I have to say Sunday night’s Crested Butte News Candidates Forum was a good one—four neighbors discussing ideas and issues with some of their other neighbors. There was no major animosity and there were no icky accusations. There were actual issues being hashed out.
And I have to say all four men did well. To varying degrees, they were knowledgeable, prepared and engaging. They were respectful to one another even when disagreeing. And while they did disagree some, there weren’t major black and white differences on every topic—just on some subjects, which is what we were looking for.
If you could morph the four candidates into one, they would make a pretty good composite commissioner. Jonathan Houck comes with the gravitas, experience, work ethic and political skills. Paul Wayne Foreman brings the free-thinking, philosophical element. Brad Tutor provides a folksy small-town, main-street business understanding with a conservative bent, while John Messner would not be afraid to go to the meetings since it appears he hasn’t missed any meeting in the county in the last couple of years. But that initiative and drive has provided John with the information and the necessary homework to come up with thoughtful positions on what seems to pretty much every issue facing the county.
But the News can only endorse two of these fine men. Paul Wayne’s analysis of the issues can be unique at times and I really like that he is not afraid to call ‘em like he sees ‘em. On growth he makes it clear the genie is out of the bottle and it ain’t going back in. He makes it clear and is spot-on that pretty much every issue being discussed today is interconnected—affordable housing, potential new business in the valley, the Tourism Association’s marketing of the place, short-term rentals, better internet and broadband, climate change, impacts to the backcountry we treasure—all are tied into one another in some fashion. I really appreciate his philosophical thoughts and realistic insights.
But he is running against Jonathan Houck in District 2 and Houck has evolved into one of the best county commissioners we’ve seen in decades. He works hard. He delves into and has a solid command of the issues. He has shown strong leadership on many fronts from Gunnison sage grouse to backcountry impacts on public lands. He has demonstrated a habit of nonpartisan collaboration to address issues. Houck voiced Sunday that he hoped he had earned a vote for another term and I think he has. It is a pleasure to have someone in the office with his ability, vision and political skills to state a position and know how best to work to accomplish tangible goals. Houck has indeed earned another vote this fall for a second term as county commissioner.
In District 1 we have two men hoping to fill the commissioner seat being vacated by Paula Swenson. So first let’s give a nod to Paula, who has been fearless in her role as a commissioner. She was not afraid to run a tight meeting and state clearly where she thought the commissioners should head. Under her leadership as commission chair, she guided the moderate but practical direction of the county with Jonathan and District 3 commissioner Phil Chamberland. Paula had a good run and we thank her.
Now, while running for commissioner has always been a partisan contest, once they are elected, Gunnison County has a solid tradition of pretty much having the three county BOCC representatives working well together without an obvious D or R behind their names. We trust that will continue with whoever is elected. The political parties seem to have an unusually strong hand in this District 1 race but we trust that whichever gentleman is elected will work as part of a strong team to represent all the citizens in this great county.
For the District 1 seat we are going with John Messner. He just represents more of what this end of the valley stands for. Both men say they plan to address affordable housing issues. Both say they see the need for dealing with overcrowding issues in parts of the backcountry around Crested Butte and other areas of the county. Both promise to continue funding the county multi-cultural center to help immigrants integrate into the community.
And while, frankly, Messner’s propensity to attend meeting after meeting and fall into politi-speak sometimes is not his best trait (in my opinion too many meetings can suck the imagination and life out of good people), he has certainly actively demonstrated that he is not afraid to dig deep into the issues and take a stand. He is articulate and smart, thinks about the issues facing the county and says he wants to do things and not just talk about them. He wants to grow local entrepreneurship through better broadband connectivity and partnerships with the county’s private and public “anchor” institutions. He wants to spend money and invest in the county’s recreation infrastructure. He wants to bank land for future affordable housing and get more units on the ground quickly.
I appreciate but don’t agree with Tutor’s more conservative perspective but still enjoy his company. I understand that his views represent a good segment of the county population. But he leans much more to the right than I do, and I disagree with some basics, like whether or not climate change is being accelerated and impacted by human activity. He’s skeptical. Some of those basics would ultimately guide how county decisions are made. So I will support the hard-working Messner for the District 1 seat. If elected, he will obviously start his term well prepared and ready to push for progress in a quickly changing county.
Ballots are due back to the Gunnison County clerk’s office by 7 p.m. on Tuesday, November 8. You can mail them back or drop them off at several official locations around the county. But do take the time to fill out a ballot and participate in the election process. Voting matters in a small community like ours, so don’t blow off your opportunity to help shape the future of this wonderful and changing community.