A chance to do more than complain about politics | AspenTimes.com

A chance to do more than complain about politics

John Colson
Hit & Run

Writing to alert readers to clownish or evil political shenanigans around the U.S. has had its rewards, whether my targets are local, regional or national.

But every now and then it's good to take a breath, step back and, say, check out the possibility that we here in the Roaring Fork Valley can have a greater impact on politics than we sometimes realize.

For example, tonight marks the beginning of the two-party nomination system, as the Democrats and Republicans group for their arcane statewide meetings aimed at sending candidates and delegates to the Colorado party conventions.

But that's not all — there are other events this month that, in the eyes of some, may be more critical even than the party caucuses.

I'm referring now to the fact that the week of March 18 will provide locals with ways to get out there and do something instead of simply complaining about the trashy state of politics in America and checking out the cost of building bomb shelters as safe rooms in case the world truly goes to hell in a handbasket.

Two events that week — a first-time electoral caucus-style meeting for independent voters March 22 in Glenwood Springs and a Basalt-based version of the nationally organized March for Our Lives on March 24 — will be opportunities for locals to put up or shut up about political activism and concern.

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I hope these two events will be joined by others, specifically that other local towns will mount their own March for Our Lives events, and that the local independent voters will show up en masse for the caucus-style event, which is being organized by New Castle political activist Randy Fricke.

The independent-voters gathering is perhaps more important than the party caucuses because independents are the majority in Colorado, for reasons that range from disaffection with traditional party politics to a vaguely defined tendency among Westerners in general to see themselves as rugged individualists rather than belonging to the herd of party regulars.

And it is a fact that there are some 13,000 Garfield County voters registered as independents, compared with the roughly 35,600 voters registered in the county, according to county election data.

That means that more than a third of the total number of registered voters in the county are not aligned with either party — a powerful and potentially disrupting force in local politics.

In the 2016 general election, according to the Garfield County Clerk's office, slightly more than 27,000 ballots were cast, yielding an abnormally high turnout rate of just over 76 percent.

The majority, 13,132, went for Donald Trump in Garfield County. Hillary Clinton pulled in 11,271, giving Trump the edge by about 49 percent to 42 percent of the 26,000 or so votes cast by Garfield County voters in the presidential race.

In Pitkin County, the ratio among Republicans, Democrats and independents is quite different. As of election day in 2016, out of a total of 12,887 registered voters, there were 5,526 "unaffiliated" or independents (43 percent), 4,933 Democrats (38 percent) and 2,192 Republicans (17 percent), according to the Pitkin County Clerk.

In the 2016 election, the numbers translated into a 69 percent (7,333) win for Hillary Clinton, over Trump's 24 percent (2,550).

Eagle County is similarly tinged with blue, with 30,000 active voters, 9,100 of them Democrats, 7,800 Republicans and 12,500 unaffiliated, making it the most independently minded of our three local counties. And while the Roaring Fork Valley portion of Eagle County's voter rolls is numerically far outweighed by Garfield and Pitkin, it is worth noting that Eagle County, too, went for Hillary in 2016.

But, sticking to the two biggest contributors to our local electoral statistics (Garfield and Pitkin counties), we here in the valley seem to be fertile ground for political upset fueled by the Independent vote.

Which is why Fricke is hoping to draw a big crowd of fervent voters tired of the two-party hegemony in U.S. politics, and eager to do something different.

"We need independents to run for office," Fricke told a reporter last month. "Independents can be the best alternative to the candidates of the corrupt political establishment. Independents can play a strong role in cleaning up our election system."

I'll second that.

The other late-March event — the March for Our Lives — is another chance to make our local voices heard — this time in favor of stricter gun-control legislation in the state and across the nation.

The March 24 event was announced by students at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where last month a deranged gunman killed 17 students and teachers, and sent 14 others to local hospitals. The march, the students hope, will help move the gun-control debate off dead center and result in needed changes to national laws.

I've been watching some of these youths as they make the rounds on various talk shows, and they are impressive.

In fact, I feel the same as comedian and political commentator Bill Maher did when he interviewed students David Hogg and Cameron Kasky last week — these kids are smart, they are engaged and they are determined to influence the gun-control debate in ways that the National Rifle Association and its trained legislators are not quite ready for.

And it is in response to the students' words and actions that Susan Mitchell, a health care worker in Basalt, has launched a bid to hold a satellite March for Our Lives event in Basalt.

The March 24 event is to begin at 10 a.m. at Lions Park downtown, and more information about the event is to be released as the date nears, according to one story about the march.

So, let's stop bellyaching and start acting out over our frustrations and our dreams for a better, more responsive political system.

We're the only ones who can do it.

Email at jbcolson51@gmail.com.