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2A, Houck, Messner all win big in November election

Trump presidency could impact local issues as well…

by Mark Reaman

Aside from the stunning presidential and national election outcome that could impact us locally through issues like public lands management, there were local political races that mattered as well, from county commissioner seats to ballot issue 2A, which sought to set aside open space revenues to help pay mining company Freeport McMoRan to take some unpatented mining claims off the Mt. Emmons table.

Ballot issue 2A passed overwhelmingly in Crested Butte. With unofficial results in at the county elections office, Crested Butte citizens passed the issue 903 to 137.

The two Democrats won the Gunnison County commissioner seats. In the District 2 race, incumbent Jonathan Houck defeated unaffiliated challenger Paul Wayne Foreman. And John Messner will replace Paula Swenson in District 1. His Republican challenger was Brad Tutor.

Houck received 6,012 votes or 73 percent of the ballots cast over challenger Foreman. Messner tallied 5,179 votes to Tutor’s 3,609. That was about a 59 percentage rate for Messner.

“I really appreciate the confidence the voters of Gunnison County have placed in me through this election result. The message seems to be, ‘Keep working on the things we have been working on,’” Houck stated Tuesday.

“And I understand that the community wants action and not just more meetings and plans. All four of us running this time agreed on the important issues of looking to provide more housing, not allowing mining on Mt. Emmons, keeping public lands public. We differed on how to accomplish those things, but overall we were all in agreement on the important issues. For me, I’m going to keep working on the direction that the county has been going the last four years,” Houck continued.

Messner will be sworn in as a commissioner on January 10. He understands that as much as he has been involved with county process, there is still a lot to learn.

“I am excited and humbled that the citizens of Gunnison County trust me to represent them,” he said. “It is a big responsibility and I don’t take it lightly. I am glad that they share the vision we developed. Now I have a lot to learn over the next few months.

“I am certainly ready to move forward,” he continued. “The people of Gunnison County remain optimistic about the future and I am excited to be part of that. I think people want to see action in things like the OVPP outcomes, broadband and connectivity, and sustainable tourism. I intend to move forward with everything we talked about during the campaign.”

Both Houck and Messner were surprised at the presidential outcome. Houck said it will matter locally, but the key is for the local populace to keep control of local decisions.

“It is hard with Trump to take what he says and figure out how that will translate as far as policies,” he said. “For example, who will be his secretary of the Interior? How will decisions from Washington impact the management of public lands? What will it mean for oil and gas leases? What will it mean for the Gunnison sage-grouse?

“The community has been very clear that it believes public lands should remain in public hands so it is up to us here to protect them. Our positions won’t change. We want a transition from the coal economy in the North Fork to a more sustainable energy program. We don’t want mining on Mt. Emmons. We want to protect the sage grouse but also protect the ranching community and our water. I mean if the Gunnison sage-grouse gets delisted, this community has said that we want to protect that species in partnership with ranching and recreation. That hasn’t changed. We will remain stewards of the community.”

Messner said he was proud that the state and county did not vote with the national trend. “I feel like we did well as a state and we voted our values in Colorado and Gunnison County,” he said. “I, like most people, was surprised that Trump won, but the sun will still rise in the east. Still, it is pretty unprecedented that we have an individual like Trump along with a majority of Republicans in both the Senate and the House. It will be interesting.”


Record turnout in Gunnison County

Speaking of interesting, it was another interesting night in the Gunnison County elections office but not as interesting as some past years. Gunnison County director of elections Diane Folowell said the office handled 9,243 ballots over the last month with a big surge coming this past Monday and Tuesday. That was a record. Crested Butte citizens cast 1,148 ballots. She said the office handled a lot of new voter registrations over the course of the election as well.

A “small glitch” left about 340 ballots to be counted Wednesday morning but that number did not change the result of any race from the Tuesday night preliminary outcomes. Folowell said the glitch was essentially working the bugs out of the new voting equipment.

“The judges love the new machines,” she reported. “We’re very pleased with the efficiency and accuracy of them. They are a blessing.

“Overall, it went pretty smoothly with the mail ballots,” she continued. “The only real difficulty we experienced was when the ballots were mailed October 17. It took longer than anticipated for some people out of state to get their mail ballots. But eventually they got them and it all seemed to have worked out.”

Other races

In Gunnison County, 62 percent of the voters went with incumbent Millie Hamner for State Representative in state house district 61 over Republican Bob Schutt. She took the district wide vote as well.

While Crested Butte’s Gail Schwartz won Gunnison County in the race for the Third U.S. Congressional District, she ultimately lost district wide by 14 percentage points. She pulled in 60 percent of the Gunnison County vote over incumbent Scott Tipton, but throughout the district she received 137,285 votes to Tipton’s 184,957.

“I congratulate Scott Tipton, and hope that this campaign season has helped him appreciate the importance of bridging the political divide and bringing the residents of the 3rd Congressional District together on the many issues and values that unite us,” she stated in a press release Wednesday morning.

Ballot issues

When it came to the ballot initiatives, Gunnison County voters went with the state and turned down Amendment 69 that would have brought the state its own universal healthcare system. Almost 69 percent of Gunnison County voters said no to the proposal.

Sixty-one percent of those voting in Gunnison County approved the proposal to increase the state minimum wage to $12 per hour by 2020. That issue passed statewide.

Gunnison county voters also overwhelmingly voted for Proposition 106 with 77 percent of the vote to allow access to medicine for terminally ill patients to speed up the death process. That too passed statewide.

Official timeline

Remember, these results are all unofficial for a few more weeks. Election results from votes cast will be officially certified November 16. November 22 is the last day for counting provisional ballots. November 25 is the deadline for Gunnison County to complete an election audit. And November 28 is when the final canvas results have to be submitted to the Colorado Secretary of State. Given the number of outstanding ballots, no race results will be changed by these remaining votes.

Gunnison County clerk Kathy Simillion said the work of the election team is incredible.  “We have a great election team. The staff, the election judges, everyone involved here works very hard for the citizens,” she related. “And we should acknowledge the Board of County Commissioners and the county manager. They deserve credit for getting us modern equipment. Without that we might still be counting ballots. They’ve been very supportive and everyone should appreciate that.”

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