Laura Puckett Daniels and Rich Evans face off in CB News Forum

Workforce housing, LUR and resource management key points

[  By Katherine Nettles  ]

As the final weeks of voting take place, local candidates and ballot issue stakeholders have been making themselves available to Gunnison County voters who may have remaining questions or uncertainties regarding the choices they face on their ballots this year. On Thursday evening, October 20, about 30 people turned out for the Crested Butte News Candidates Forum at the Mallardi Theatre to get their questions answered and learn more about the two Gunnison County commissioner candidates, Laura Puckett Daniels and Rich Evans. Gunnison County voters expressed concerns about issues both unique to the county, such as workforce housing strategies and the Land Use Resolution (LUR), and issues at play on the national and even international level such as inflation, climate change and COVID. 

The forum was moderated by Denis Hall and broadcast by KBUT. The evening kicked off with brief presentations from advocates for the Gunnison County Metropolitan Recreation District (Met Rec) ballot issue 6B and the Gunnison Watershed School District (GWSD) regarding its proposed ballot issue, 5A. 

Gunnison County District 3 commissioner candidates Puckett Daniels and Evans then spent about an hour discussing and answering questions about their values and visions as they relate to Gunnison County. As each candidate introduced themselves, Puckett Daniels emphasized her ties to the community through various roles in the school district, the non-profit sector and the Gunnison County Planning Commission. She said her priorities were to stand up for small businesses, natural environment protections and workforce housing. Evans listed an extensive resume of his military and business background prior to his retirement and relocation to Gunnison County. He described his family ties in the area and regular contributions to local entities such as the school district and youth recreational programs. Evans said his priorities were to work collaboratively with others to address workforce housing, North Valley postal service inadequacies and government regulations. 

As the forum opened to audience member questions, Gunnison County Republican Party vice chair Neil Watko asked how to address inflation locally. Evans responded that there is “an over-reaching of government,” particularly as it relates to the LUR. He suggested cutting taxes on food purchases and lobbying to eliminate the gas tax and possibly other taxes while regulating the local economic drivers, such as building, less. Puckett Daniels responded that she would support more workforce housing. “It doesn’t help inflation, but it helps alleviate some of the costs of living in the valley,” she said.

Jim Starr asked each candidate what the most important issue facing the county is. Puckett Daniels responded that in the thousands of conversations she has had with constituents in the past six months, the answer is mostly housing. “We need a stronger regional housing authority,” she said, and added that incorporating businesses, realtors, banks and others would help create a more comprehensive valley-wide housing plan. She said the first thing she would do if elected would be to meet with the new director for the Gunnison Valley Regional Housing Authority, because “We have a regional problem.” 

Evans said inflation is a major issue. “Prices are up,” he said. “And our government is putting impositions on people and builders, making it worse.” He said another issue is the Crested Butte post office. If elected, he said the first thing he would do would be to write to the governor and ask him to deploy the national guard to help with mail “from here to December.” While later suggesting he was slightly exaggerating, he said, “The U.S. Postal Service owes us a better job.”

A few questions came in about larger national controversies such as immigration, COVID restrictions and climate change. Rebecca White asked how each candidate regarded the recent Rural Welcoming America events in Gunnison that celebrated and offered support for the local immigrant populations. Evans responded that county commissioner Liz Smith had done “a great job, but her program is in jeopardy. Our open borders allowing illegal immigration are going to undercut those legal immigrants,” he asserted. Puckett Daniels admitted she didn’t know much about the recent event, but her impression had been positive. “About 10% of our population in the Gunnison Valley are Hispanic,” she said, and that includes several languages. “We have this large immigrant population in the Gunnison Valley and there is a lot of poverty…anything we can do to support and lift them up,” she said, is worth doing. 

Pastor Bryon Roberts from the Blue Mesa Baptist Church asked how each candidate felt about churches being deemed non-essential during the beginning of the COVID pandemic in the spring of 2020. Puckett Daniels said it was an example of how many things would be done differently if officials had known then what they know now, and that includes how people need community during trying times. 

“I try to have compassion for those people who were making those decisions…I would probably do that differently. But it was a scary time, and we have learned a lot,” she reflected. 

Evans called it government over-reach. “I am absolutely against that. We didn’t know what to do; it was a scary time. But it was an over-reach.”

Anna Fenerty asked how to address climate change related to securing food and water sources in the future.  

“There’s no simple answer to that question,” said Evans, who related the level of pandemonium involved in food and water insecurity to “another level of threat.” Puckett Daniels said water security is on her mind a lot as a hotter, dryer future seems inevitable, and noted that the Colorado River is over-allocated. She suggested working closely with local food producers and protecting agricultural and senior water rights and fostering innovation in this hard-to-grow-in climate.

 The final questions related to how the valley approaches newcomers, shares values with Crested Butte and how each candidate has prepared for office. 

Self-proclaimed new resident Kathy McBreen asked about the tension around growth and whether newcomers are welcome or not. Evans said newcomers like himself are welcome, but “We are not making it easy to live here,” he said of ongoing building regulations. Puckett Daniels said the tension over change and growth is a very real part of the valley. “There is going to be a reckoning. There will be growing pains,” she said, and retaining the area’s character while adjusting and accepting some changes was needed. Gunnison County undersheriff Adam Murdie asked what they had done to prepare for the job. “I’ve met with the heads of almost every department with the county and asked them three questions,” replied Puckett Daniels. “What does your job entail; what advice would you give me; and if you had a magic wand, what would you do?” Evans responded that he had not gotten around to all the departments yet, but “I’ve focused on the people.”

In conclusion, Puckett Daniels said she believes everyone should be involved in governing on some level, and realize their voice matters. “Politics is us,” she said. 

Evans concluded that he was ready to add diversity to the current perspective of the board of county commissioners. “If you’re not happy with the way things are…vote for me,” he said.

The complete forum was recorded by KBUT and can be found at KBUT.org.

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