The results of the 2006 election demonstrate that, at a minimum, Routt County is once again home to two political parties.
There was a time not so long ago when the Democrats could barely get candidates to run for local office, much less win seats. As recently as 2004, the only Democrat to hold county office was Doug Monger.
But the local Democratic Party demonstrated considerable muscle this time around, winning all three locally contested races. Those wins, in part, were a result of state and national trends; however, they also were the result of the local party being more organized than it has been in the past.
That's a good development for Routt County. It's our thought that when both parties are active and engaged, there are more and better candidates for office and the elections produce more substantive debate.
Given the results, local Democrats might think the 2006 election produced a mandate of sorts for more liberal policies or issues. And it is true that Routt County election results were 7 to 15 percentage points to the left of state and national results. The only Republican to carry Routt County was state Rep. Al White.
But we would caution Democratic officeholders and Democrats in general that registered Republicans still outnumber registered Democrats in the county. And although four of our county officeholders are now Democrats, the other four are Republicans. And both of Routt County's state legislators - White and state Sen. Jack Taylor - also are Republicans.
There are other items worthy of noting from the election:
n Democrat Gary Wall won the race for sheriff by taking the city of Steamboat Springs by an overwhelming margin over Republican Garrett Wiggins. Wall actually lost the overall vote and seven of the 10 precincts in the county. Those are numbers Wall should keep in mind, considering that the sheriff has almost no law enforcement role in the city limits.
n With the election of Diane Mitsch Bush, the Democrats suddenly have control of the Routt County Board of Commissioners. But we would be surprised if this produces significant change. The bond between Democratic Commissioner Doug Monger and Republican Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak comes from working together for years and goes beyond party affiliation.
n The dissatisfaction with the war in Iraq and national scandals involving Republicans had an impact everywhere, including Routt County. Local Democratic candidates clearly benefited from these national trends, which likely inflated their election results.
n There are about 5,000 registered Republicans in Routt County and 4,200 registered Democrats. Based on the election results, a lot of Republicans stayed home or unaffiliated voters broke for the Democrats in a big, big way. Either way, the local Republican Party has work to do.
The reality is that party affiliation has little to do with being sheriff or being assessor or being a county commissioner. The job descriptions are pretty well- defined, and those hoping to see a noticeable change based on whether a Republican or Democrat was elected are likely to be disappointed.
Rather, the emergence of the Democratic Party in Routt County simply means we now have more candidates, better candidates and better funding. That means voters have more choices and better choices. That's a good thing for the county's voters.