Race on to replace Wright in Statehouse
If the newcomer to the race to unseat Rep. Jared Wright in House District 54 plays his cards right, he not only could defeat the incumbent, but an unaffiliated challenger, too.
That is, if Grand Junction attorney Yeulin Willett turns out to be every bit the conservative Republican he claims, said that third challenger, J.J. Fletcher.
Fletcher gave up a chance to challenge Wright for the GOP nomination for the district when he left the Republican Party late last year because he didn’t believe he would get a fair shake in the Republican caucuses.
“I’ve never met him and I don’t know a thing about his platform,” Fletcher said. “But good. He’ll give Jared some good competition in the primary.”
Fletcher said one of his main reasons for entering the race was to get rid of the Fruita Republican, primarily because of information that surfaced about him in 2012 after it was too late for any other Republican to challenge him for the seat.
Not long after primaries were over that year, The Daily Sentinel broke the news that Wright had resigned his job as a Fruita police officer because he was about to be fired. An internal affairs report said he would be terminated because of issues with integrity and honesty.
A few weeks later, the newspaper published another story about Wright’s bankruptcy, showing that he was $74,000 in debt because of such things as classic automobiles, expensive jewelry and a $1,000-a-year tanning salon membership.
Rather than take personal responsibility for that debt, Wright told state party leaders that it was because of the Obama economy.
As a result, numerous people in the Grand Valley, including prominent Republicans, called for him to resign and allow the party to name his replacement.
He went on to defeat the only challenger in the race, Libertarian candidate Tim Menger, who got 41 percent of the vote. Libertarian candidates generally don’t win more than 2 or 3 percent.
With Willett now in the race, Fletcher said he is hopeful that Wright won’t get the nomination for his own seat, but is stopping short of saying he’ll drop out if that happens.
Getting rid of Wright isn’t his only reason for running.
“We want to make sure our voice is heard about the economy and job creation,” said Fletcher, who plans to meet with Willett as soon as the two can arrange a meeting.
“I guess we’ll find out through the primaries, so we’ll find out about this guy (Willett). Obviously, I want to do what’s best for the district and for our conservative voice. Whoever’s the strongest candidate who can push job creation and get people back to work, especially in the energy sector, that’s who I’m going to stand behind.”
Willett said he is that man.
The Delta native and longtime Grand Junction resident who’s never ventured into politics before said he fits all elements of the conservative checklist: A fiscal and social conservative who believes the district’s highest priority right now is job creation and economic development.
“As far as being able to bring a strong conservative voice to the statehouse, I am not timid,” said Willett, who plans to go through next month’s GOP caucus process rather than petition onto the ballot. “I am able to enunciate with firmness and reason all of those principles, state them steadfastly when needed, and be reasonably flexible on some other (issues) to get economic growth to the West Slope.”
Willett said he supports an “all-of-the-above” approach on energy development, would push rural issues such as agriculture promotion and help the region do all it can to promote its natural resources, not only for its tourism possibilities, but also its attraction to businesses to locate here.
Wright, however, says he’s already doing all that.
The freshman has repeatedly said he’s representing all of the conservative principles that Fletcher and Willett are talking about.
Still, he said he welcomes the primary challenge.
“It has been an honor to represent my constituents, and I’m proud to live in a country that honors the will of the people through the election process,” Wright said.
“I’m pleased that Mr. Willett and others have taken a spirited interest in representing our communities in House District 54. I know Mr. Willett has a genuine interest in serving the people of his longtime home just like I do, and I welcome him and his ideas into this election process we are so fortunate to enjoy as Americans.”
Still, Wright has been criticized for not carrying bills through the Legislature during last year’s session or so far this year that have a direct impact on his district.
Many of those measures have been conservative to be sure, such as opposing last year’s gun laws, but he’s also sponsored legislation that has no local impact, such as background checks at marijuana stores that don’t exist here.
Calmly waiting on the sideline is the fourth person in the race, Democrat Brad Webb, an Orchard Mesa vintner and relative newcomer to the region.
Webb said regardless of who he faces in November, it won’t impact the message he is promoting, which he said is everything those three men are saying, just not with the same conservative voice.
“I’m not going to change my philosophy or what I’m trying to do here,” Webb said. “I’m just looking forward to that (concession) call from any one of those three gentlemen on election night.”