property and sales tax out of the largest 10 Colorado counties. The 1A ballot initiative and the one-penny sales tax will provide the needed long-term funding to meet state/federal public safety and public health mandates and stabilize these services.
           2. No Man's Land? In the past, “No Man's Land” was overlooked and as the resident commissioner, I requested that it be added to the county's road improvements list. Over the last year, I have been part of a task force with Colorado Springs Councilmember Heimlicher and Vice Mayor Small, Manitou Springs Mayor Drummond and transportation/public works officials from Colorado Springs, El Paso County, Manitou Springs, Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), Colorado Springs Utilities and Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments. Our group's charge has been to facilitate participation in Colorado's new Maintenance Incentive Pilot Program (MIPP). This voluntary program allows state highway transfers to local governments for one-time improvement payments. Local governments determine the maintenance and service levels of the community and must assume ownership and responsibilities. While “No Man's Land's” jurisdictional issues are particularly challenging, I support the submittal of a grant application for MIPP due January 1, where Colorado Springs will assume future responsibility. Our county projects are carefully prioritized, so we must collaborate and find creative ways to fund these types of projects.
           3. Why? Experience: I'm committed to representing neighborhoods and I'm privileged to have served as past president of the Organ-ization of Westside Neighbors, a Colorado Springs City Councilwoman and now your El Paso County commissioner. My extensive involvement in a sensible Highway 24 expansion plan, advocacy for Bijou Bridge gateway improvements, spearheading the Fountain Creek Visioning Consensus Committee, commitment to historic preservation and long-term sustainability for our parks system and nature centers are just some of my Westside priorities. As chair of the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority (PPRTA), I was excited to reopen and dedicate the newly constructed Cimarron bridge and I've worked alongside our PPRTA board members to assure our community receives needed dollars for neighborhood road projects. Since elected in 2004, the county has implemented communication improvements: TV broadcasting on Channel 17, establishment of the Citizen Outreach Group (COG), Citizens' College, and the Citizen Budget Oversight Committee (CBOC) to assist with budget prioritization efforts. Great relationships make for great collaboration with our region's eight municipalities including the city councils of Colorado Springs and Manitou Springs.
           Pam Berry

           [Berry did not reply to the questionnaire.]

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