The real work comes when the election is over

Forget MSNBC, Fox News, and the polls. If you wanted to know the outcome of the presidential contest a week out of the election, all you had to do was sample the women (all ages) in Teri O’s Thursday morning exercise class at the Durango Community Recreation Center. They knew President Obama was going to win, not just nationally but in Colorado as well.

The election results did not create a mandate for Obama or the Democrats. If the majority of the public agreed upon anything it was that the campaign ads were simply terrible – from the top of the ticket down to the bottom – and that the costs of the campaign (estimated $6 billion) gave “excessive” a new meaning. The ads by the parties were distasteful enough, but those by the super PACs were most offensive because of their deliberate distortions and simplistic portrayals of complicated issues. The pricey ads didn’t have much of a payoff. According to a USA Today poll of undecided voters, television ads ranked behind the debates, editorials, the conventions and preferences of friends and family in terms of influence.

It will be interesting to see whether public cynicism stemming from the ads or the campaigns run by the major parties results in an increase among voters who opt for “unaffiliated” status. Two years ago, 26 percent of those in La Plata County were registered as unaffiliated (27 percent for the state overall) but this year the figures rose to 33 percent for both La Plata County and the state.

Several conclusions can be drawn from the election results. First and most obvious, the country is still divided politically. The Democrats scored well where it mattered, but the Republican Party is not destined for the graveyard.

Second, the Republican Party has the larger task now of deciding whether to continue to devolve into a narrowly focused ideological organization defined more by what it is opposed to than what it advocates or move toward the center with a philosophy that attracts moderate voters. The demographics work against Republicans. As Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said, they can’t just appeal to rural white voters. Tea party candidates were hammered across the country.

Third, Democrats must also be introspective in assessing their victories and prepared to vote for budget reductions in programs that affect their constituents.

Fourth, if the voters sent an overall message last Tuesday it was one of moderation: A progressive centrist government is more appealing than either political extreme. Obama was returned to office to finish the job he began, with the focus on the economy, not to launch major new programs.

Fifth, and most important, voters overwhelmingly want to see government operate in an effective and nonpartisan manner. The problems we face are evident: an economy that is growing too slowly, a federal debt that has spiraled to frightening proportions, and major policy issues that need to be addressed – immigration, energy and entitlement reforms. Most Americans stand ready for compromise and dialogue rather than continue the politics of “no.”

Compromise will be tested soon. If a fiscal agreement isn’t reached by early January on a long-term plan for closing the federal debt, then $570 billion in tax increases and spending cuts will take effect. Moderates from both parties recognize the need for entitlement adjustments, spending reductions for many government programs and broad tax reform that eliminates many tax loopholes, reduces business taxes and increases some taxes, especially on those earning more than $250,000 a year.

Colorado voted blue this election, and La Plata County even more so. There was no change in the makeup of the state’s congressional delegation (all re-elected; three Democrats and four Republicans, including Scott Tipton who handily fended off the challenge from Sal Pace). However, both chambers of the state Legislature are now controlled by Democrats. This will give Gov. Hickenlooper an easier time with his agenda, which is dictated in large part by how well the economy is doing.

In a significant local change, Durango lawyer Mike McLachlan defeated conservative J. Paul Brown in the 59th House District.

The voters’ approval of Amendment 64 to legalize recreational use of marijuana conflicts with federal law prohibiting its possession and use except under certain circumstances.

Hickenlooper has asked Attorney General Eric Holder for guidance on just how the state should proceed with this troublesome issue.

If you don’t believe that one vote (OK, a handful) can make a difference, contemplate the small number of votes separating winners from losers in the county commissioner races. Julie Westendorff will replace Wally White and, baring a change in the recount, Gwen Lachelt will defeat Kellie Hotter. Their main task remains the unfinished comprehensive plan.

Time to rest up, voters. In less than two years, we’ll see Hickenlooper on the 2014 ballot should he run for a second term, along with U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, Rep. Scott Tipton and those involved in county and city contests.

John Culver is a retired professor of political science. He lives in Durango. Reach him at

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