Rob Douglas: 2014 elections already taking shape

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With the elections of Nov. 5 receding in the rearview mirror, a glance ahead shows 2014’s local, state and federal races coming into focus. With Colorado’s precinct caucuses scheduled for March 4, some incumbents and candidates already have begun the grunt work associated with running for office.

Rob Douglas

Rob Douglas' column appears Fridays in the Steamboat Today. He can be reached at rdouglas@SteamboatToday.com.

Find more columns by Douglas here.

While Amendment 66 and reform-minded school board candidates stole the show in Colorado this year, it’s clear the success or failure of President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act has the potential to impact every race for elected office in 2014.

As Colorado political analyst Floyd Ciruli told The Denver Post on Sunday, “This could take people down. When does full panic break out?” he asked. “With the president’s approval numbers dropping below 40, he’s lost trust, and there is just immense anxiety among Democrats.”

By Tuesday, Ciruli answered the panic question. On his blog, The Buzz, Ciruli opined, “Vulnerable Democratic senators and congresspersons from around the country have begun to panic.”

Turning to Colorado, Ciruli wrote, “Colorado’s most vulnerable federal politician is Sen. Mark Udall, who voted for Obamacare and is up for re-election in 2014. … Udall’s vulnerability will mostly be a product of Obamacare’s ongoing problems — failed technology, inadequate signup, cancelling current policies and more expensive coverage, and angry constituents.”

With Wednesday’s Quinnipiac poll results showing Udall with only a three-point lead over Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck, Udall and every congressional Democrat across Colorado must be concerned that their fate is tied to the most significant piece of federal legislation since the Social Security Amendments of 1965 created Medicare and Medicaid.

And if a sweep election develops, candidates at the local and state levels, including Gov. John Hickenlooper, could rise or fall as voters express their approval or rejection of a law far from the purview of those candidates.

But if there’s one thing I’ve learned about Coloradans from recent elections, it’s that they’ll ignore issues and distractions that are irrelevant to a specific office or ballot initiative. So local and state candidates should have a shot at avoiding Obamacare shrapnel — if it’s still flying in 2014 — by running campaigns on issues of import in their jurisdiction.

Let’s start with the election closest to home and examine other upcoming state and federal elections in the weeks to come.

As reported this week by the Steamboat Today, former Steamboat Springs City Council member Cari Hermacinski, a Republican, has filed an affidavit of intent to run for the District 3 seat of the Routt County Board of Commissioners. That seat is held by Routt County Commissioner Steve Ivancie, who was appointed by the Routt County Democratic Party to complete the term of Diane Mitsch Bush, who won her race for Colorado House District 26 in 2012.

When asked Thursday whether he’ll run for the seat, Ivancie said, “My intention is to file eventually, my immediate focus is on my job as commissioner.” Based on statements made when Ivancie was appointed in 2012, he might face a caucus opponent in Ken Brenner, a fellow Democrat. Like Hermacinski, Ivancie and Brenner are former City Council members.

No matter who runs, one thing is certain. There are several issues informed county voters will want the candidates to address, including:

Budget: Routt County will continue to face serious budget challenges. While the worst of the Great Recession may be over, all indications are that local revenue growth will remain constrained for the foreseeable future. Additionally, the county should anticipate that federal and state funds that supplement the county budget will not experience significant growth due to mounting federal deficits.

Water rights: All indications are state water rights will come to a head during the next several years. For ranchers, recreational users and everyone else within the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District, this basic property rights issue is paramount to those who’ve watched the Front Range float numerous plans to grab Western Slope water.

Energy development: Another issue of basic property rights that goes far beyond fracking. For example, given federal and state attempts to further regulate and restrict the use of coal, the commissioners will need to represent and address the concerns of a variety of constituencies.

As the race unfolds between now and the caucuses, there’ll be time to examine these issues, plus others, in detail.

But one thing is certain. Between the county, state and federal elections in which local voters will participate next year, there will be many opportunities to impact the political landscape in 2014.

To reach Rob Douglas, email rdouglas@SteamboatToday.com.

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