Party on, City Council Candidates!

Originally appeared in Fort Collins Weekly

14 January 2007
Eric Fried

A specter is haunting City Hall – the specter of political party involvement in officially nonpartisan city council races.

Recent mailings sent by the Fort Collins Future Committee urged voters to support the Republican candidates (Troxell and Fries, to no one’s surprise) and misidentified Glen Colton as a former Green Party member.

Let’s set the record straight. Glen Colton never has been registered Green – not that there’s anything wrong with that! Defending yet another falsehood, Karl Rove wannabe Andrew Boucher said he got his info from Cathy Hutchinson, wife of the mayor and webmistress of fortwatch.org. In turn, Hutchinson says this factoid “could have” come from a Green Party newsletter. I was party co-chair in 2003, and we had no newsletter. Cathy has a long history of fantasizing about Greens, and apparently this “fact” sprang full-blown like Athena from her fevered brow.

City law that prohibits political party involvement in city elections cannot stand up in court and should be repealed. The city can’t suspend the Constitution at the city limits, and has zero authority to prohibit political parties from exercising their rights to free speech and free association. Just because our local political culture has frowned on party involvement in the past doesn’t make it illegal. I have to agree with the Republicans here.

Another clearly indefensible ordinance prohibits city employee involvement in city elections. This rule is stricter than laws regarding county, state, federal or school district employees, and is totally un-American. The city rents its employees’ labor during work hours, but does not purchase their souls. When they are off duty, they have every right to work on city campaigns, even to run for council themselves if they choose (provided they resign their job if they win).

City council pay is clearly inadequate. I know it’s politically suicidal to advocate spending more tax money on politicians – a word people generally spit out with disgust – but the low pay and long hours required to do a good job prevent most working people from serving on council. That’s why so many council members are independent professionals, businessmen, Hewlett Packard engineers, CSU professors, retirees and the like. Who (besides David Roy) represents the waitresses, truck drivers, plumbers, telemarketers, renters, students and other moderate-wage citizens on council? Raising council pay modestly is a small but worthwhile investment in a more inclusive council that represents all of us, not just the suits.

Another contrived controversy making news is Progressive Majority’s endorsement of David Roy and Lisa Poppaw. Local righties including Erik Rush (recently featured on Fox News smearing Barack Obama’s church) portray these two as Manchurian candidates who will do the bidding of the international progressive conspiracy if they win. Get a grip! PM’s entire in-kind contribution to Lisa – less than $40! – was about two phone calls giving her generic campaign advice. Besides, I know of at least two other organizations that seek to recruit candidates for office, train and mentor them and help them move up the ranks: the Democratic and Republican Parties. There’s nothing sinister about it.

Apparently the word “progressive” itself is now meant to scare you. Funny, I saw a Matt Fries brochure touting his “progressive” platform, and even right wing former county commissioner Tom Bender was involved with the coalition of northeast Colorado counties called “Progressive 15.” Is the p-word only terrifying when actual progressives use it? Or is it the growing understanding that on broad economic and social issues we progressives actually are the majority?

Clearly, the partisanship genie is out of the bottle when it comes to our quaint little municipal elections. So let’s level the playing field and give people power an equal standing with money power. Allow city employee involvement in elections, make political committees abide by the same contribution limits as candidates, and raise city council pay to at least minimum wage. I bet we get a broader, better city council out of it.

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