Poll finds deep divide in views on Garfield energy policies

A recently commissioned poll found a sharp, often partisan split among Garfield County residents over county commissioners’ handling of energy issues, with overall public opinion leaning against commissioners’ policies in several instances.

The Checks and Balances Project government and industry watchdog group released the results Wednesday, as voters in the energy-rich county prepare to make decisions in races involving two incumbent commissioners, John Martin and Mike Samson.

On several issues, “this poll shows a greater number of Garfield County voters disagree with the county commissioners than agree with them,” said Ellynne Bannon, spokesperson for the Checks and Balances Project.

Martin said poll questions were biased and in one case even inaccurate, and the agendas of parties behind such polls also must be considered.

“The day after the election, that’s the one poll you can believe,” Martin said.

Martin, Samson and Commissioner Tom Jankovsky are all Republicans. Democrats Sonja Linman and Aleks Briedis are challenging Martin and Samson, respectively.

Checks and Balances says both Democratic polling firm Peak Campaigns and Republican polling firm Bellwether Research & Consulting conducted the survey of 405 registered voters in the county. The voters included 134 Republicans, 97 Democrats and the remainder unaffiliated/other. Bannon said a genuine effort was made to lay out pro and con arguments in asking each poll question.

The poll found that 51 percent disagreed with the commissioners hiring a consulting firm in Texas to help it deal with the issue of federal greater sage grouse management and potential impacts on oil and gas development. Twenty-one percent were unsure. Critics say the firm is highly partisan.

Forty-six percent of those polled overall disagreed with the county participating in a closed-door meeting with industry and others on oil shale in Utah — an action Checks and Balances previously has questioned. Forty-two percent overall agreed with the county’s action, including 56 percent of Republicans.

The pollsters said 43 percent disagreed with the commissioners firing oil and gas liaison Judy Jordan, with more opposition to the decision than support for it coming from Democrats, unaffiliated voters and even Republican women. Thirty-one percent overall supported that action.

But Martin said that poll question is wrong because commissioners are responsible for hiring and firing in the case of just two county positions, and the liaison job isn’t one of them.

The poll found that 45 percent of those surveyed say the industry has too much influence over commissioners, while 46 percent think the industry is important and commissioners have shown independence in their energy decisions.

Briedis said he worries about industry influence on commissioners.

Commissioners “are not representing the residents,” he said.

David Ludlam, executive director of the West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association, said elected officials “who lead and make tough decisions will always face criticism.” His group is ready to work with whoever is in office after the election “to work towards balanced, thoughtful energy policies,” he said.


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