November 5th is when we vote and elect state legislators. Right? WRONG! At least it's wrong as to 25 of the 84 seats to be filled in 1996. The date for THEIR election is August 13, and when votes are counted on that date, 30 percent of the legislative seats up for election will be filled.
That doesn't speak too well for the election process. Twenty-five legislative districts are without major party contests. And no matter how rotten a particular candidate or incumbent is, there won't be a reasonable opportunity to cast a meaningful vote of rejection.
There are six uncontested Senate seats and 19 uncontested House seats as of August 14. Of course all sixty-five House seats are on the line every two years. The Republicans have candidates in 61 of them, including a number of seats where they have not won in a very long time, if ever.
Unlike Democratic state party leadership, the Republicans presently understand that "anything can happen" in an election year either through misfortune to the other party's candidate or some scandal revealed at the last moment. Republicans are prepared to take advantage if that happens. Democrats are not.
Democrats have conceded 15 House seats to the Republicans including one where a Republican incumbent is challenged in the primary. One would think the Democrats learned something from the past mistake of not having a live body on the ballot in 1992 when incumbent Republican Stan Johnson was defeated by Drew Clark in the primary. "Almost winning" by a write-in for Peggy Lamm doesn't count. If she had BEEN on the ballot the 1993 House Republican majority would have been 33 to 32, not 34 to 31.
In recent years, House Democrats have been down to a total of 18 seats. That happened in 1984. Republicans made a major mistake in not challenging seven House seats held by Democrats. Consider how badly that election went for Democrats: Only eleven Democrats won in contested races. If the seven Democrats had had Republican opponents, the 18 "survivors" would likely have been 15 or less.
Not that the state Democratic leadership is any lazier in 1996 than they were in 1984. In 1984, Democrats gave up long before November and 16 House Republicans and eight Senate Republicans won election on primary day.
After August 13, if all 15 uncontested House Republicans are photographed engaging in five menage a trois, they will still hold office, regardless of how badly the Colorado Republican ticket does in November.
As a former state legislator aware of the effort it sometimes takes to obtain willing, or at least "live" bodies for the ballot, there is still no excuse for what has happened to the House Democrats in 1996.
Of the 35 Senate seats, 19 are on the ballot in 1996 instead of 18. The variation in 1996 was caused by the 1995 election of Dennis Gallagher as Denver councilman. The remaining two years of his term will be decided August 13 when Rob Hernandez casts one vote for himself, since he does not have a Republican opponent. The other Democrats without Republican opponents are Doug Linkhart and Gloria Tanner.
Of 19 Senate seats up in 1996, ten are presently held by Democrats and 9 by Republicans. To become the Senate majority party in 1996, Democrats have to hold on to all 10 Democratic seats on the ballot and pick up two of the nine Republican seats. That will be made more difficult because three of those nine are uncontested by Democrats.
One of the three is SD 10 in El Paso, where Ray Powers faces a primary with Douglas Bruce. The winner automatically becomes a state senator. If Bruce wins the primary, that is a seat Democrats could have won. Mike Feeley was a "sacrificial" candidate in 1992 against Sen. Bonnie Allison, who was defeated by a "conservative" Republican, who then lost to "sacrificial" Mike Feeley.
The other two uncontested seats are SD 26 in Arapahoe and Jefferson county held by Tom Blickensderfer and SD 27 in Arapahoe held by Mike Coffman. So of 13 contested seats in 1996, Democrats have to win nine and only lose four to become the majority party.
In the House, Democrats decided to roll over and play dead heavily in El Paso County. Six Republican House members get a free ride, five from Colorado Springs and one from Manitou Springs. They are Ron May, Andy McElhany, Doug Dean, Doug Lamborn, Chuck Berry, and Marcy Morrison. There are Democratic challenges for the seat being vacated by Bill Martin, and against incumbent Mary Ellen Epps. As recently as 1992, Democrats held two of the eight El Paso seats.
Other Republicans getting a free ride are Jeanne Faatz, HD l, Bill Swenson, HD 12, Paul Schauer, HD 39, Mike Salaz, HD 47, David Owen, HD 48, Steve Tool, HD 52, Russ George, HD 57, Lou Entz, HD 60, and either Jeanne Adkins or John Muller, HD 64. As recently as 1993, two of those seats were held by Democrats.
Democrats "home free" are the winner of the Gloria Leyba, Waldo Benavidez primary in HD 2, Jeannie Reeser in HD 32, Gil Romero in HD 46, and Jim Dyer in HD 59. None of those seats in recent history has been held by Republicans.
Democrats are on the ballot in 14 of the 15 House districts in Arapahoe and Jefferson County. Those are two counties in which they have a reasonable chance of picking up some seats. But it is only when "hopeless" seats have a warm body in opposition that Democrats have a fighting chance of gaining control in the House or Senate.
Both political parties really need a written rule that whenever there is a vacancy in a legislative race that cannot otherwise be filled, the chairman or chairwoman of that legislative district MUST be the candidate.
State Democratic and Republican leaders need to remember the words of the late George Ade, the "Aesop of Indiana", former newspaper columnist and playwright:
"Anybody can win, unless there happens to be a second entry."
Jerry Kopel writes a column for the Statesman based on 22 years past experience as a state legislator.
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