Ballot petitioners hoping for defeat?
In a less conventional approach to the political process, at least two people largely responsible for putting a ballot question before Aspen voters this fall will campaign to defeat it.
“It’s probably a first in Aspen politics,” said Councilman and lifelong resident Jim Markalunas.
Most people spearhead a petition drive in order gain support for a cause they believe in. Jeffrey Evans and Councilman Tony Hershey, however, plan to spend time between now and election day promoting their ballot question’s demise.
The ballot initiative, signed by at least 840 city residents, asks if voters would support the city spending $20 million to create a light-rail system.
Critics of the ballot question also question the motives of those behind the petition and claim that the language is deliberately worded for defeat. At a recent council meeting, one member of the public called the question “insidious.”
“It’s certainly unusual,” noted Mayor Rachel Richards. “I’ve never seen a question put on by people with the intention of working to see it fail.”
But Hershey maintains that he “absolutely” did not support the petition drive with the initiative’s downfall in mind.
“I wanted to give people a choice,” Hershey said. “I came to [the petition drive] with an open mind, willing to hear both sides. Now I think rail isn’t the way to go and I will campaign actively against it.”
Evans, who isn’t a city resident, is however, the man behind full-page newspaper ads and local radio spots that urged people to sign the rail petition. The media campaign was funded by Common Sense Alliance, a quasi-political group which reportedly spent $28,000 in its efforts to defeat two pro-rail ballot questions last November.
As spokesman and treasurer for the Common Sense Alliance, Evans has long been an outspoken critic of rail and even hosted a series of public television programs outlining why it should never be built in the Roaring Fork Valley.
The reason he backed a rail petition was “because the only question that matters is: Are you willing to spend tax dollars on rail,” Evans said.
Councilman Tom McCabe also actively campaigned to put the rail question on the ballot. Now that the question will be there, he said he’s not sure how he’ll vote. The point was to give people a chance to have a say on rail, said McCabe at the last council meeting.
The majority of the council, however, is adamantly opposed to the question. Without knowing the roles that state and federal funding will play, voting on rail is premature say Markalunas, Richards and Councilman Terry Paulson.
In addition, Markalunas said the language of the ballot question oversimplifies the transportation options available.
“It shouldn’t be just choose bus or rail,” Markalunas said. “We need both. The choice should be asking about an integrated, valleywide incorporation of all the best elements of good transportation.”
Richards didn’t go so far as to say the wording of the question ensures its failure, but it sure is confusing, she said.
“The longer the question, the harder it is to read,” Richards said. “It could have been done to be much more readable and understandable.”
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