November election delivers Longmont back to the conservatives

| Nov 23, 2009

longmont-main-street-2HOMETOWN USA: Main Street, Longmont, Colorado (Photo: Shon Ellerton)

Longmont’s voters dumped moderate Mayor Roger Lange and liberal Councilperson Karen Benker in the November 3 municipal elections, while retaining ultra-conservative Gabe Santos in a five-way race for the at-large Council seat. (Unlike Boulder, Longmont conducts separate votes for Mayor, for Council members representing “wards” and for one at-large Council seat.)

Why were the liberals and moderates turned out? The answer lies in one sentence heard often in Longmont: “We’re not like Boulder.”

Just like that. Ask any native-born Longmonter what the town is really like, and they’ll say “Well, we’re not like Boulder.”

Whatever Boulder is, Longmont isn’t.

If Boulder’s happy, Longmont’s mad. If Boulder’s green, Longmont’s orange. If Boulder likes open space, Longmont likes endless housing developments. If Boulder’s toilet paper roll hangs over, Longmont’s hangs under.

Boulder is liberal, and Longmont isn’t. It’s been like that for 120 years.

Longmont postal patrons were greeted by Lyndon LarRouche protestors at the Main Post Office on Coffman Street just before the November election. (Photo: Dennis DuBe)

Longmont postal patrons were greeted by Lyndon LarRouche protestors at the Main Post Office on Coffman Street just before the November election. (Photo: Dennis DuBe)

But in 2008, Longmont voters reversed the conservative bias, electing a liberal majority to the City Council — the most stunning upset since the Ku Klux Klan swept the Longmont Council in 1925. Longmont then further showed its leftward swing by voting for President Obama in 2009, giving Boulder County a Democratic landslide.

Yes, Longmont had gone Democratic. After that election, the conservative cries of pain immediately hit peak volume and never stopped. A whiff of apoplexy hung heavily in the air, and there was much weeping and teeth-gnashing in the Times-Call Letters to the Editor and much pointed insulting in the anonymous “call-in” line, the contents of which are duly printed in the paper of record.

So this year’s Council election turned nasty, featuring fairly major advertising, misleading and slanted telephone “push” polls, slick bulk mailings, political urgings from pulpits and boardrooms, frivolous lawsuits, wild letters to the newspaper, and an unseemly round of accusations and slanders.

Developers bankroll the right

Property-development interests slipped major cash into a handful of Council candidates, who then outspent their liberal opponents by as much as 8 to 1. A robust election-day turnout by the “government is bad” and “growth is everything” crowds ended Longmont’s brief reign of Liberalism.

The lopsided voter turnout is also being credited with sinking two of Boulder County’s election measures, the Open Space funding request, and the popular and economically brilliant ClimateSmart program.

There are lots of side-twists to the story: a zoning and real estate scrap with the giant Lifebridge Christian Church; aggressive zoning battles with the nearby town of Firestone; some erratic grandstanding and backtracking on the Council; an orchestrated “grassroots” letter-writing campaign; and a major government-bashing advertising and mailing campaign against a city-sponsored proposal to operate an Internet service using municipal equipment.

In the midst of this, reflect on the progress that Longmont liberals have made in the town in the last decade. Many had worked to build the town’s social consciousness, an honor roll that has included several recent City Council members, the Longmont Writers Club, a succession of local free progressive publications, local Obama campaign organizers and crew, several socially conscious churches and congregations, and a significant handful of local businesses. They’ll be back.

A look back in history

Longmont’s politics aren’t your usual liberal-conservative split; it’s also about Boulder. Longmont’s history of competing with, being jealous of, or hating Boulder goes all the way back to the beginning, the Gold Rush days of Colorado.

Boulder and Longmont were both founded in 1859, if you squint just right. The community first took shape at the stage stop known as Burlington, on the St. Vrain River, at today’s Main Street. Eleven years later, a group of Midwest real-estate investors planted the “Chicago Colony” on a hill overlooking Burlington. Chicago Colony later became Longmont, which grew and swallowed the old sites of Burlington.

The Colorado Central Railroad was extended to Longmont from Golden in 1873 by coming through Boulder first, and it’s been “Boulder First” ever since. Examples:

  • Boulder has always been bigger, because of mining and CU.
  • Boulder added the University of Colorado, scientific and technical businesses and high-tech laboratories, while . Longmont stayed with agriculture and light manufacturing.
  • Boulder turned liberal at the end of the 1960s, thanks to the Vietnam War, ROTC, LBJ, NIxon, LSD and pot. Meanwhile, Longmont was closing down its sugar beet mill and building more cheap housing.
  • Boulder adopted the Danish plan (named after now-Longmont resident Paul Danish) and surrounded the city with greenbelts, which built a fire under property values. Longmont kept on building cheap condos and apartments at the edge of town, spreading out like bindweed.
  • Boulder developed its downtown into a vibrant, popular pedestrian mall, a money engine that has fueled city finances. Longmont killed its downtown with uncontrolled growth on the periphery, a glut of chain restaurants and big-box department stores at the edge of town, and reckless real-estate development policies.

The lesson here is that both Left and Right have proved that they can get out the vote in Longmont. Two steps to the left have been followed by a step back to the right.

Boulder, too, took a swing rightward in November, though progressives retained a narrow edge. In Longmont, though, it looks like conservatives are in the driver’s seat.

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Dennis DuBe is a longtime Longmont resident who previously spent many years in Boulder, where his media positions included a stint running a media lab for Apple Computer and serving as publisher of the Colorado Daily.