Saturday, June 29, 2019

Elbert County on the Horns of a Homemade Dilemma

Editors Note:

Based on further research, it turns out that the abortion comments were not as lengthy as I was led to believe.  I try to be as accurate as I possibly can be. Pastor Swanson did not deliver a scathing diatribe about abortion and therefore I offer my apology on that error. It was inappropriate to bring up abortion in an invocation in my opinion. It was still a mistake to have a man who leads a designated hate group represent the spiritual direction of a community meeting.  With that one exception, the article still stands.  Elbert can do better than this.  

Robert Thomasson

Generally speaking, a dilemma is something that forces a person to make a decision between two difficult choices or outcomes. When you find yourself in a predicament in which you have only two difficult options you risk being caught on one of the horns. But as the title here suggests, in Elbert County our elected officials go out of their way to generate dilemmas on which they can continually experience the discomfort of being gored by their own flawed reasoning. Case in point: the decision to invite  controversial pastor, Kevin Swanson,  of the Reformation Church of Elizabeth, Colorado, to give a three minute invocation at the regular meeting of the BOCC on June 26th.  You may not know Pastor Swanson, but his controversial views in recent years precede him.

The following is short list of those views derived from national publications:

1. Blaming the wildfires in California on the state’s embracing of LGQBT rights

2. His view that Girl Scout leaders should be executed for supporting gay children

3. The Disney movie Frozen should be banned for promoting homosexuality and beastiality

4. That parents should drown themselves before allowing their children to read or view 
    Harry Potter movies

5. Pastor Swanson is the director of Generations.  Generations is a religious organization 
    that produces a daily podcast that primarily denounces LGQBT rights. Swanson is also  
    a  writer for The World View in 5 Minutes, a daily online Christian newscast.  His efforts 
    have won him a designation as the director of a hate group by the Southern Poverty   
    Law Center, the nation’s most prestigious organization to track such groups.

It is my understanding this was the first invocation delivered by Swanson at the regular BOCC meeting. Why would our BOCC go out of its way to invite Swanson to deliver its weekly invocation?  There are plenty of worthy religious leaders here in the Elbert community from which to choose without picking a total extremist with such a hate-filled agenda.  We know our  BOCC does have its own short list of Elbert County religious leaders from which it chooses to deliver the regular invocation.  And, it is unclear why there are no rabbis or imams in this rotation, but  perhaps the BOCC just believes that their list reflects the community makeup.  That said, I do not know many people who are calling for the execution of Girl Scout leaders here in the county either and who might qualify as a religious leader.

I have an opinion based on my years of involvement with Elbert County politics over the years as both an election official and as a commissioner candidate:


This selection was no accident.  Our commissioners, or at least a majority of the current board, knew exactly what they were doing.  They were making a statement designed to anger those Democrats who regularly show up at the meetings…just for the mere pleasure of doing so.  There have been several brush ups between the county government and the Elbert County Democrats over the years.  But, the invocation is a perfectly acceptable practice nationwide and permissible by law. Praying at the beginning of a community meeting is just one way to open a community gathering, remind participants to be inspired by their chosen deity, and to thereby do good work. Goodness is the key feature of an opening prayer.   In this instance however, the BOCC chose to weaponize a benign practice to insult the Democrats in attendance who, in the past,  have taken issue with the county’s disregard for the separation of church and state. 

Mr. Richardson is a former officer in the U.S. Military.  He proudly touts his leadership skills and features himself as a man of reason.  However, if you impugn  his intellect, Mr. Richardson is quick to take you to task.  Do not be surprised if you are challenged to a full contact game of Scrabble or a Trivial Pursuit Marathon.  He must believe that this is evidence that he is obviously no dummy.

Grant Thayer is a scientist and an engineer.  I have known him now for nearly 20 years and he drops those two facts into every conversation you have with him or into every diatribe he delivers in any meeting. Seriously,  I am sure he works it into everything he discusses.  Imagine the confusion his barista must have when he walks up and says, “Let me have a venti cup of Pike, the drink of engineers!” So he is also no dummy.

I  feel I must give Mr. Pettit a pass here.  I find him to be reflective and quiet. He is not boastful man and he always has a smile.  If he is a genius (and he may well be) he has never gone out of his way to wear it like a badge.  If he does have strong religious beliefs, he has never pushed them on me  or anyone while I was around.  Not only is he not a dummy, he appears to be a gentleman.

So it is my belief that this choice for the invocation last Wednesday was done on purpose by at least two of our commissioners.  It was a calculated move to enrage those who would know just how inappropriate it would be to have the leader of a hate group deliver an opening prayer.  By one account from a person in attendance, a significant portion of the invocation was on the evils of abortion in a tone only a practiced hate speech artist could deliver.  This was confusing, as abortion was not listed on the agenda of the meeting… at least the printed one. 

The message hit its mark.  People were definitely offended.  Keeping the community divided along purely political lines was strengthened.  Those who felt they had successfully delivered an attack from a position of righteousness could smugly smile with glee. And so now as a result, protests are being planned, news agencies have been contacted and social media has caught on fire. 

In my mind the BOCC walked away believing they were the clear winner in this planned altercation.  They know when it comes to an argument involving religion that the close knit leadership of the Elbert County Republicans will always gather the wagons in a tight circle.  But was it really a win?  It is certainly unclear at this point because the county is rapidly changing.

Colorado’s economy over the past few years has been on fire.  It has been growing and that is due in large part to the legalization of marijuana, transportation growth, clean energy, fossil fuels and real estate.  This is all occurring under a rapidly changing political dynamic that is headed toward the left.  The growth numbers in our population are strongest in the column of the millennials.  From red to purple to blue is Colorado’s continuing pattern of political evolution. In the meantime, Elbert County has acquired a taste for the money that development brings and that does not bode well for keeping the population of Elizabeth and Kiowa deeply conservative.  The call to “bring on the rooftops” is a double-edged sword, and I predict within five years, at current growth rates, there will be viable and successful Democrats elected into office to represent a changing majority.

This tact of insulting the minority party for the short term strategy of divisiveness may have left lasting scars on the rising minority party, and that will have lasting consequences. The notion that we are located  so far away from Denver and Boulder that they will never be able to impact local politics with all their so-called, “snowflake” ideas is not the way things are turning out.  Elizabeth is rapidly filling with those who enjoy the trees, the deer, other wildlife, etc.  I overheard a young couple at Starbucks the other day talking about why they were looking at real estate in Elizabeth. The frightening response to any Republican within earshot was, “It reminds us of Boulder and Niwot.”

The first horn for the local Republicans would have been to leave well enough alone and allow these very active Democrats with their critical view of the current board their weekly presence without challenge. I am certain that the Republicans felt that option left them looking weak, and they couldn’t have that now, could they? Horn number two was to call a hate monger and allow him to a platform that appears to give him political legitimacy by delivering what should have been a motivational and healing message.  We know what they chose to do and so now we find them dangling from the damned horns of a homemade dilemma.  If their mission was to dispel any notion that they had not a shred of intelligence or decency then it was a roaring success.

Hate is never a good foundation on which to build a house.  Even a dummy should  know that.