Primaries: System worked

(Denver Post, Aug. 17) “The system worked.” On an August day like this one, back in 1974, plainspoken Gerald Ford gave one of the classic tributes to the openness and resilience of our American form of government, as he assumed the presidency from a disgraced Richard Nixon. Tuesday’s party primaries, sorting out family feuds among the Republicans and Democrats, lacked the historic import of a White House resignation. Yet I thought of President Ford’s words as the returns came in, opening a new chapter in Colorado politics. The people have spoken, and power will change hands accordingly. No one is entirely happy, which must mean things came out about right. TV images from Beijing and Tbilisi dramatized a contrast that Americans too often take for granted. Here elections matter and law prevails. Here we settle disputes with ballots, not bullets. Here ordinary people can make an extraordinary living, keep most of what they earn, and spend it mostly as they choose. Here dissent is protected, as is worship, as are the individual and the human spirit. What a system – and it works!

On primary night, I particularly watched eight races, three for the US House and five for the Colorado General Assembly. The results, it seems to me, gave quiet proof of just how well our system works. See if you agree.

Congressman Doug Lamborn in Colorado Springs won a tough rematch with two fellow Republicans he’d beaten in a 2006 primary, Jeff Crank and Bentley Rayburn. Although it galled some of us that they challenged him again, imagine a regime where they weren’t allowed to. God forbid.

In Arapahoe and neighboring counties, where I live, Secretary of State and Iraq veteran Mike Coffman dominated his GOP runoff against Wil Armstrong, Ted Harvey, and Steve Ward. He’ll succeed Rep. Tom Tancredo, assuming a November victory over Democrat Hank Eng. Time-tested and literally battle-hardened, Coffman is my party’s Michael Phelps. This gold was well earned.

Meanwhile in Boulder, Jared Polis, the young Internet tycoon, edged my former Senate colleague Joan Fitz-Gerald for the Democratic nomination to replace Mark Udall in Congress. Will Shafroth ran third. Polis put $5 million of his own money into the race, but with full disclosure, why not? The man linking arms with him, running mate-style, was his roommate. Voters were apparently comfortable with that. A free society adjusts.

Legislative primaries also provided object lessons. Businessman Rollie Heath bested CU Regent Cindy Carlisle to become the Dems’ state Senate nominee in Boulder. She had turned on university president Bruce Benson during his confirmation. Heath, having lost big for governor in 2002, will now start over, lower on the ladder. I applaud that, having done the same a decade ago.

Political second acts aren’t easy to pull off. Former state Rep. Lauri Clapp won a GOP Senate nod in Littleton, where Steve Ward is retiring, but Democrats hope to swipe the seat. Dems canned Rep. Rafael Gallegos of Antonito at his assembly; he then failed at petitioning; Edward Vigil took the primary. Colorado Springs Republicans on Tuesday fired Rep. Douglas Bruce for one too many ego trips, preferring soldier Mark Waller.

In a class by herself was Rima Barakat Sinclair of Denver, personable but so absorbed with her Mideast origins that it seemed Palestine might be her one issue if elected state representative. My Republican radio partner Joshua Sharf, though his chances are uncertain this fall, took her in the primary. What a system.

“This country is screwed up as never before,” a retired Army nurse lamented as we hiked down Mt. Shavano just before the primaries. Nonsense, I told her. Storm-tossed as America is, we the people with our voice, vote, and virtues can make any needed course correction and weather any gale. In my book, Tuesday proved it again.