Can they pull it off?
Can two canny and accomplished women persuade the always skeptical voters of Colorado Springs to approve a property tax hike and rescue the city from the worst fiscal crisis it has experienced since the 1970s?
Will Councilwoman Jan Martin and nonprofit leader Mary Ellen McNally enter the mythic pantheon of female superheroes, joining Supergirl and Batgirl or, more appropriately, Wonder Woman and Cat Woman?
Or will they crash to earth, brought down by our very own cackling and coldly calculating Joker, the ol’ Dougster hisself?
Conventional wisdom says that they have no shot. We’re a strongly Republican, traditionally anti-tax city enduring a deep recession. The city might be in dire straits, but its leaders inspire little confidence.
The U.S. Olympic Committee deal, for example, showed the city at its worst.
Council members were visibly clueless and ill-informed, while so inept and incompetent were the appointed officials charged with putting the deal together that they could have emerged from a Marx Brothers movie.
It would have been endlessly amusing — except for the very insignificant matter of $50 million or so in taxpayer dollars floating gently from the windows of City Hall into the eager arms of the USOC.
It’s also clear that the city’s revenue forecasts have been overly optimistic during the recession.
That might diminish voter confidence in the ability of the city to perform basic governmental functions, like figuring out how much money will flow into its coffers.
Finally, there’s a certain sour congruence between the city’s most recently calculated shortfall ($37 million) and the approximate principal amount of city debt to be issued in support of the USOC ($37 million).
M&M have six weeks to convince the voters. It might not be enough.
That’s because elections are no longer elections as we once understood them.
Think back to, say, 1989.
Voters relied upon The Gazette, TV and radio for their information. Talk radio was in its infancy. There was no Internet as such — just the Well (Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link, for those unfamiliar with ancient history) and similar bulletin boards.
There were no Web sites, no forums for political junkies, no swift and easy means of disseminating political information — or misinformation.
Campaigns were predictable, slow-paced and, at least in retrospect, reasonable.
Mediated by The Gazette’s editors, by KOAA’s John Gilbert and other gatekeepers, our civic dialogue was far less ideological, and far more … well, civilized than it now seems to be.
That dialogue culminated on the first Tuesday during November, when we went to the polls. It was possible to create and execute a campaign during the two months after Labor Day, when the voters traditionally awoke from their summer torpor.
There is no election day, no single event to plan for. Ballots arrive in the mail weeks before “election day,” along with an avalanche of misleading campaign pieces. The Gazette’s voice, while still important, is no longer dominant. Absent anger and conflict, TV and radio aren’t interested.
The point? You can’t get our attention.
We’re constantly under assault from the floating worlds of electronic media. We’ve learned to tune it all out, to ignore the pleas of our Facebook friends, to delete e-mails without reading them, to throw away — excuse me — to recycle the paper without reading it, to leave everything, to finish nothing and to begin again every day.
So how do we make decisions? We don’t — we just act.
It might be that M&M understand this phenomenon better than do their probable opponents, who still seem wedded to the old ways. It might be that our two stalwart women can wage an Obama-style campaign, and enlist an enthusiastic army of young supporters who will take the city by storm.
On the other hand, Obama’s campaign wasn’t based on a tax increase …
Meanwhile, it looks as if we might have not just a contentious Republican senatorial primary next year, but a Democratic donnybrook as well. Former House speaker Andrew Romanoff is reportedly pondering a run against appointed incumbent Sen. Michael Bennet.
Bennet has never run for elected office. He was elected to the office with a single vote, that of our sometimes-eccentric governor. He’s never had to sit for hours and hours and listen to petty complaints from aggrieved constituents. He’s never walked a precinct on a cold winter afternoon. He hasn’t spent years as a petty elected official, learning the art of politics.
Romanoff has. He’s a guy that Dems love, and Republicans like. He has a light touch as a campaigner, and bipartisan instincts in our partisan times.
A couple of years ago, here in Colorado Springs, Romanoff was campaigning on behalf of the newly minted Democratic legislative majority.
“You know,” he told the crowd, “the Republicans are really bad at being in the minority — so let’s give ’em some more practice!”
Light-hearted, civilized, a little edgy but neither insulting nor ideological … you’d almost think it was 1989!
John Hazlehurst can be reached at John Hazlehurst@csbj.com or 227-5861.