John Sims knows what it’s like to be in the minority.
He’s a Democrat.
In Rio Blanco County, there aren’t many of his kind.
“Yes, Democrats around town are hard to find,” said Sims, who lives in Rangely and is chairman of the county Democratic Party.
Republicans outnumber Democrats more than four-to-one in Rio Blanco County, 2,691 to 607. There are even twice as many independent or unaffiliated voters in the county than there are Democrats, with 1,113 registering as independents or having no political party preference.
“Democrats are vastly outnumbered in Rio Blanco County,” John said. “It’s not impossible for a Democrat to be elected to a post, but it’s very difficult.”
The county’s political leanings run contrary to other parts of the state, at least they did in this last general election. While Colorado, as a whole, backed Obama for president, Rio Blanco County voters overwhelmingly supported McCain and other Republican candidates, up and down the ticket.
Not only is Sims significantly outnumbered when it comes to political affiliation in the county, but he and his wife, Teresa, belong to different parties. She is a Republican.
When it comes to politics they may not always agree, but Teresa said they have some good discussions.
“Oh, yeah, we talk a lot,” she said. “Some people get a little too emotional about it. But I like to talk to him. He thinks of things I don’t.”
Not that they always agree.
“I may have a different point of view, but I appreciate his input,” Teresa said. “Sometimes it makes a difference; sometimes it doesn’t. But I still like to hear it.”
Actually, the Sims have found they have much in common politically, despite being affiliated with different parties.
“Oddly enough, we think a lot alike on a lot of things,” John said.
Especially in this last presidential election. Both John and Teresa supported McCain.
“I did not vote for the man,” John said. “I was not an Obama supporter. I just got turned off at our state convention. I just didn’t like the way some of the things were conducted. It seemed like he had his own group of people, and if you weren’t one of them, then that was too bad.”
This was the third state Democratic convention John attended. And even though he has been a registered Democrat his entire adult life, he doesn’t vote strictly according to political party.
“I’ve never voted a party ticket,” he said. “I always vote a split ticket. I go by who the person is who is running for the office and what he has demonstrated to me as his qualities, abilities and interests, and if they agree with mine, whether Republican or Democrat. If I don’t know much about either candidate, I vote for the Democrat.”
During this last political campaign, John’s favorite Democratic candidate at the time was Bill Richardson, the governor of New Mexico.
“Of course, that was before all of this other stuff (allegations of political bribery) came out, but I liked him,” John said. “I didn’t care much for Sen. Biden, and I didn’t like Hilary (Clinton), but at least I felt like you knew what you were getting with her. And, frankly, her campaign seemed to be more open than his (Obama’s) did.”
Despite being a lifelong Democrat, John has found himself at odds with his party in recent years. He describes himself as a traditional Democrat.
“That’s one, who first of all, believes in fiscal responsibility and accountability,” John said. “And believes in a strong defense, but at the same time believes that everyone should be included in the process. Unfortunately, over time, the party has kind of sold out to various special-interest groups. They are trying to be all things to all people.”
Asked about his favorite presidents, John named both Democrats and Republicans.
“I really liked Lincoln, and I liked Franklin Roosevelt,” he said. “I even liked Harry Truman. And I can remember Eisenhower, I liked him. I liked Kennedy. I have no good opinion of Carter. I think he was one of our worst presidents. I liked Reagan. Clinton, I have mixed emotions about. He did a really good job on some things, but he disgraced the office with some of the other things he did.”
John watched last week’s inauguration, and even though he didn’t vote for Obama, he’s hoping for the best.
“I hope things work out well with Obama,” John said. “He’s had to tone down some of his stuff. He’s come to face the realties of the situation he’s been handed. I think that’s why he’s tempering a lot of things he said he would like to do. But he’s an unknown quantity. I guess we’ll have to wait and see. I hope the country does well under him.”
Another county Democrat, Reed Kelley, said last week’s inauguration was a proud moment for the party.
“I don’t know how any Democrat could feel like they’re in the minority, no matter what county they might live in,” Kelley said. “The responsibility and opportunity we now have, however, is awesome, to truly rebuild America, as President Obama says, and restore public trust in government, of the people, by the people, for the people. Here forward, we no longer have Bush and his cronies to blame.”
Besides John Sims, the other officers of the Democratic Party in Rio Blanco County are Sandra Besseghini, vice chairwoman; and Kelley, who is treasurer/secretary.
“The Republicans carry the county so heavily,” Sims said, adding, “We also have a lot of people (in the county) who are Democrats, but who register independent, so they can vote in the primary. Most elections in the county are determined in the primary.”
Sims would like to see a change in the way county commissioners are elected.
“When it comes to county politics, I’m really disappointed our county is divided up and the way county commissioners are elected,” he said. “I feel the county commissioner should be elected by the district he serves and represents, rather than the whole county. I think that should be changed.”
Listening to last week’s inauguration on the radio, I was reminded that this is the first time I have been older than the president.
Of course, last week’s inauguration was historically significant because Obama is the first African-American to become president of the United States.
“I reflected on these things, in particular being a graduate of Topeka High School — the Brown vs. Board of Education district, with its complicated racial history and how that opened my eyes as a high school student,” said Trina Zagar-Brown, a Meeker attorney, who grew up in Topeka, Kan. “I also remember my brother-in-law’s dad telling us the story that when he played basketball at KU with Wilt Chamberlain there were many restaurants that refused to allow Wilt to sit with the white team members when they ate out as a team. Consequently, the team would leave that restaurant, or they would take their food to eat with the black players.
“It is interesting to reflect on these things,” Zagar-Brown said, “when they seem almost unbelievable.”
I’ve overheard a couple of people telling racial jokes about the new president or his wife. People will always poke fun at the president or other political leaders. Myself, I enjoy political satire. But telling an off-color joke about the president, or referring to him or his wife as a “monkey,” now that is in poor taste, whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat.
Jeff Burkhead is editor of the Herald Times. You may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.