Rail ‘advisory’ questions are an unfortunate mistake | AspenTimes.com

Rail ‘advisory’ questions are an unfortunate mistake

The prospect of the Nov. 2 municipal election grows more convoluted by the day, thanks to the ongoing political melodrama starring the pro-rail and anti-rail factions in our town.

The city ballot in November is shaping up to be a major source of pain, confusion and anger, with voters now likely to face one funding question for rail, one funding question for a busway, and three seriously ill-advised “advisory” questions being proposed by the majority faction of our City Council.

It’s time to call a halt to the madness.

The City Council should gather its wits, take a deep breath, and get rid of the three advisory questions. They are a bad idea – they are three very bad ideas.

To begin with, the questions, written by avowed rail advocate Mayor Rachel Richards, are an exercise in slanted wording. They are propaganda, not a serious attempt at gauging voter opinion. They are guaranteed to further alienate and anger the voting constituency that put self-declared rail opponent Tony Hershey on the City Council in the first place, not to mention Hershey himself, thus contributing to the widening rift on the council.

Secondly, the questions are so loaded as to be an insult even to voters who favor rail. They are in the nature of “Choose one: A. I beat my wife; or, B. I’m in favor of rail.” Those who favor putting these questions on the ballot may truly feel they will help “clear the air” – but if they think that, they are very, very wrong. Such loaded questions can prove nothing and can only add to the fog of anger that is enveloping the valley on this issue. Moreover, even if the questions were to be approved overwhelmingly in the election, their slanted nature would mean they could not be relied upon as any kind of true indication of voter sentiment – or as a legitimate basis for a pro-rail “mandate.”

Richards and others in the pro-rail camp, unfortunately, have been caught up in a cycle of vilification aimed at proving just how deceitful the anti-rail crowd is. In the meantime, the anti-rail crowd is busy putting up a well-planned, intelligent – though not necessarily honest or straightforward – campaign to discredit the pro-rail arguments.

To put it as bluntly as possible, the anti-rail people are fighting the proposed rail system, while the pro-rail people are spending all their energy fighting the anti-rail people, instead of fighting for the rail plan.

These three advisory questions are merely further evidence that Richards and her cohorts are unable to lift their gaze from the muddy rut being formed by the tires of their opponents as they drive merrily along on the road to electoral victory – a victory that may not be in this valley’s best interests.

The wording of these advisory questions, while meant to elicit voter sympathy for mass transit, probably will have the opposite result. And the last thing we need in Aspen right now is any further incentive to engage in divisive, meaningless combat that could be avoided.

The return of rail travel to the Roaring Fork Valley continues to be a good idea, and the results in every vote on the issue show that a lot of people feel that way. What our elected officials should be doing now, in Aspen and up and down the valley, is striving for clarity, not stumbling toward obfuscation.

Dump the questions, prepare to wage a strong and positive fight for voter approval of light rail, and be ready and willing to accept the will of the voters regardless of the outcome. There is no other reasonable course of action.

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