When circumstances convinced me several months ago that the time to leave El Paso had come, I moved to Denver. While the body can move intact, though, the spirit lags behind. Thus, the mental transition from the Rio Grande Rift to the Rockies has taken some time. Finally, a full understanding of why I had made that instinctive move came home, in the tale of how two cities – El Paso and Denver – fared on election night.
In El Paso, 24% of eligible voters – fewer than 1 in 4 – went to the polls. They voted to repeal benefits to same-sex partners of city employees, a policy affecting perhaps a couple of dozen people. They elected Dee Margo to replace Joe Moody, one of the state’s finest young legislators. Two out of three voters in my old home precinct on the west side voted a straight Republican ticket. Margo was one of 22 net gains for Republicans in the state house, bringing that body to a near two-thirds majority that promises to roll back health care reform in the State with the highest number of uninsured people in the nation, get tougher on crime (read build more prisons), and lower taxes in the face of a 25 billion dollar deficit. Good luck with that.
In Denver, 54% of eligible voters went to the polls in a more progressive mood. A constitutional amendment that would have granted “personhood” to a human zygote was defeated, as were three tax rollbacks that would have gutted state and local government. An initiative for opting out of federal health care reform also lost. All 9 state house seats and all 5 state senate seats for Denver remained in Democratic hands. Statewide, Republicans did take control of the House by a margin of one representative, who won by fewer than 300 votes, but the Senate survived with a Democratic majority. Denver, and the rest of the state, elected a Democrat as governor, over a Republican who saw Denver’s bicycle rental program as a UN conspiracy, and a third party candidate (Tom Tancredo) whose career has been built by demonizing immigrants. And in the closest high-profile race in the nation, Michael Bennett prevailed over tea-party favorite Ken Buck to help keep the US Senate in Democratic hands.
While Texas bleeds red, Colorado remains ambivalently purple. As El Paso languishes in a regressive political coma, Denver at least has a political pulse.
I’ve joined the Democratic Party of Denver and already have found myself chair of its Public Policy Committee. I wrote the position papers on the party’s web site that I would like to think helped defeat the ballot initiatives that would have been so destructive. Last Tuesday afternoon, I was one of hundreds of volunteers who went door-to-door to get out the last minute vote for Michael Bennet. In the end, he won by about 5 votes per precinct. I would like to think that I helped make that difference in my small plot of the political universe.
To all my activist friends who remain in El Paso to fight the good fight, my affection for you is exceeded only by my admiration. Those of us who have lived through tsunamis before know that the tide will turn eventually. Joe Moody, or someone like him, will return to the legislature in time, and at some point Texas will, of necessity, see that government must be more about “we”, less about “me” , and nothing at all about “tea.” For now, though – and probably for at least the next two years – the political picture in the Lone Star State is not going to be pretty.
Texas is the state of my birth, and El Paso was my adoptive home for 19 years, giving me experiences and friends that enriched my life forever. I will never forsake the state nor forget the city. I will fly the Texas flag from my hi-rise apartment in downtown Denver every March 2nd and April 21st. But for now, I just need to be in a place where I can get a little more political oxygen.