In 2008, after years on the sidelines, I decided that I wanted to be involved in politics beyond just voting. Barack Obama won the Iowa caucuses and made a speech that turned my head in my kitchen in Colorado and made me want to be for something again.
So I got involved. I ran a precinct caucus and got elected as a delegate to various conventions. I met people. I learned how things worked. Although I didn’t get elected as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention, which Denver hosted in 2008, I used vacation time to volunteer and attended the first and last nights of the convention in person. It was cool. I was witnessing history. I was making history.
On January 20th, I took another day off work and when Aretha Franklin started singing My Country ‘Tis of Thee, I wept.
I stayed involved. In 2009 and following years I got elected to a growing list of committees in increasingly important roles. I served two terms as a congressional district chair and one as vice chair in one of Colorado’s most populous counties. In 2012 I attended the DNC as a member of the rules committee, elected by my state delegation. I paid my way to Charlotte and helped make history again.
Democrats have had some rough times during the past ten years. The 2010 midterms saw the rise of the so-called tea party and Dems lost the House of Representatives. The 2014 midterms saw Republicans retake the Senate. Colorado Democrats passed some gun laws that were not universally popular. There were some recall elections, and losses in the state legislature, statewide offices, county offices, you name it. In 2014, Colorado Democrats lost a US Senate seat. We struggled in vain to flip congressional districts, even in presidential years.
Democrats seemingly have a unique gift for infighting, even when things are going well, but honestly, it’s probably the same on the other side. There are always people on the fringes trying to move a party further left, further right, more this, less that. Identity politics and hot-button issues cause a lot of heartburn for a lot of folks.
And some people, it seems, are just along for the ride.
A lot of people will tell you they’re lifelong Republicans or Democrats, but I can’t make that claim. When I was young, I leaned strongly Democratic. Later, at least for a time, I became more conservative. Somewhere around the time of the 2nd Gulf War, when it became obvious that Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction were a lie, I lost affection for the Republican Party.
I’ve been a partisan, and at times I’ve voted straight tickets. However, there were also times — even when I held party office — when I’ve voted for another party’s candidate.
Being actively involved in party politics means that I’ve met a lot of politicians and gotten to know some of them pretty well. And it turns out that a lot of politicians are actually good people trying to do good work. But sometimes the other party’s candidate is simply the better choice.
In an average year, you win some races and lose some races. In a wave election, like 2018 was, you might win or lose almost all of them.
In 2018, in some places, like Arapahoe County in Colorado, Democrats won almost all of their races. The editors of the Aurora Sentinel think this is a bad thing. I agree with them.
In 2014, three Arapahoe Democrats ran and lost races for the very same positions that they won in 2018. And not to disparage any of the Democrats involved, whom I know to varying degrees, but what was the difference this year? A big part of it is undeniably the fact that Donald Trump is President of the United States, is very unpopular in places like suburban Denver, and is a Republican. As the Sentinel concluded, voters took out “their righteous disdain for politics in Washington and Denver against down-ballot elected officials with the wrong letter at the end of their name on the ballot.”
While there might be some justification for punishing a congressional candidate for supporting a president you don’t like, what’s the justification for throwing out a county sheriff, assessor or clerk over party affiliation? This is partisanship run amok, and I’d argue that it’s not good for anybody.
Political parties exist largely to select and elect candidates who represent common values. Sometimes they get the selection part wrong. Sometimes they give us a Donald Trump. Oftentimes they actually give us great candidates. But not ALWAYS. We can’t assume that someone is necessarily the best choice based solely on party affiliation.
The political parties are not ever going to tell you this. Why? Guess what would happen to a party officer who said “Yeah, I know so-and-so is our candidate for coroner, but the other candidate is a bonafide medical examiner and ours is a hack!” That person would be removed from office, replaced with a hack, and the partisan show would go on.
There are positions that should be decided by nonpartisan elections — you know, like school boards used to be — and some that should not be decided by voters at all. Is there any reason that a board of county commissioners could not hire a sheriff from a group of qualified applicants? Or a clerk and recorder? Do you want the person running elections to be a gung ho partisan? What about the person running the local police force and jail?
Maybe Democrats who rode a blue wave to victory in 2018 will exceed expectations and serve well. I hope they do. But we’ve got to do better than simply hoping when it comes to choosing people to run the government.