Change from the bottom up

Mesa County Democrat Vice Chair Lanna Smith leads a meeting flanked by Elizabeth Rowan and Jeff Smith to choose a new chair and regroup for the next election cycle.

At a time when Democrats across the country were reveling in a wave of victories, from the top of the ticket down to local races, the Mesa County Democratic Party was one of the party’s few black eyes on Election Day.

From the presidential race to state legislative races down to county commissioner candidates, local Democrats got shellacked.

Starting Saturday, the local party’s newly elected leadership pledged to work for a turnaround.

Martelle Daniels, the new chairwoman, said local Democrats have a real opportunity to channel much of the enthusiasm President Obama has generated into a sustained presence over the next two years.

“We need to expand our presence in Mesa County,” Daniels said.

Daniels and the party have a steep but doable task ahead, City Councilwoman Teresa Coons told more than 60 Democrats at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union hall in Clifton.

Coons said it will be crucial for the party to build a strong back-bench of leaders and candidates for the Grand Junction City Council and other local bodies. She said the party has to make its views known in places where its voices normally might not be heard, such as the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce.

“The only way we are going to make any headway is if we go out and meet with people who don’t share our views,” Coons said.

Matt Hudson, the party’s newly elected first vice chairman, said the party needs to figure out how to reverse Republican momentum from the unexpected ouster of state Rep. Bernie Buescher, D-Grand Junction, last year by political newcomer Laura Bradford, R-Collbran.

Hudson said even though Buescher lost, he is the type of candidate Democrats need to start looking for: well-known, moderate people with deep roots in Mesa County.

John Redifer, a political science professor at Mesa State College and a former head of the Mesa County Democratic Party, said the approach Hudson advocates is the party’s best option for winning back seats in 2010, including Buescher’s House seat.

“The old saw is: Your best opportunity to beat an incumbent is their first effort at re-election,” he said.

A series of other high-profile positions will be up for election in 2010, including the seats of Mesa County Commissioner Steve Acquafresca and Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction.

The Mesa County Republican Party is scheduled to hold its reorganization meeting the morning of Feb. 14 at the Grand Junction City Hall.


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