2008 Newsmakers – The Voter: A mixed message, locally and nationally
December 26, 2008
It would be understandable, certainly, and perhaps even justifiable in some ways to extol the U.S. electorate as a paragon of democratic virtues, a colossus of truth, justice and the American Way, simply on the evidence of the recent national elections.
It is true, the U.S. electorate took a giant leap of faith and elected Democrat Barack Obama as president over his white, more mainstream and more experienced counterpart, John McCain, by a margin of 53-46 percent. This put a half-caste black man in the White House for the first time and gave a significant boost to the idea that the U.S. is a nation where all citizens enjoy equal opportunity.
That step, in and of itself, already has raised our nation’s stock in the eyes of the world. But to say that, merely by electing Obama, the U.S. voter has suddenly made a sweeping turn toward social and political tolerance would be an overstatement.
The nation also watched quietly as California, seen by many as one of the most progressive states in the union, came down solidly on the side of intolerance by passing Proposition 8, which outlaws marriage between any two people other than a man and a woman. Observers have concluded the vote was heavily influenced by the Salt Lake City-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which strongly supported the measure, and opponents are now calling for a boycott of Utah.
Critics have condemned that vote as narrow-minded and intolerant, and have rejected the possibility that it reflects a similar sentiment throughout the land. But the proposition’s supporters see it as a wedge with which to forge similar victories in other states.
Nationally, voters did not give complete control of the federal government to one party, the Democrats, choosing instead to leave a sufficient number of Republicans in the U.S. Senate to deny Democrats a filibuster-proof majority.
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Closer to home, Colorado voters went for Obama by a slightly greater margin than the nation, roughly 54-46 percent, stunning those who have long viewed the state as solidly Republican territory. Pitkin County, of course, went even further, picking Obama by a margin of 75-25 percent, a result that surprised no one. Local voters supported a new sales tax to protect water quality and quantity in local streams, supported two Aspen School District measures to fund technology and teacher housing, but refused a property tax increase to improve Pitkin County’s roads.
In another surprising turn, Colorado voters rejected the so-called “personhood amendment,” which would have inserted a line in the state’s constitution stating that political, social and legal rights begin at fertilization, rather than birth. And Colorado’s voters predominantly sent Democrats to the state legislature, although not in such overwhelming numbers that Republicans feel they have lost the state.
So, all in all, the results of the 2008 election season are a mixed bag, as often is true in American politics. But the voter, and his or her mercurial shifts and swings, captivated Aspen and the rest of the country in 2008.