This is always one of the most difficult pieces to write. Local political endorsements in a small town do not come without ramifications. Let’s get to the easy one first…
I can see little reason to not vote for 1A, which would renew the Gunnison Valley Land Preservation Fund. The ballot issue continues a practice of allocating a small portion of the county sales tax to fund open space projects in the county. It does not increase taxes if passed and taxes will not go down if the measure is not approved. It basically says the voters want to earmark some money that will be used to help leverage other funds for things we care about … things like trails, viewsheds, open space and ranches. And it works. The money is used wisely and effectively and you can’t ask for much more than that. Vote “yes” for 1A.
Now to the harder choices…
Colorado House District 61 is a bit of a mess because of its new boundaries. It splits Gunnison County so the city of Gunnison is no longer in the same district as Crested Butte. This has left one of our fine local politicians in a bad bind. Kathleen Curry has been a good representative of the local citizens at the state level. She is smart and tough and knows this place, especially when it comes to issues like water and agriculture. But more than anything right now, she is known for leaving the Democratic Party a couple of years ago when she held some top leadership positions, including being the Speaker Pro Tem of the House. Now, in the current election, what is essentially a left wing political action committee is throwing some pretty strong accusations out about her and it frankly bums me out to see these negative tactics in a race so close to home. It is not fair to Curry, nor is it fair to her two opponents.
But that over-the-top action should not take away from the Democrat running for the seat. Millie Hamner has shown herself to be a smart, personable, strong representative in the state legislature. The former teacher and school superintendent has said she too doesn’t like the political tactics being taken by the PAC attacking Curry. Frankly, I wish both these women could be elected to the state House but, given that only one can, I am endorsing Hamner.
Politics certainly comes into play. Both women are smart, understand the issues and seem to know their way around the capitol. But while Kathleen’s decision to leave the Dems and become “unaffiliated” may have been made in earnest, it had impacts and ramifications that linger even now. The decision angered many of the people she would have to work with both at the state and local level. Had she stayed, she may have had the chance to be the Speaker of the House, which would have been real clout for us and an opportunity rarely afforded a Western Slope representative. To mend those fences will take some time and unfortunately Kathleen doesn’t have much. Because of her prior legislative service, she is essentially term limited under state law to this two-year stint in the House if elected. We all know the wheels of government move slowly and getting good things done can take time.
Hammer, on the other hand, could serve six more consecutive years in the State House and she has shown that, while not “unaffiliated,” she effectively embraces being “non-partisan” and that is more important. She has proven she can work with members of all political stripes. She has shown she has done her homework and knows the issues important to Crested Butte. Living in Summit County, she understands resort communities and she can make a difference for us at the state level. While I wish both could go to Denver as our reps and I love Kathleen, Hamner has the better chance to be our most effective state representative in the long term. And she will be a good representative. It’s hard to not endorse Curry given her proximity to Crested Butte but politics and effectiveness really do matter at the state level and Hamner is getting my X next to her name.
Speaking of love, I love Polly Oberosler. I have worked with her, socialized with her and appreciate her general viewpoints. But I really like Jonathan Houck for the County Commissioner seat in District 2. He has shown during this campaign that he is usually the best prepared, most knowledgeable and in the broad perspective, most focused, collaborative and even experienced candidate of those running for a seat. Polly has thrown her cowboy hat into the ring for the county’s top political job. Experience really does mean something when applying for the CEO job. Houck already understands the time, the complexity of the issues and the relationships needed to make an impact as a county commissioner. I’d love to see Polly be a commissioner someday but she needs to first prove that she can handle the political arena at some level. I urge my friend Polly to get on another local political board and show us that she can dedicate the time, forge impactful relationships and get something done. It’s a good idea to gather some pertinent experience before going for the number one political job in our county.
The Republican running for District 2 is old-school Gunnison County and I appreciate that he doesn’t try to sugarcoat where he stands. But when Warren Wilcox claimed Houck was a “career politician” it was an odd claim and seemed a weird attempt at negative political advertising. Perhaps he meant that Houck came across as more of a smooth politician than him or Polly.
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And he does. But all three are running for political office and if being prepared, well-spoken and not afraid to tout his accomplishments and ability to see a cohesive future means Houck is a smooth politician, that is a good thing and not a detriment. We need experience and we need people who understand how to get things done at the commissioner level. Houck fits that mold, has strong countywide ties and he deserves your vote.
In the District 1 commissioner race, there are also three candidates running for the office. Paula Swenson is the incumbent and politically she sits between the more liberal Green Party candidate Steve Schechter and the nice-guy Republican Stu Ferguson. Paula is pushing for a third term. Three terms should be anyone’s limit but she should be the choice in this race. Paula made a good point at the Candidate’s Forum last week when she said that as a commissioner she has upset both the conservative and liberal factions in the county. She certainly has. But that usually means she is on a right track that actually accomplishes things. She doesn’t stray too far right or too far left and she looks for ways to make things happen—and that shows she is not afraid to compromise at times. Compromise really is how things move forward in government. That might tweak ideologues but it leads to a good path of moderation for the county. Ferguson seems a pleasant fellow calling for change but not offering much of a plan for change except to be more open to a mine on Mt. Emmons. Schechter is doing good work on the GCEA board working to bring hydropower to the Taylor dam, is involved in the local food movement and has brought some interesting perspective to the race. Those are good things but things that can be addressed outside the Board of County Commissioners. Paula has proven herself to be a pragmatic politician and that’s always a good person to have sitting at the table.
Look, we are blessed to have a lot of stand-up people wanting to represent us here in Gunnison County and at the state level. I love that. None throw mud for the sake of getting elected and all truly do have the best interests of the citizens at heart. But we all have to make hard choices and sometimes that means checking the box for someone we aren’t as close to personally but feel can better represent us in the current circumstances. More than anything, we encourage everyone to take the time to cast their ballots in the next two weeks.