GOP delegates should seek candidates like Meis and Rowland
The Mesa County Republican Party will have its bi-annual nominating brouhaha this weekend over at the Avalon Theatre. I’ve got to say, I don’t miss a lot about political life at this point. The pay stinks, the travel is tiring and rubber chicken gives me acid reflux. But these nominating assemblies are the hotbeds of our democratic process — and a lot of fun, to boot.
Those, I miss.
This weekend’s rendition should be especially interesting. At the top of the agenda is the beginning of the process of deciding who will replace Craig Meis and Janet Rowland as our county commissioners. OK, technically, the Republican nominee won’t automatically replace Craig and Janet, but practically that is the likely outcome.
In elections, especially down-ticket races where candidates won’t have the resources or the organizations to become intimately known by the bulk of voters, party registration is destiny.
Warning: Brace yourself for a statement of the obvious. In Mesa County, Republican voters effectively outnumber Democrats and independents combined.
That makes the task of Dave Edwards — a Democratic candidate for Rowland’s seat who has smartly positioned himself as a restrained spender and can-do leader — almost impossibly tall.
John Leanne, a former county commissioner and highly-regarded man in the community, is running as an independent in Meis’ district. He has a more plausible, but still highly difficult, path to V-GJ-Day. Leanne, whose twin daughters were the heartthrobs of Grand Junction High School during their day, has years of relationships across the community, à la Bernie Buescher, the last non-Republican to get a win in a high-profile local election.
Can Leane stitch those relationships into a coalition with Democrats and old-time Republicans to get the win? Statistically, there is a road. But in order to get there, he’ll need a lot of luck, a mess of effort distancing himself from national Democrats and reassurance that he would be more Craig Meis than Jim Spehar.
All of which brings me back to that statement of the obvious: The GOP nominee for these county commission races has a far better chance than not to be the person deciding matters of county for the next four years. And that makes the task of assembly-goers this weekend all the more important.
If I were a delegate at the GOP assembly this weekend, I would ask a few questions before casting my vote. Among them:
Have you raised my taxes? Are you going to raise my taxes? If the answer is “no-yes” or “yes-no” or “yes-yes,” my answer is “no.”
Perhaps less obvious but just as important: Do you have the mettle to tell the bureaucrats and planners to pound sand when they add delay, paperwork and brain damage to people who are trying to build something, grow something, improve something in the county?
And, perhaps most importantly, I would ask: Will you use your office as a bully pulpit to prod, poke, press and even occasionally berate the political powers that be in the state and federal government when they overstep or overreach or otherwise make matters worse for Mesa County, Colorado, USA?
This was where, much more than their predecessors, my pals Meis and Rowland stuck their necks out in a big way. Not content to pass a budget and approve the consent calendar, the two-outgoing commissioners viewed expansively their obligation to fight for the kind of government that Mesa County residents want. And sometimes that meant walking outside the four walls of their jurisdiction.
Rowland, famously, took on a Republican governor over a statewide tax hike a mere few months into her first term.
She also played a central role in driving statewide policy on methamphetamine addiction, avoidance and treatment, and was an ever-present lioness for limited government on stages big and small over the last eight years.
The same is true for Craig Meis, whose energy expertise made him the right man in the right place at the right time. Meis had disproportionate sway on statewide energy issues that were way outside his actual legal purview — most notably, how the state spends its severance tax and federal mineral royalty dollars.
Use of the bully pulpit brought occasional controversy to Craig and Janet’s tenure, of course. But so what. That’s leadership. When you are taking flack, you are over the target, and Janet and Craig were never bashful about doing precisely that.
And delegates this weekend would do well to ask all of the candidates whether they will do the same. A simpler way might be just to ask, “which of you is most like Meis and Rowland?”
That would be the candidate who got my vote.
Josh Penry is the former minority leader of the Colorado Senate. He is a graduate of Grand Junction High School and Mesa State College.