El Paso County was just as split and just as active in this year’s presidential race as any other county in the state.
But it departed from state results and went — unsurprisingly — for Republican Mitt Romney, with 59 percent to President Barack Obama’s 38 percent.
There are plenty of Democrats and liberals in a county that is perceived as the most conservative in the state.
Colorado’s nine electoral votes went to Obama, and El Paso County was a significant part of that — 104,989 votes in El Paso County went for the president and 163,819 went to Romney.
The Gazette toured Colorado Springs and the surrounding area before the election, to get an idea of where area voters stood.
And we did the same thing this week to see how residents feel about the results and Obama’s re-election.
Responses ran the gamut. One Republican said she’s “terrified.” An apathetic non-voter said “seems like more of the same.” An Obama supporter said Romney would have perpetuated the nation’s divisions.
One registered Democrat voted for Romney because cracking down on illegal immigrants is her top priority.
An unaffiliated voter said she voted for Obama because the president supported gay rights.
Here are a few personal stories from voters around the Colorado Springs area:
Colorado College neighborhood
Retired English teacher
“Everything Obama is going to do is contrary to what I believe,” Pam Steele said with a long face. “My hopes are pretty dim.”
Steele’s name is ironically appropriate — her voice doesn’t waver and her expression is stern as she talks about Obama and his plans for the country. She’s pro-life, a fiscal conservative, and a firmly right-wing Christian.
The main problem to her, though, isn’t Obama. It’s Americans.
“The best thing people get away from their selfish me-is-what’s-important view of the country isn’t good for them,” Steele said. “They want to believe in a liberal having values that are just taking the country down the tubes.”
A good example of that, she said, is Colorado’s Amendment 64, which legalized the possession and sale of recreational marijuana.
“It just reflects the kind of slide the state is going down, the same as the country,” Steele said with a shake of her head.
Steele worries that her former students and future high schoolers are going to wind up throwing their educations away and being corrupted by legal marijuana.
Bartender at the Royal Tavern
Ask JJ Kohn about politics, and you’ll get an earful. He’ll eagerly talk about the economy, taxes, partisan gridlock, class warfare, corporate political spending, and the flaws he sees in both major parties.
In Manitou Springs, he said, there are “mixed feelings” about Obama and Romney, and a lot of uncertainty over the next several years, about both the federal and state governments.
One of his friends, he said, threatened to leave the country if Obama got re-elected. But he also has pals in the Midwest who he said “would get screwed” if Romney won.
Kohn voted for Obama, but he’s not very happy about it.
“It’s like voting for the lesser of two evils,” Kohn said, echoing a common sentiment across El Paso County. “I don’t care who was going to get it. Neither of them would be able to turn the country around in four years.”
But, Kohn said, he’s convinced things will change somehow in Washington, D.C., for better or worse.
“There’ll be so much pressure coming from the American people that they’ll have to do something,” he said about the so-called “fiscal cliff” that the nation might hit in January.
Kohn certainly sounds like a Democrat. He said he’d like to see a 20 percent tax rate hike on the wealthy, and said the government needs to do more to help the middle class.
The Republicans aren’t the only bad guys in the government, though. Kohn pointed to a 2009 automobile registration fee increase in Colorado that was part of a Democratic plan to fund transportation projects. The plan was dubbed “FASTER.”
Kohn said that overnight, his registration fee jumped from $28 to $68.
“The government doesn’t let us know what’s going on,” he complained. “If the government is going to raise fees, it should be something we can vote on.”
Northeast Colorado Springs
When asked what he was thinking about on election night, Beebout’s answer was simple.
Beebout spoke with a broad smile, but talked as though Obama is slamming the country into a brick wall, face-first.
The national debt will wreck Americans, Beebout said, and all of the president’s policies have been contributing to that.
“I expect more of the same — more spending and more people on food stamps,” Beebout said.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, called “Obamacare,” is a large part of that, he said.
“Obamacare isn’t what he promised. They’re throwing billions of dollars away, and there are still 32 million people uninsured,” Beebout said. “It’s disgusting.”
Beebout was also one of the few people The Gazette spoke with who mentioned the president’s likely opportunity to appointment more justices to the Supreme Court.
“They’ll hand down decisions over the next 30 years that will be horrible for the country,” he said.
Jim Justice said he was working too much to take the time to register to vote, let alone vote. But he’s still relieved that Obama was re-elected. The 19-year-old welder called Romney a “religious fanatic,” and said Obama needed more time in office to get the country going.
Justice has plenty of political pet peeves, and it’s impossible to pick out a single priority for him. He’s glad that Planned Parenthood will be able to keep its federal funding (Romney had promised to cut it), that Obama has set 2014 as a deadline for ending the Afghanistan war, and that gay rights will probably gain ground. And more.
“Republicans would have taken this country into a very dark place,” Justice said. “Republicans have this thing of, ‘We need God in the government.’”
That doesn’t mean he thinks the future will be full of roses.
“It’s a political gang war in Washington. But instead of having red bandanas or blue bandanas, it’s red and blue ties,” Justice said. “The state’s the same way.”
