The night of Nov. 4, the weather turned cold suddenly across much of the Four Corners area. Wags quipped that it was hell freezing over — because a black man had actually been elected president of the United States.
On an historic night when Democrats and progressives rejoiced around the country and Republicans licked their wounds, results were more mixed in the Four Corners region.
Even as Barack Obama swept into office on a tidal wave of support from people of all political stripes, Montezuma County remained stalwartly Republican, with 59 percent of its 11,855 voting citizens (a 70 percent turnout) preferring John McCain and Sarah Palin. Obama got 39 percent of the vote and about 2 percent went to minor-party candidates, including 75 votes for independent Ralph Nader.
At least in Montezuma County, the night went smoothly. Two election-related incidents were reported in Cortez. A woman said two Obama supporters were refusing to leave her home until she went to the polls. And a group of middle-school students walking along Main with flags after Obama’s victory reported a man in a pickup had blocked their path across the street, yelling obscenities at them.
But the night was mostly quiet, and around the Four Corners, there was no single clear preference in the presidential race.
• In Dolores County, Colo., a conservative rural area, McCain got 803 votes vs. 356 for Obama, or about 67.5 percent to 30 percent (the remainder went to minor parties).
• San Miguel County, Colo., home of Telluride, proved overwhelmingly in support of Obama, preferring him by 3,345 votes (78 percent) to McCain’s 930. And in La Plata County, Colo., 57 percent chose Obama, 41 percent McCain.
• In San Juan County, N.M., the tally was 60 percent for McCain vs. 38 percent for Obama.
• In San Juan County, Utah, the presidential race was surprisingly close. McCain came out on top with 2,586 votes to 2,322 for Obama.
• Native Americans voted overwhelmingly for Obama. In Montezuma County’s Precinct 6, which is the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe’s district, the vote was 91 percent for Obama, 9 percent for McCain. And early voting returns indicated the Navajo Nation also gave the vast majority of its support to him, although exact numbers were not available at press time. Navajo leaders had endorsed Obama, saying Native American tribes traditionally fare better under Democrats.
The states of Colorado and New Mexico went for Obama, while Arizona and Utah stayed “red” and Republican. Coloradoans definitely showed a Democratic trend overall. The state now has two Democratic senators for the first time since 1979, and Democrats carry a 5-2 advantage among U.S. represenatives. Colorado also has a Democratic governor, state House and state Senate.
Montezuma County bucked the trend by picking Republican Bob Schaffer over Democrat Mark Udall for U.S. Senate by a 54-42 margin (about 2 percent apiece went to the Green Party and American Constitutional Party candidates). Udall was elected handily with a 54- 42 state margin over Schaffer — and Udall’s cousin, Tom Udall, won a 61-39 percent victory over Republican Steve Pearce to become a U.S. Senator from New Mexico.
But Montezuma County voters did not vote across the board for Republicans. They supported Democratic incumbent John Salazar by a 56-44 margin over Republican Wayne Wolf for the U.S. House. Salazar was re-elected easily, getting a 61-39 margin overall throughout the Third District.
Political party did not always seem to carry an advantage for local candidates.
Montezuma County: Both Republican incumbent county commissioners were re-elected, but by very different margins. Larrie Rule got 53.5 percent of the vote; Democratic challenger Fred Blackburn nabbed 46.5 percent. Blackburn’s was the best showing ever by a progressive-leaning candidate calling for stricter land-use regulations.
In the other district, incumbent Gerald Koppenhafer won in a landslide, with 63.5 percent of the vote. His two unaffiliated competitors split the rest of the pie. Alfred Hughes, who had campaigned hard on a platform of more land-use planning, got 23.5 percent, while Paul Young, who hardly campaigned, picked up 13 percent.
Dolores County: Both incumbent commissioners were re-elected. Democrat Ernie Williams won with 749 (67 percent) votes vs. 376 for Ricardo Archuleta, an unaffiliated candidate. And Douglas Stowe, a Republican, earned 657 (57 percent) votes to 498 for Democrat Tim Huskey, the longtime county road superintendent.
San Miguel County: Art Goodtimes, the highest-ranking Green Party elected official in Colorado (and a Four Corners Free Press columnsit), was re-elected for a fourth term as county commissioner with 1,960 votes (48 percent) vs. 1,302 (32 percent) for D. Oak Smith, a Democrat, and 813 for Republican Bill Wenger.
La Plata County: Both incumbent commissioners will return to their posts. Republican Kellie Hotter, who was appointed to the commission to fill a vacant seat, defeated Democrat Peter Tregillus by a 58-42 percent margin. In the other race, incumbent Democrat Wally White fought off his Republican challenger, Harry Baxstrom, by a 53-47 edge.
San Juan County, Utah: County Commission Chair Bruce Adams, running unopposed for another term, was re-elected.
58th State House District, Colorado: Cortez business owner Scott Tipton, a Republican, easily defeated former Montrose Councilperson Noelle Hagan by a 58-48 margin.
District attorney, 22nd Judicial District, Colorado: Incumbent Jim Wilson, a Republican, came out on top after a nail-biter of a race that saw the lead seesaw throughout the night. Wilson defeated his Democratic opponent, Mac Myers, 6,158 votes to 6,005, a margin of 153 votes, or 51-49 percent. Wilson carried Montezuma County with 5,633 votes to 5,465, while Dolores County went for Myers, 540 to 525.
In Colorado, which had a slew of ballot questions, possibly the most heated debate took place over Amendment 48, a proposal that would have defined “personhood” as “any human being from the moment of fertilization.”
The amendment was the first of its kind proposed in the nation. Opponents labeled it “too extreme,” and voters evidently agreed, as the amendment lost statewide by a 74-26 percent margin.
Even in conservative Montezuma County, the proposal got thumbs down by a 64-36 margin.
Some local ballot questions of interest around the region included:
• In the Dolores School District, voters approved a measure to allow a mill-levy increase to help pay for school supplies and technology, building maintenance and upgrades, and staff recruitment and retention, passed by a 52-48 margin. The levy will mean an extra $390,000 per year for the district for eight years.
• Voters in the Cortez Cemetery District turned thumbs down on a measure to increase the mill levy to pay for increasing maintenance costs at the cemetery. The vote was 69-31 percent. Representatives of the district had pleaded that the extra money was necessary and had even asked the county commissioners to help them; however, the commissioners said it would be highly irregular for them to give money to another government entity, a special district.
• In San Miguel County, a measure to increase the mill levy by three-quarters of 1 mill to fund improvements to early childhood care and education failed, 1,822 yes to 2,199 no.
• In Durango, voters said yes to a proposal to allow the city to bond $17.5 million to pay for reconstructing Florida Road — to include bike lanes, sidewalks, and more stoplights — by 76 to 24 percent.
• In Monticello, Utah, voters passed to two sales-tax questions. The first, for 1 cent on every $10, would pay to replace the community’s aging swimming pool, the second, of 3 cents on every $10, to help fund road repairs and maintenance.
• Voters in three Albuquerque-area counties said yes to a gross-receipts tax of one-eighth of 1 percent to fund a railrunner express computer train (light rail) and start a regional bus transit system. The margin was 54 to 46 percent.