So what lessons for public policy can we learn from our recent election? Well it seems big dark money was remarkably unsuccessful at a national level — fortunate. Locally it was much more effective at convincing Aspen voters to turn against a hydroelectric project they’d supported just years before and already spent millions on. Most unfortunate as the result is now clouded.
As someone who respects the results of elections and the will of the voters I’m torn on this issue. On the one hand we had stupendously high voter turnout and the advisory question lost. Though not all provisional ballots are yet counted I suspect only the actual number will change, not the overall result.
On the other hand we had unknown outsiders spending beaucoup bucks working to defeat the measure. We have no idea how much money was spent or by whom let alone an answer to “Why?”
Had the opponents had the courage of their convictions or belief in the power of their argument or acted less anonymously the result would be clear. As it is we have two binding votes in favor of the power plant, have spent over $6 million to build it and now an advisory vote that makes if difficult to discern the voters’ intent.
So how is City Council to move forward? Which votes should hold more sway? I dunno. Good luck, fellas!
At the very least they should analyze the arguments of the opposition, provide answers to the public and then schedule a binding vote on the issue. Clearly they shouldn’t give up in the face of this one result and waste the money we’ve already spent.
I’d be inclined to conclude differently had this been purely an Aspen fight instead of one paid for by God only knows who scoffing at our election disclosure laws for unknown reasons. Should outsiders step in again in the future, even the result of a binding question would be clouded — not a good way to make good public policy. Until we have an unclouded result I think City Council will be justified in doing what the opponents will surely call “ignoring the will of the voters.” Well, that’s what they paid for.
But we should all welcome the hydro plant to the list of divisive issues that consume so much of Aspen’s time and prevent us from solving problems definitively. Clearly we were bored with having only the S-curves/straight-shot issue and “defining community character” questions to spin our wheels over. I remain convinced though, being such an inventive people, we can yet add to the list.
But kudos to the voters on passing the school tax, problematic as it was. And even I voted to legalize pot. It will be interesting to see how our Legislature makes laws to regulate marijuana like alcohol in the face of pot still being illegal at a federal level. I think the best way to handle that will be to have state-owned stores selling it. State responsibility would protect any individual from being shut down, arrested and ruined for following a state law at odds with federal laws. If we are willing to legalize it as a group then we should be willing to take the heat from the feds as a group. The feds will have a difficult time jailing us all. It will speed up the actual selling of pot as well as I can’t imagine who’d be willing to take the risk to set up a “mom and pop” pot store while it remains a federal crime. So if you want your weed soon I’d suggest more state control rather than less.
And kudos to the local Republican Party for taking on Aspen’s liberal bias and doing their best to turn that sow’s ear of a candidate into what almost passed for a silk purse. Other than racist remarks which seemed to flow from some quarters, their efforts added to our political discourse. As we need a strong opposition party for our two-party system, I welcome the attempt to bring the local Republicans out of the closet, as it were, and onto Main Street — literally.
On a more literary note I suspect Aspen votes against projects like the library (and the art museum awhile back) not entirely on the merits of the projects themselves but more as a protest against growth in general. We are a book- and art-loving bunch but because we can’t vote explicitly against the truly offending projects in the downtown and increasingly in our “suburbs” the voters exercise their dissent with “no” votes on the few public projects they have a voice on. I suggest the council do an analysis of all the “growth” votes in the past 20 years. Other than the schools I can think of only the Aspen Recreation Center as a big public project getting a “yes” vote.
Perhaps this voting analysis would buttress the findings of the Aspen Area Community Plan, make it easier for council to legislate on the “free market condos in the core” question and deny the applications for some of the worst offenses against architecture, our view plane regulations and good public space that have come forward recently. If such a civic-minded place as Aspen votes against such civic-minded projects as a library, an art museum or a recycling center then isn’t that evidence that they don’t really want any growth at all? And least of all growth like big, private — and empty — penthouses blocking views from public spaces like the Wheeler? In other words, kudos to Steve Skadron and Torre for their stand on some of the worst of these offenses.
This column is dedicated to a lively discussion/forum regarding issues of public policy in Aspen and Pitkin County. If you have any questions about a particular matter of policy that you’d like see discussed or suggestions about topics/ issues, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org . I’ll respond to all responsible and serious queries and emails.