A win, but also a message | VailDaily.com
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A win, but also a message

Don Rogers

It could be argued that Stone’s 45 percent of the vote was a bit of an indictment on his power of incumbency, too. We have two commissioners in office who are there pretty much thanks to independent third candidates most affiliated with the opposition party.

Two years ago, Commissioner Arn Menconi squeaked out a 39-vote win over challenger Steve Morris. Morris would assuredly have won, perhaps even going away, had fellow Republican-turned-independent Kathy Warren not run in that race.

This time around, erstwhile local Democratic chairwoman Laurie Bowers gathered 15 percent of the vote as an independent. Democrat Gerry Sandberg received 40 percent of the vote, despite not offering much more of a vision than promising to be nicer than Stone. Had Bower not played Nader to Sandberg’s Gore, it’s a good bet we’d still be waiting on those provisional ballots and maybe even a recount in this race.

Had the Democrats fielded a more dynamic candidate, in brutal frankness, Stone may well be getting a pay raise selling real estate full time again today.

Sandberg’s campaign in-cluded a crafty bit of innuendo with a promise to return “integrity” to an office that wasn’t really suffering from a lack of it. Interestingly, a conflict that in fact was not a conflict became conflicts, and one of the best run counties in the country became beset with divisions in this nice bit of fiction.

Ah, you’ve got to love campaign season for partisan office. In reality, the county government works fine, even quite well, aside from some squabbling at the commissioner level. And none of the commissioners has any legal conflicts of interest in reality.

If the voters went by Stone’s role in the true accomplishments over the past four years, and the other candidates’ nearly complete lack of a comprehensible and compelling vision for the county’s future, he might well have won over 60 percent of the vote.

But guess what? Voters vote with their hearts as well as their heads. And Stone, bright, goal-oriented and creative as he is, has not managed to win a whole lot of hearts over four years in office.

The Democrats’ rather absurd attack ad last week, in addition to the more clever innuendos, did seem to have an erosive effect on Stone’s support.

But Stone hurt his own campaign a year ago with some intemperate posturing over that infamous county 9/11 resolution against terrorism that Menconi declined to sign. Yeah, a fair share of people still do remember. And at least some voted accordingly. The petition-signers in the resulting failed bid to recall Menconi were all in the Stone fold already. The more temperate types were appalled.

Striking partisan themes in the public eye as commissioner, consciously campaigning for re-election through the course of the first term, and coming across as calculating the political gains and losses of actions might have cost Stone more support than he gained. Eagle County residents in the main do not seem to care much for overt “politicians,” especially at the county level.

Free-lance political campaign operative Ross Palmer inserted some rather vicious exaggerations into a column he wrote the week before Election Day castigating the Stones. Henri Stone is the chairwoman the local Republican Party. But he wasn’t totally off-target.

The local party in the Henri Stone era is undeniably energized, having increased participation, organization and funding. But it is also has grown strident enough to have put off a fair share of ideological moderates. Call it a double-edged sword, but this turn in the party dynamics had more than a few moderate Republicans struggling with their vote for commissioner. And some did cross the party line in this vote precisely because of their disaffection with the central party leadership.

To his immense credit, Stone held to a clean campaign focused on his achievements in office rather than giving in to the temptation to go negative. That showed us some real positives about the commissioner.

Sandberg, frankly, disappointed in not taking more responsibility for the local Democratic Party’s almost entirely fictional attack ad on Stone’s record than shrugging it off as not from him and expressing drivel about the local Democrats being “free-thinkers.” Free thinkers indeed. Try deceitfully imaginative.

A truly strong, fair-minded candidate would have demanded loudly that the local party immediately stop “helping.”

Bower was a spoiler from the beginning, going with a more benign bit of baloney about suddenly seeing the light about independence and running on pap about “keeping politics out of government.” Sure, let’s have a monarch.

So Stone won, as he should have, being a quite effective lawmaker when viewed objectively. But his numbers were what decisive losers receive in other races, and that ought to be humbling for an incumbent. It’s surely no mandate for continuing to do what you’ve been doing.

The accomplishment side of the equation here is most definitely not the problem. But the overt partisanship, gamesmanship with political rivals, and apparent zeal to take credit for county achievements might be among the little things that turned enough voters off to send Mr. Stone a message along with his all-too-narrow victory.

D.R.


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