Reflections on the 2008 election

-A A +A
By Rob Witwer

Too much ink has been spilled analyzing the presidential election, so I’ll keep this part of my column brief. Folks were ready for change — and after eight years of George Bush’s rudderless big government-ism, I can’t say I blame them. Republicans across the nation took a hit, and rightfully so.

But what happened at the local level defied expectations, and was in many ways a setback for Democrats too.

With Colorado swinging decisively for Barack Obama and Mark Udall, conventional wisdom held that Republicans down the ballot would be drowned in a wave of anti-GOP sentiment. Jefferson County, which has trended Democratic of late, was expected to replace Republicans with Democrats in two county commission seats as well as one or more state legislative seats.

That didn’t happen.  Republican Commissioner Kevin McCasky prevailed over union operative Jason Bane, D-Lakewood, and GOP County Treasurer Faye Griffin won a spot on the county commission by handily defeating state Sen. Sue Windels, D-Arvada.  Completing the trifecta, Republican Scott Storey held on to his position as district attorney.

GOP wins at the county level surprised Jefferson County Democrats, who made no bones about the fact that 2008 was supposed to be their year to take over the Jeffco Taj Mahal.

Democrats also targeted House District 25, the seat I’m retiring from. Democrat Andrew Scripter, a likable candidate with few ties to the local community, ran a spirited challenge to Republican Cheri Gerou, an architect, small-business owner and 24-year Evergreen resident. Throughout the summer, Democratic elected officials confidently and publicly predicted victory in House District 25, even working it into their election eve talking points.

When the dust settled, however, it wasn’t even close: Gerou prevailed decisively. Given the Obama/Udall headwind at the top of the ticket, her margin showed that a positive, issue-oriented campaign can still make a difference at the local level.

Incidentally, the House District 25 race exposed our community to something that is commonplace elsewhere in Colorado, but had yet to be seen in our neck of the woods — the involvement of so-called “527” outside groups (named for the section of the Internal Revenue Code that governs them). Although there were no Republican 527s active in House District 25, in the month before the election, Democratic 527s spent at least $45,000 on the race, the vast majority going to glossy negative mail pieces attacking Gerou. Those pieces were by all accounts over the top, and apparently they backfired.

Elsewhere on the ballot, Colorado voters rejected a variety of debt issuances and tax increases, from Gov. Ritter’s energy tax (Amendment 58) to Speaker Romanoff’s TABOR revisions (Amendment 59) to the Jeffco schools’ revenue measures, 3A and 3B. Hit hard by a faltering economy, tumbling home values and dwindling 401(k) accounts, voters were in no mood to open their wallets any further.

For me, the takeaway of the 2008 election is that Colorado voters are capable of differentiating between candidates at various levels of the ballot, splitting their ticket, understanding complex ballot initiatives, and ignoring negative mailers by outside groups. And even though they have handed the reins to Democrats in the past two election cycles, they are keeping a wary eye on the majority party.

Rob Witwer, who currently lives in Genesee, is the outgoing state representative for House District 25.