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Mike Coffman meets with visitors in 2013. Courtesy of Flickr

Opinion: Mike Coffman and Political Cowardice

The incumbent congressman suggests he may not exercise American citizens' most basic and cherished right.

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On Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman (R) told 9News, “I don’t know if I’ll cast a vote for president. I’m not going to vote for Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. I’m struggling with it like many other Americans.”

But Mike Coffman needs to vote. It doesn’t matter whether he casts a ballot for Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, or for Gary Johnson or Jill Stein. It doesn’t matter if he logs a write-in protest vote for Ted Cruz or Mike Pence or Ronald Reagan’s ghost. It only matters that he does it.

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It matters because Coffman helped enable the rise of Trump. He’s far from alone, as plenty of other Republicans and independents abetted this, as did anyone on the left who ignored or dismissed the woes of our working-class neighbors over the past 10 to 15 years.

But the line from Coffman’s own words and actions leads more directly to Trump than most. Coffman was one of the feckless pols who readily jumped onboard the “birther” bandwagon when it served him politically, then leapt off when it suddenly didn’t. He supported Marco Rubio in the GOP primary but promised to back the party’s nominee through much of the summer.

It was only after Trump was caught on tape bragging about assaulting women that Coffman decided he’d had enough. More than a year of consistent racism, sexism, and authoritarian threats from Trump evidently weren’t enough to move Coffman’s moral needle.

It matters if Coffman votes because he represents the 6th Congressional District, where an untold but significant number of his constituents hail from places where voting, if it’s allowed at all, might expose the voter to violence, imprisonment, or even death. The reason these consituents came to America was to forge a better life than they could at home, one offering the freedom to choose where their political support goes. They came here for the opportunity to use their votes to select politicians who they think will listen to their voices; for many of them this is the first place that’s ever been an option.

It matters if Coffman votes because if Trump is right about anything, it’s that our political system is a mess and our leaders need to be held accountable. (The same goes for our police and courts, our educators and business and civic leaders, and yes, our media.) We citizens need to vote to hold our elected officials to a higher standard, and voting them into or out of office is the most immediate way to do that. By claiming he may not vote at all because he doesn’t like the choices, Coffman risks looking like a petulant child who won’t eat his vegetables.

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It matters if Coffman votes because the only way to undo whatever damage Trump has done to our confidence in the system is to show us how it can work. One more thing Trump is right about: Voters are sick and tired of the cowardice and self-preservationism we see from our politicians every day. The primary way we can change this is by voting, and when one of our elected leaders declines to exercise his most elementary Constitutional right because he doesn’t want to answer a tough question on Election Day, it further erodes the confidence that any vote matters, that anything will ever change.

Campaign trail politicians have repeatedly told us this year that this will the most consequential election in our lifetimes. We’ve heard this exact claim for at least four or five presidential elections in a row, but this time it might just be true. If it is, the only way to ensure that its outcome has the broadest possible impact on whatever changes might be coming, and that as many voices as possible are heard, is if everyone votes. Any current or would-be elected official who shuns the democratic citizen’s most sacred and inalienable responsibility is merely reinforcing the me-first timidity that brought us to this unfortunate and pivotal moment in time.

Follow 5280 editor-at-large on Twitter at @LucHatlestad.

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