‘The year of the vote against’


Rick Kemp sits back on a bench on his porch in an east Lakewood neighborhood. At 65, his health is better than it was a few years ago. Although he’s down to one leg, the result of an on-the job-accident, he says he gets around pretty well.

It’s a warm fall afternoon in this suburb on Denver’s western border.

Kemp, now retired, has lived in Lakewood before there was a Lakewood – it was founded in 1969 – and this part of the city includes its oldest neighborhoods. Horse farms and larger properties with rural features dot the area. Kemp says he’s lived here most of his life, save for a couple of years when his job sent him to Phoenix and then a little time in Wheat Ridge.

It’s been pretty quiet in the neighborhood politically, except for the mailers, Kemp said.

This is the year for a vote against, not a vote for, as Kemp sees it. He says he’s never trusted Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, because he thinks she’s unethical. But he doesn’t trust Republican nominee Donald Trump either. “I thought (Libertarian) Gary Johnson was a great choice for president, but any third party will take votes away from the one who will win it anyway.”

“I’m pretty much a dyed-in-the-wool Republican. My dad was a Republican, farmer in the panhandle of Nebraska. You don’t get any more Republican than that.”

The area is mostly white and working class, with about 25 percent of the residents Hispanic and another 5 percent Asian. And like many House districts, it’s increasingly dominated by unaffiliated voters rather than those from the major political parties. Unaffiliated voters hold a 1,000 voter registration advantage over Democrats and about 5,000 more than Republicans. To the north of Kemp’s neighborhood lies Belmar. It’s not just a shopping center, but also a growing neighborhood of apartments and townhomes started at $400,000. To the south: Green Gables. The old golf course is gone, replaced by a new housing development of townhomes and single-family residences starting in the mid-$400s. The last time affordable owner-occupied housing was built in the district? Perhaps in the mid-1990s, when the last phase of Sunpointe, a condo complex a half-mile east of Green Gables, went in.  Rural part of Lakewood runs through the center, with horse properties and older homes dating back to the 1940s and 1950s, mixed in with apartment complexes and a couple of mobile home parks for senior citizens.

It’s a swing district in an on-again, off-again swing state. Until six years ago, House District 28, which covers Lakewood, was strongly Republican. It is now represented by two Democrats, one of who is running for her third term in the House. In this volatile election year, the district is a good place to get an earful from voters.

Most Democrats who spoke to The Independent said they are disgusted with this year’s election. Tom Dahl, who is 71, called it “ugly. It sets a new low bar for future elections” and one where civil debate is nonexistent. He blames Trump, whom he said has wiped out any ability for him to have rational discussions with people who don’t feel the same way politically. “He’s a person who can’t stand to lose,” and Dahl said he hopes Trump is “slaughtered” in the election.

“The whole process is an incredible disservice” to Americans, Dahl said.

Nubia Chipimg_4160, a 29-year-old woman who owns a small business in Lakewood, is a native of Mexico but has lived in Lakewood for the past 16 years. She’s less strident about Trump, although she says she didn’t vote for him because he’s not ready to be president, in her opinion. She had not yet turned in her ballot, but says she plans to vote for Clinton, hoping that the Democratic nominee will keep her promises.

img_4162“Trump is an idiot,” exclaimed 72-year-old Billie, who didn’t want her last name used. “I’m very surprised in a country such as this,” that voters would want someone who wants to be a dictator, she said. Her daughter said that if Trump were elected, the “nation would turn into the Hunger Games!”

But the American election system isn’t all bad, according to Rata Kuranvic, an older gentleman who is native of India and who was walking his dog in a local park. In India, he said, politics is a game of blunders. People in the United States are well-educated about the political process and know their rights, Kuranvic said. This country, as opposed to India, is a lot more secure, too.  “I’m proud of the American system,” he said.

Kemp says he has voted for Democrats in the past. “I try to vote for the person who will do the best job. I like Michael Bennet, but he voted for Obamacare, which I see going south quickly. It will screw up our whole healthcare system, not that it’s already screwed up. But it’s the insurance companies that need to be fixed,” Kemp said.

He initially liked Amendment 71, aka Raise the Bar, but said he was convinced otherwise by a Denver Post story that said the proponents were not able to obtain 2 percent of their petition signatures in each one of Colorado’s 35 senate districts, a major provision in the amendment. (Amendment 71 would raise the percentage of votes needed to pass a constitutional amendment from 50 percent plus one to 55 percent.)

Minimum wage? img_4200He voted for Amendment 70, which would increase the minimum wage in Colorado from $8.31 an hour to $9.30 on Jan. 1, 2017 and by 90 cents per hour every year until it reaches $12.00 an hour in 2020. But Kemp said he doesn’t know if increasing the minimum wage will be a good thing. He’s concerned that restaurants will have to raise their prices. On the other hand, food service workers make far less than minimum wage, and that concerns him, too. The restaurants must have had a heck of a lobbyist to get the system that exists now, Kemp said, where restaurant workers are paid less than minimum wage and have to make up the difference with tips. His grandchildren are working at jobs with minimum wage, and at $8.31 “you can’t afford to live on your own.”

Leave it to Kemp to ruminate on what the future holds. “I’m glad it’s almost over…I don’t see a doomsday coming,” even if Clinton is elected, Kemp said. “I wouldn’t say she isn’t my president, because she will be. Good or bad, you have to take them, just like step-kids.”

has been a political journalist since 1998. She covered the state capitol for the Silver & Gold Record from 1998 to 2009 and for The Colorado Statesman in 2010-11 and 2013-14. Since 2010 she also has covered the General Assembly for newspapers in northeastern Colorado. She was recognized with awards from the Colorado Press Association for feature writing and informational graphics for her work with the Statesman in 2012.