Dear Action Line: A recent letter to the editor wanted to make sure everyone knew they can vote for all county commissioners regardless of which district they live in. Why even have districts if the constituents don’t get to choose their own representatives? – District Dumbfounded
Dear Dumbfounded: Our three county districts are a leftover from Colorado’s creation as a territory in 1861, when the governor appointed three commissioners from every county. Each commissioner represented a district that contained about the same population as the other two, and voters in all three districts voted for all candidates. The process largely continues today in most counties and is based on the federal census.
Hey! I see you yawning. Stay awake! It’s Saturday morning. Drink another cup of coffee.
Anyway, this “at large” voting system was implemented when Colorado’s voting population was almost exclusively dudes, specifically white male miners. The 1860 U.S. census shows Colorado only had 34,277 residents, of which 32,654 were white males, 1,577 were white females and 46 were “free colored.”
Let that sink in: Colorado in 1860 was 95% white dudes, and most were digging holes in the ground. Of the 26,797 workers in 1860, 22,086 were miners. Women could not vote and Native Americans were not counted. It was a fairly homogenous voting bloc (except for whether Colorado should be a free or slave state, but let’s ignore that for now).
Did it really matter which people from a particular district were going to vote for what county commissioner? Miner Bob in District 1 and miner Fred in District 2 were probably not going to be espousing any identity politics other than how quickly to implement Manifest Destiny or figuring out how to find some women.
Fast forward 160 years. Colorado is still pretty much lily-white (about 68%, according to the census), but politically, most people are not affiliated with any major political party or ideology, so elections are often a wild card. In La Plata County, we’ve had a Republican commissioner represent downtown Democratic-leaning Durangotangs, and liberal Democrats representing more conservative county folks.
It’s a mishmash of results, but ultimately, how you vote in the county election isn’t based on which district you live in, anyway. It comes down to whether you put a premium on the individual or the society at large.
Think of it terms of whether you identify with Kirk or Spock in the first two Star Trek movies.
If you’re on Team Spock in “The Wrath of Kahn,” you believe the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, so you sacrifice yourself for the good of the ship. Your mantra is “Live long and prosper.”
If you’re Team Kirk in “The Search for Spock,” you believe the needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many, so you risk everyone on the ship to save your buddy. Your mantra is “Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful.”
State legislators tried, and failed, in 2018 to elect county commissioners by districts. They probably didn’t use enough Star Trek references.
La Plata County spokeswoman Megan Graham said to change the system, state law governing commissioner elections could be modified, voters could pass a home-rule charter for La Plata County or the county could reach a population of 70,000. This would allow voters to decide whether to have five commissioners, with three elected by district and two elected at large, she said.
La Plata County has about 56,000 people according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and on average is adding about 1,000 people a year, so it should reach the 70,000 benchmark by 2034. We can pick up the discussion then.
Dear Action Line: Greetings! I write if there are available accommodations for a group of five people in the month of October 2020. Please find the booking details below: Arrival date: Oct. 10, 2020; departure date: Oct. 20, 2020. Number of guest: five adults. Board type (Optional): half board. Traveling purpose: business. Accommodation type: single occupancy but double occupancy could be considered. Please confirm if there available accommodations for the period. – Best, W Matt
Dear W Matt: Thanks for emailing Action Line. I tried to email you back about your request for staying at the new Holiday Inn in Durango, but your server rejected my response. I’ll answer it here instead.
Your reservation has been confirmed! Your total is $100,119.51, which includes a surcharge of $100,066.84 for pain and suffering caused by eight months of traffic disruptions on Camino del Rio.
Please make your check payable to Steve Parker, who first raised the possibility of reparations to Durangotangs for the traffic delays caused by the hotel’s construction.
Email questions and suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org or mail them to Action Line, The Durango Herald, 1275 Main Ave., Durango, CO 8130. Action Line encourages everyone to brush up on democracy before this fall’s election by binge-watching Star Trek and learning some Klingon.