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Channell and Swenson

The Gunnison Board of County Commissioners can be seen as a rocking boat. Sometimes that boat swings toward a Democratic majority, as it did four years ago; sometimes it leans toward the Republican Party, as it did in 2000.
Inevitably, it’s the economy that sets the stage for the changes in the board’s majority. In 2000, as Gunnison County was suffering a dispiriting downturn, county voters had an ear for commissioner candidates who blamed the freshly revised Land Use Resolution for economic doldrums. After the election, commissioners Perry Anderson and the late Fred Field spent several years turning the document on its head at the request of the construction and real estate industries.
Fast-forward four years to the next county commissioner race with incumbents Anderson and Field defending their actions to challengers Hap Channell and Paula Swenson, both Democrats. With the biggest real estate boom in Gunnison County history under way, voters became concerned about whether their representatives had kept enough protections in the land use document to keep the area from becoming a mountain valley eyesore. Unconvinced by the incumbents’ arguments, voters installed Channell and Swenson to do the job—thereby creating an all-Democrat board with commissioner Jim Starr at the helm.
In the meantime, Gunnison County’s overall political demographic had started to change in the early 2000s. As The New Yorker noted in its September 1, 2008 edition, mountain town communities like Crested Butte were developing into blue strips that would eventually help put a Democratic U.S. Senator and U.S. House representative into office in 2004, and a Democratic governor in 2006. For good measure, Gunnison County helped elect a Democratic state senator and house representative. It seemed that the party could do no wrong, at least locally.
That brings us to today, with two Republicans—Erich Ferchau and Doug Sparks, both of Gunnison—challenging incumbent Democrats Channell and Swenson for seats representing Districts 2 and 1.
As was the case eight years ago, we’re facing a serious economic downturn, made worse by fears of local residents that the real estate they purchased four years ago isn’t worth what they paid for it in the rush to the bank.
In this environment, voters (who are the captains of that rocking boat, after all) are faced with two ways to steer. One is to continue on the course that Channell and Swenson have identified—plug resources into making Gunnison County more energy independent through partnerships with the municipalities and the Office for Resource Efficiency, continuing to require affordable housing fees to fund housing for its workforce, and hope that by keeping Gunnison County unique, money and economic opportunity will come to us.
In contrast, Ferchau and Sparks say they’re offering action. They want to offer incentives to outside businesses to set up permanent residence in Gunnison County. Ferchau, in particular, says he wants to entice businesses like those that send county residents to neighboring Montrose to buy groceries, clothes and whatever else at big box stores.
Both Republicans argue that the LUR is being used as a weapon against development, rather than a tool for conservation. However, these arguments seem stale. If it’s easy to entice businesses to relocate, then why didn’t their Republican predecessors do it during the last economic downturn? The answer is that it isn’t easy and those types of incentives don’t often bring the development that this community wants.
In fact, I believe the consensus reached eight years ago is that we’re better off encouraging local businesses to grow and diversify, rather than attempting to bring in someone else.
We can encourage growth by providing housing for workers, transportation for valley residents and visitors, and by protecting the clean water, air and environment that will keep them here.
Of course, that kind of growth isn’t as exciting as offering to bring in a mini-Google-type company that could set up overnight. But I believe it’s more realistic and reflective of the type of community Gunnison County is endeavoring to be.
For this reason, I encourage voters to pick the path laid out by Channell and Swenson. They’re proven leaders and I urge voters to return them to office.

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