Back in 2010, when I was the chair of the El Paso County Democratic Party, I told people that this deepest dark-red county might change, one day, but not very soon. My own 38% or so in my congressional election of 2008 was, at the time, the most votes any Democrat had ever gotten in the district. Though there were lots of unaffiliated voters and quite a few Dems in the city, the number of GOP voters basically guaranteed every election would turn for the Republicans.
Heck, the local group (cabal? Too strong?) of GOP leaders essentially played musical chairs with the various city and county elective offices. One GOPer would be the clerk and recorder, and when term-limited out of that job, he would run for assessor, or treasurer, while the occupants of those offices moved to a new elective office. About the only office that didn’t get traded around was the coroner. I admit, I’m still quite puzzled we elect the coroner, rather than having an expert pathologist be appointed, but we vote for that office.
Well, that ongoing game of musical chairs might just be getting a bit rickety and less certain for the GOP down here because of one word: Yemi.
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Much to my astonishment, the good people of Colorado Springs voted for mayor last week, and wow, did they take a hard turn back toward the middle. The race had pitted one of the musical chair participants, Wayne Williams, against a brand new and unaffiliated candidate by the name of Yemi Mobolade.
And Yemi won.
And not by a little.
In what qualifies as a landslide in this previously unbreachable GOP fortress, Yemi won by 15 percentage points. Wow. (Full disclosure: I know Wayne a tiny bit, and he was always very nice to me, though I disagree with him on, well, most everything. Yemi I’ve met one time at a local breakfast place, and he too seemed nice).
How did this happen? Well, I suspect the GOP was, after 50 years or so of complete electoral domination, pretty cocky and sure of itself. Wayne Williams, a man with multiple elective offices on his resume, was seen as largely unbeatable. His advertisements, which were everywhere on TV and on social media, were almost entirely negative, with closeups of Yemi, an African American man, slowly rotating while the voiceover and text talked about his desire to (gasp!) use “social engineering to assure equitable outcomes,” among other “horrors” of liberal governance.
Those may have been dog whistle words to those on the far right, but I’m guessing quite a few unaffiliated moderates might have thought that doing a good turn for people in need isn’t a bad thing. Yemi’s ads, on the other hand, were always positive, even as he talked about Colorado Springs having too few police officers. He talked about a vision for the future, and it was an upbeat and positive one.
Oh, and he wasn’t alone in a few of those ads. Sallie Clark, who is another GOP musical chair participant, had finished third in the initial mayoral vote. In the runoff election between the top two vote-getters last week, she sided with Yemi, and appeared in a couple of advertisements on his behalf, as did a former sheriff whom Williams previously claimed had endorsed him.
Ultimately, Colorado Springs voters rejected the continued turn to the hard right and the negativism and went with a moderate black immigrant preacher as our new mayor. I didn’t think that would happen in my lifetime. In fact, when chatting briefly with Yemi at the breakfast place, I told him I didn’t think he could win, but I bet he would do well enough to make himself an important part of the Colorado Springs political landscape. So, I guess the lesson is: don’t take too much career advice from me.
Little by little, bit by bit, Colorado Springs and the encompassing El Paso County have shown tiny cracks in the GOP monolith. We’ve elected a few state reps and state senators, and we have provided vital Dem votes for statewide candidates like Sen. Michael Bennet and Gov. Jared Polis. But I admit, I didn’t know if these changes were part of an ongoing seismic shift in the political culture of my town, or if I was just seeing some minor cracks in the façade that would get some GOP spackle in future elections (Editor: it’s possible you pushed that analogy too far).
I’m allowing myself a bit of optimism.
Thanks especially to Trump and other radical right GOPers, the nation as a whole, to include Colorado Springs residents, has become fearful of a party that claims to be all about freedom even as they work to take basic freedoms away. Perhaps Yemi’s victory is a canary in the coalmine, showing fresh air is blowing in (Editor: again with the lousy analogies?). I hope so.
Colorado Springs is about to have its first non-GOP mayor in decades. Who knows? With a bit of luck and a breeze at our backs, maybe Dems are about to win other seats that have been part of the musical chairs’ progression noted above.
Dare to dream.
Hal Bidlack is a retired professor of political science and a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who taught more than 17 years at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.
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