10 candidates vying for commission seats
Before Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann formally launched their bids, before mainstream America had heard of former businessman Herman Cain, Christi Flynn, Jana Gerow and Rose Pugliese were in.
Not for the presidential race, but for Mesa County commissioner.
The trio of women filed candidate affidavits and formed candidate committees with the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office in May, a year and a half before Grand Valley voters sit down at their kitchen tables with their ballots and a pen or head to the polls. And the rush to replace Commissioners Craig Meis and Janet Rowland, who will be forced out of office by term limits next year, hasn’t stopped.
Eight Republicans and two unaffiliated hopefuls are now officially in the race. Campaign signs are beginning to sprout around the community. With seven months to go before the primary and 11 months before the general election, there’s still plenty of time for others to jump into the pool. Mesa County elections officials say they’ve never seen so much interest in the commissioner seats.
Political observers and party leaders point to a variety of reasons why the candidate field is already crowded. But one stands out above the others: For the first time in eight years, the competition is wide open.
“The very first thing that comes to my mind is you’ve got two open seats on the Board of County Commissioners,” said John Redifer, a political science professor at Colorado Mesa University. “The fact that you’re not running against (an incumbent) is certainly going to encourage somebody to seek a path to winning that seat.”
Meis and Rowland were first elected in 2004 and won re-election handily in 2008.
“Nobody was probably too apt to challenge another Republican,” said Ruth Ehlers, chairwoman of the Mesa County Republicans. “People were happy with Janet and Craig for the most part, and now, all of a sudden, those seats are open and people think, ‘Hey, I have a chance.’”
Karl Castleton, co-chairman of the Mesa County Democrats, said it’s possible his party will field a couple of candidates. Registered Democrats in Mesa County are outnumbered by Republicans 2–1. A Democrat hasn’t served on the commission since Doralyn Genova completed her fourth and final term in 2004.
“We are going through candidate selection and working on candidate training,” Castleton said.
Castleton said he believes part of what is driving the high interest in the two seats is the number of factions that have developed within the local GOP. He noted that School District 51’s mill levy override, supported by a number of top Republican community leaders, was rejected soundly.
“What you’re finding out is this lack of satisfaction with the current in-place Republicans, and people are trying to replace them with even more extremist viewpoints,” he said. “(Referred Measure) 3B was a vote as the tea party would want it, not more mainstream Republicans.”
Redifer agreed that ideological divisions within the local Republican Party are encouraging residents to run. He also thinks general dissatisfaction with the current state of politics and frustration with federal government inactivity—points raised by a number of candidates—are driving forces.
“I think it’s a larger ideological difference. We’re angry at what’s going on in Washington, and we want to go out and do something locally to try to change that,” he said.
Although he thinks it’s a lesser factor, Redifer said the job of county commissioner is one of the better paying jobs available. Mesa County commissioners currently receive a $72,500 annual salary.
“From a practical standpoint, county commissioner is one of the best elected positions in the state of Colorado,” he said. “The economy is not very good right now. This is a very lucrative position.”
County commission candidates who receive at least 30 percent of the vote at the local party assemblies next spring automatically make it onto the primary ballot. Candidates who receive more than 10 percent but less than 30 can petition onto the ballot. Unaffiliated candidates must petition onto the general election ballot.