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On the first Sunday in May, Swiss citizens throughout that mountainous, cow-happy country merrily gather in their town squares to drink beer, show off their swords and practice democracy. They call it the Landsgemeinde, and they've been doing it since about 1294.

Essentially the Swiss have turned election day into a party, with sausages, pastries, yodeling and an oompah band.

Everyone who shows up gets a say on whatever issues the town faces. All you have to do in some cantons to demonstrate your eligibility to vote is to bring your sword, bayonet or sidearm. After a period of spirited face-to-face, open-air debate, major town decisions are made by a show of hands.

In other words, democracy is pretty damn fun in Switzerland.

The Gazette, Colorado Politics and El Pomar's Forum for Civic Advancement, taking some inspiration from our high-altitude friends, are determined to make democracy in Colorado a bit more fun this year.

On May 19, we are launching an annual Colorado Civic Barbecue at the Garden Pavilion at Penrose House, 1661 Mesa Ave. It's a doubleheader, with a Republican candidates' debate for governor in the morning and a Democratic gubernatorial debate in the afternoon. Between the two, we'll host a free barbecue on the grounds of the Penrose House enlivened by a bluegrass band.

We are trying to make civic discussions casual, civil and fun again, subtitling our event: "Apple Pie, Issues and Banjos." We hope to perhaps revive for Colorado Springs a long American tradition of civic picnics, which date all the way back to the one the Pilgrims had for the Indians, whose style of self-government Ben Franklin studied and incorporated into ours.

Kyle Hybl, president-COO of El Pomar, and Dan Steever, publisher of The Gazette, will be official hosts. Colorado Politics' Joey Bunch and political talk show host Aaron Harber will emcee the debates.

Like the Landsgemeinde, the barbecue will be a chance for a bit of Swiss-style direct democracy, where citizens can come rub elbows with their would-be governors and ask them about whatever is on their minds. We'll start to solicit questions for the debates via The Gazette's website in the days to come.

We'll do the first debate at 11 a.m. May 19, and the second will start about 1:45 p.m., after the barbecue.

All the current candidates for governor will be there. For the Republicans, that means former Parker Mayor Greg Lopez, former state Rep. Victor Mitchell, former investment banker Doug Robinson and state Treasurer Walker Stapleton.

For the Democrats, it'll be former state Sen. Mike Johnston, former state Treasurer Cary Kennedy, Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne and U.S. Rep. Jared Polis.

The event is free and open to the public.

The only thing we ask: Please leave your sword at home for this one.

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