Douglas County is considered a safe district for Republicans. In a county where almost half of the registered voters are Republican, ironclad control by the Republican Party is assured. This is great for party loyalists and Republican candidates that win their primaries, but it’s a terrible situation for the rest of us. The trouble with “safe” districts begins with party in-fighting and ends with all out party corruption, while half of the citizens struggle with little choice in candidates and lack of representation.
Although one-party rule has an advantage to the party in power, such as giving them the ability to implement their agenda without interference, it also most assuredly leads to in-fighting. Without a strong opposition party to fight, Republicans in Douglas County have taken to fighting amongst themselves. From recent skirmishes over actions of the party in school board races, disappointment with new policies implemented for public comment by the school board that led long-time supporters to publically reconsidering their support, the renaming of the Republican Breakfast Club to the Conservative Breakfast Club, or disputes between the surveyor and the commissioner over the duties of the surveyor and whether the surveyor’s office should be funded (that ended up in court), rarely a week goes by without some dispute between Republicans. But nothing exemplifies in-fighting better than the fight between the coroner, Lora Thomas, and the former sheriff, Dave Weaver. The dispute likely started when Thomas helped defeat a mill levy that former Sheriff Weaver was supporting. Back in 2010, Weaver backed Thomas’s opponent in the 2010 coroner’s primary race. The feud escalated to the point where Westword reported in 2011 that, “Both sides have accused the other of interfering with and jeopardizing their work” and ethics complaints were filed against Thomas for electioneering actions in the ballot issue that would have extended term limits for the sheriff. The craziness left Westword to wonder if the feud was effecting homicide investigations in Douglas County. Thomas was cleared of those ethics complaints while Weaver has moved on to the commissioner’s office, effectively ending the feud.
Luckily, that bit of in-fighting ended with the former sheriff’s pick for coroner, Carter Lord, being found guilty of three felonies in late 2013. Because Weaver had endorsed Lord in the 2010 primary, the investigation into Lord’s actions while at the coroner’s office had to be kicked up to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation. It began in 2012 when Thomas learned of weapons missing from the coroners’ office and the ensuing investigation revealed that Lord had not destroyed weapons as requested by next of kin. “In four instances, the next of kin released the guns to the Douglas County Coroner’s Office, and those weapons should have been destroyed,” a news release from the Attorney General’s Office states. “Four guns were released to Lord for destruction; however, only one of the four guns was actually destroyed.:” “Lord resold one of the guns, and kept two of the others to sell at a store he owns called The Stock Shop, in Sedalia. Carter Lord filed falsified documents with the Douglas County Coroner’s Office showing that the guns had been destroyed.” All this makes one wonder what goes on in Douglas County when the Republicans aren’t feuding.
General elections count for very little in safe districts because candidates in one-party counties like Douglas County are decided by primaries. Whoever wins the Republican primary in Douglas County has already won the election. In 2010, only 28% of the electorate (Republicans who voted in the primary) decided who would be our coroner and our county treasurer. Republican primary voters tend to be more conservative—meaning that the candidate who appeals to those voters ultimately ends up being elected; leaving Douglas County represented by the most conservative legislators in the state. It is even worse when a candidate leaves the race like Jack Hilbert did this summer. His replacement ended up being chosen by a vacancy committee, which at best, encompasses a few hundred party activists. Their views are not very reflective of Douglas County as a whole.
But the real problem with one-party rule is that elected officials in ultra-conservative counties don’t represent the entire community. Kim Ransom, the aforementioned replacement for Jack Hilbert, told the Lone Tree Voice, “It’s a safe district, so it’s safe to send someone as far to the right as you can find.” While Chris Holbert told the Highlands Ranch Herald he was running because, “Senate District 30 is one of the most conservative legislative districts in Colorado. For balance against the progressive agenda in Denver, it is imperative that Republicans, Libertarians, right-leaning Independents, and fiscally conservative Democrats have a proven leader representing us at the Capitol.” Neither answered that they wanted to represent the entire community, just the conservatives. They are more concerned about the needs of the far-right than the needs of all the people of Douglas County, which leaves many of us feeling unrepresented and without a voice in our government.
One needs to look no farther than Castle Rock and our Republican school board to see how one-party rule has worked. Recent discussions of capital needs led to school board members discussing the unlikelihood of a tax increase being approved by voters. This is because they can no longer count on the traditional support of Democratic voters and others who believe in funding public schools. The voucher scheme and pay for performance debacle combined with highly partisan actions of the board have left many traditional supporters of public schools unwilling to give the district any money for fear of mismanagement. The board has also been known to chastise dissenters. When they are not on their best behavior, they yell at their constituents. They have publicly admitted to not feeling the need to represent the community, just their ideology—basically saying that it’s the nature of a republic and those who win elections have carte blanche to impose their agenda on the rest of us.
Some of us non-Republicans (and even some socially liberal Republicans) feel we will never have a voice in our county, but it is a problem that can be fixed easily. Vote for Democrats! Douglas County has a host of qualified candidates that will fight for what is best for Douglas County. Folks like Henry Barlow (House District 43 candidate), Bette Davis (Senate District 30 candidate), and Bill Buntrock (County Surveyor candidate) will represent the entire community, not just those who share their political ideology. We have made great strides in the non-partisan school board election coming within just 1300 votes of easing the stranglehold in 2011, but much work is to be done.
Our founders created our democracy as a republic so we would not be subjected to the tyranny of the majority. Unfortunately, one-party rule creates just that, and though Douglas County may never be anything more than a Republican safe district, we can make it stronger by making sure other voices and viewpoints are represented.