It’s a terrible idea – but nonetheless it must be done
With Thursday’s submission of some 200 additional signatures, it now seems almost certain that the Rail Initiative petitions will be certified by the Aspen city clerk and that city voters will face a yes-or-no question on a rail system this November.
Most rail advocates are not pleased with this state of affairs. They argue, quite reasonably, that this fall is too soon to hold an election, that the complex studies are not yet complete and that voters will not have all the information in time to make a wise decision. They also argue that this rail question has been carefully crafted by those who oppose rail and that it is “designed to fail” and, in the process, put an end to dreams of a valleywide rail line.
While we question the second of those arguments, we certainly agree with the first. This fall will be a terrible time to hold a definitive rail election. The transportation studies are endless and endlessly complicated. The few numbers that have been released so far have immediately been subjected to fierce debate – as to their validity and significance. The underlying plans are hazy and there are many more decisions yet to be made before voters can really be given a clear choice between – for example – a specific rail system and a specific bus system. And only when those decisions have been made will it be appropriate to begin the long and deep discussion and debate over the merits of the systems.
So, yes, this November is clearly the wrong time for a rail election.
And yet, we feel that a rail election clearly ought to be held this November. Indeed, we feel it must be held.
Before we go any further, let’s be very clear: This newspaper remains strongly inclined to believe that a rail system will indeed prove to be the best solution to the valley’s crushing transportation problems. But there is a higher principle at stake here.
It is, of course, democracy.
In last year’s elections, the voters made it clear that they wanted a definitive rail vote this November. A ballot question – proposed by the same rail opponents who are supporting this year’s initiative petition – called for a vote on rail in November 1999. While that question was not worded in such a way as to make such an election mandatory, it was clear that those who voted for it – the majority of voters in the election – felt they were voting for a November 1999 rail election.
This newspaper took a strong editorial stand against that rail question last year. We argued then – as we repeat now – that November 1999 is simply too soon to make that vital decision. We argued then – as we repeat now – that we have come too far, worked too hard to ruin it all by voting before we have a clear idea of what we are voting for … or against. But the voters did not take our advice then, they cast their ballots in favor of a rail election this fall. They have a right to that election.
When the voters speak, government has an obligation to listen.
So, we welcome the anticipated success of the initiative petition drive. And if for some reason the additional signatures still do not prove to be enough to get the question on the ballot, we call for the City Council to act in good faith with the voters and put that question on the ballot themselves.
Now is not the time to subvert the will of the voters – many of whom are already suspicious of government and angry at what they perceive as a blind determination to build a rail system no matter what the people want. Instead, now is the time for rail supporters to launch an open, honest, clear and passionate campaign in favor of the rail system this valley needs.
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