No one can deny the typical Clear Creek voter is an independent thinker — just as no one can deny that those independents have been steadily and increasingly voting Democratic for the last four years.
But many people might not know that one man is behind one of the most successful political outreach campaigns in Colorado.
"I don't think it would be a stretch to call Randy the godfather of the modern Clear Creek Democratic Party," said local liberal activist Jerry Fabyanic.
Political roots run deep
Wheelock got his start in politics when he was 11 years old. He didn’t know why he liked John F. Kennedy, but everyone around him did, so he hit the local grocery store in his hometown to campaign for JFK.
"Obviously I didn't know anything about swing states — I was in Oklahoma," Wheelock joked.
Always a joker yet well spoken and a spitfire at times, Wheelock has managed to cross party lines and turn the Clear Creek County Democrats into a leader in the community — and the state.
The owner of Wheelock Construction found his way to Clear Creek when his car would not make it over Loveland Pass. He was en route to Aspen but never made it. After Vietnam, the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, and the Watergate scandal, Wheelock became disillusioned by politics.
His attitude slowly started to shift after serving on the city council in Idaho Springs starting in 1989.
"Everybody had a tendency to look at city council and call them stupid, but there is a reason we all voted unanimously on 90 percent of the items," he said.
His first meeting packet was 6 inches thick.
"We barely had time to do the job, let alone be crooked," Wheelock said. "You can either sit home and do nothing and feel pathetic, or you can do something."
Since then, Wheelock has been involved in local government and began the party transformation with wife Eileen Wheelock in 2004 as co-chairs of the local party.
The road to blue
The duo set out to accomplish four things: throw some good parties and invite everyone; don't insult Republicans personally by sticking to the issues; embrace local issues and become community leaders; be extremely professional in the way they ran the campaign.
"The Clear Creek Dems are extremely fortunate to have Randy Wheelock on our team," said party co-chair Becky Cook. "He has an uncanny ability to compile, organize and access data in order to implement an effective campaign."
The party had 200 active volunteers this year and a storefront on Miner Street.
"He should be the envy of any local party organization in the state — I mean, nation or world," Cook said.
Wheelock credits his organization to an unlikely source — the Republicans.
"Really, that is something we learned from the Republicans," Wheelock said. "They were kicking our butt for years."
Wheelock was essential in Clear Creek voting for Kerry in 2004, voting Democratic in 2006 and electing Democrats last week by 15 to 30 percent margins. The Clear Creek Democrats also played a lead role in getting mass transit for I-70 on the party platform in 2004.
After butting heads with the party platform chair, Rollie Heath, in 2004, Wheelock was thrown out of the state convention, but he snuck back in and muscled his way onto to the stage to present the transit position.
"(Rollie) said, 'We have this I-70 thing but no one to speak for it,'" Wheelock recalled. "I forced my way on stage and I said, 'I'll speak.' I had nothing prepared. I just had to shoot from the hip."
After an inspired speech that ended with this quote, "In order to get to a big box-store in Edwards 20 minutes faster, will we pave over the spot where George Jackson discovered gold in 1859?" the crowd erupted in applause and unanimously added mass transit to the platform. It has remained on the platform ever since.
"He is a tremendous reservoir of passion and energy. Couple that with his analytical mind and ability to couch complex ideas in simple terms, and that goes a long way to explaining the shift in the county from red to blue," Fabyanic said. "And you don't need to wonder about where he stands because he'll tell you up front."
Looking back to look forward
After John Kerry lost in 2004, Wheelock experienced a depression that turned into an awakening.
"Two days after the election, Eileen and I weren't smiling. The Clear Creek victory meant nothing to us. I would tell people from that day forward, 'We bombed people today. We killed people today. I'm an American. This is my country, and George Bush is my president.’ "
This kind of defeatist talk might send the average person running away. But Randy Wheelock is not average.
"I thought, 'I either have to leave and not be a part of it, or I have to try harder and make a difference,’ " Wheelock said. "Once I committed, I was chained to this for four years. When I woke up the next day, I felt tremendous release. It was done. The job was done."
And although Wheelock may be done spending all his free time electing candidates, his career as an activist hasn't even peaked yet. With his passion for the environment, Wheelock is using his skills to transform the building industry. He was among six authors of a new “green code” in Summit County.
"I don't want to spend the rest of my time trying to elect people who will change the world for me," Wheelock said. "I want to work with people who want to change the world themselves."