Justice also agrees with Democrats that government regulation is necessary in plenty of arenas, which is partially why he supported Amendment 64, the Colorado ballot measure to legalize marijuana.
Not many people knew that the famous comic Roseanne Barr was running for president. But Gayle Bryant did. And she voted for her.
“I knew we were going to get screwed anyway,” she said, obviously unhappy with both Obama and Romney.
So she made a symbolic move, and went for Barr, because she says it’s time for a woman to be president.
Bryant voted for Republican Sen. John McCain in 2008, but only because his running mate was a woman — former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
The presidential race this year wasn’t Bryant’s main concern, though. She may not even have voted if Fountain issue 2D hadn’t been on the ballot.
Issue 2D would have raised the city’s property taxes and increased the city’s debt limit, to help fund a new fire station, hire new firefighters and pay for equipment. The measure failed, 55 percent to 45 percent.
But Amendment 64, the state ballot measure to legalize marijuana possession and sales, passed. That doesn’t sit well with Bryant.
“People voted for marijuana, but not for firefighters? Now everyone’s going to be stoned, and we’re not going to have enough firefighters,” she said angrily.
Bryant loves and appreciates firefighters so much that she made Fountain’s fighters a large batch of chocolate chip cookies in early November, and delivered them herself.
Student at Pikes Peak Community College
Sean Garrett likes Big Bird.
“I have a kid, so cutting back on PBS is pretty serious to me,” Garrett said, referring to Romney saying he’d slash funding for the Public Broadcasting Service. “That really hit home.”
The Republican candidate said during the first presidential debate that he liked Big Bird, but that he’d cut the station’s federal funding as part of his plan to balance the federal budget. The statement turned into a political gimmick, and Democrats used Big Bird to attack Romney through the rest of the campaign.
That’s part of kids’ education, though, said Garrett, and it’s something he wants to keep around.
Garrett is a business major at Pikes Peak Community College, working on his associate’s degree. Eventually he wants to get a master’s in finance. That gave him more reason to vote for Obama, who he said came across as more supportive of higher education and financial aid for students.
Garrett’s support for education extends to the state, as well — Amendment 64 includes a mandate for a new excise tax, which is supposed to send up to $40 million a year to capital construction for Colorado schools.
“We can tax the crap out of it,” he said about recreational marijuana sales.
Pizza Hut cook
Yolanda Plush is 51 years old, but she had never voted before the 2012 election. This year, she said, the country’s economic woes drove her to the polls.
Plush predicted that under Obama’s continued reign, gas and food prices will continue to rise, along with federal spending.
Besides, she doesn’t believe anything the president says.
“My husband calls him a liar,” Plush said. “We just don’t trust him.”
She cited the ongoing controversy over the September 11 attack on the U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya. Plush said she and her husband think Obama knew a lot more than he initially let on after the attack. The president waffled in the immediate aftermath of the attack, and still hasn’t disclosed everything the public should know, she said.
Plush added that she thinks the president isn’t committed to his job, and spends too much time vacationing, campaigning, and relaxing, instead of paying attention to what’s going on in the world.
“He’s on TV way too much, like The View and those stupid shows, instead of doing his job,” Plush said indignantly.
Southeast Colorado Springs
Schoonover hates Republicans, and he’s not afraid to say so.
“I do not want another Republican in office ever again. Period,” Schoonover said, his brow furrowed intensely.
“We don’t need to look at the Republicans’ dream, with all the rich getting more money and the middle class getting poorer,” Schoonover said.
Obama has been true to his word on all of the promises he made over the last few years, and his plan to up taxes on the rich is the way to go, Schoonover contended.
“I got an uncle, and he’s a lawyer, and he’s a rich S.O.B. He pays his taxes. And he should,” Schoonover said. “The Democrats need to lower taxes on the middle class and up them on the rich. That’s what’s going to help the government.”
That ties in to his support for Planned Parenthood — which he points out does family planning as well as help out with abortions — and financial aid for college students. Both of those, he said, are things that Republican oppose.
Suzanne Haegeman wasn’t happy when Obama was re-elected. But her husband was much worse off.
“My husband went into work the next day, and everyone could see he was like, ‘Just don’t talk to me,’” Haegeman said, laughing ruefully on Wednesday. “And that was only eight days ago. Oh, my God.”
Haegeman and her husband’s problems are simple — they think Obama pushes the federal government too much into people’s lives. And their businesses.
“Obama seems to want the government to run everything and have everyone on food stamps,” Haegeman said. “The only good thing he’s done is kill Osama bin Laden.”
Being in the health care industry, she said, has made Obamacare her biggest concern. The program, which has more provisions that will kick in over the coming years, will have devastating effects, and is much worse than its supporters realize.
“His programs already aren’t accomplishing what they’re supposed to be doing,” Haegeman said.
Romney’s business background would have helped turn the country around, Haegeman said.
“It would have been so exciting to see what he would have done,” she said. “When you watched the debates, he’s so intelligent and well-educated.”
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