Justman is the more conservative candidate
Somewhere in the space between slow/sleepy and a wild/wooly election rests the county commissioner contest between former Fruita Mayor Ken Henry and Fruita farmer, John Justman. The race is the open-seat election to replace Craig Meis.
The pace of election activity has been moderate, but the consequences of the race loom large. County commissioners in this state wield key decision-making powers. Picking the right candidate matters in this one.
For Republican activists, both Justman and Henry are well known personalities. Both are rooted in the community and both are more than up to the job. That, by the way, is a good thing. There are some races where none-of-the-above seems like the best choice, but the Justman-Henry race isn’t one such affair.
Before taking the plunge into elective office himself, Henry worked for myriad state and local campaigns. His professional background is in mortgage lending. Even though I grew up on the other side of the same church, I first got to know him well when he ran the state senate campaign of then-Mesa County Assessor Ron Teck. Teck won and Henry was a big reason why. He’s a shrewd politico who understands how elections work.
On the other side of the race is Justman, a corn farmer and what I call a Farm Bureau activist. He’s the guy on the board of the soil district, the irrigation district and the planning commission. That is, when he isn’t on the tractor or changing water.
Justman is earthy and real, never slick, always conservative.
I had one friend say Justman doesn’t look like a politician. Correct. He doesn’t and he’s not. And that’s a good thing.
Want a measure of the man? From that family farm out on K Road, Justman and his wife, Francis, raised boys who attended Berkeley and Stanford. That kind of thing doesn’t happen by accident.
As his success in rearing kids demonstrates, Justman is grounded, practical and smart. At a time when the family farm is itself in drought and becoming something of an endangered species, Justman has endured.
He wouldn’t brag about all that on the campaign trail, but I know a lot of people who are more than a little enamored by a guy who knows how to struggle through and get by.
Justman won’t be afraid to tell county administrators no when no is what fiscal conservatism is required.
When governments whine and moan and complain — when they say woe is me and turn their targets on taxpayers — Justman is the kind of guy who can explain with authority what tough times look like.
This is no small attribute. I have seen it time and time again. Bureaucrats create a phony crisis in pursuit of driving more taxpayer spending to their favorite program, or even worse, to fatten the compensation of government employees. Even sometimes well-intentioned conservatives get stuck in this morass.
Ken Henry should be smarter than to get caught in all that, but caught in all that government claptrap he recently was. The Daily Sentinel recently reported that he was making it a priority to give pay raises to county employees. He said government workers had endured a pay freeze for too long.
Anyone who has been following the civil war in Wisconsin — you know, the one where unions tried to destroy a gutsy governor for showing the courage to confront the imbalance in benefits for government employees — knows that those on the public dime have been getting a heckuva lot better deal than their private-sector counterparts.
There are a lot of families and working men and women for whom a pay freeze would be akin to a promotion. With unemployment still at startling levels, it seems to me that about the last thing any government needs is a public pay raise paid for by private taxpayers.
That isn’t to say that there aren’t a lot of hard-working men and women in county government, or that Ken Henry is some sort of a liberal. There are and he isn’t.
But it is to say we need more people in government who know the difference between government’s wants and government’s needs. John Justman, a man whose conservative values are rooted in the traditional values of our community, would be exactly that kind of fiscally prudent county commissioner.
Josh Penry is the former minority leader of the Colorado Senate. He is a graduate of Grand Junction High School and Mesa State College.