A tale of two West Slope races, 
one unconventional, one familiar

The race to replace outgoing Mesa County commissioner Craig Meis is something of an oddity. In a day-and-age when many voters would love to have the option of voting for “none of the above,” this is the peculiar race where a goodly number of voters are probably wrestling with whom to support because “all of the above” are intelligent, compelling candidates.

It’s no secret that I have an affinity for John Justman. If you’ve met him, you like him. He’s the rare breed in politics of understated and smart, sophisticated but in overalls. Justman is a true political outsider. He doesn’t kiss rings or anything else. He’s just a conservative fella who would like to play a role in his community.

Justman is what you would expect from a Fruita farmer who raises feed corn, oh and two boys who went on to Ivy League schools — he is the real deal, authentic through and through.

Jana Gerow, one of the two independent candidates in the race, has always struck me as a sincere and capable person. During my time in the Legislature, she was active in the Grand Junction Chamber’s legislative committee. I always liked her because she was the gal in the room who asked the tough question that needed to be asked — on politics, and policy.

I remember a number of occasions having spirited discussions with her about whether or not she should vote for Bernie Buescher, the well-regarded local Democrat that Republicans simply had to beat if they wanted to break the Democrats’ monopoly on power. Jana was savvy enough to know that party mattered. There was, after all, no check on runaway Democratic power at the time, and unfortunately for Buescher, he was a cornerstone of that governing coalition. But she also found Buescher compelling. I don’t recollect where she came down in the end, but I always admired her for asking the tough question and taking her vote seriously. Politics needs more serious people.

Serious is a fitting word to describe John Leane as well. He is a serious candidate. Leane, also running as an independent, is smartly trying to appeal to the independent instincts of Mesa County voters. “I want to be a commissioner that represents people not only from all locations in the county, but all political affiliations in the county,” Leane told The Daily Sentinel earlier this year.

A former Democratic county commissioner, Leane says he is sick of partisanship. Heck, I’m a partisan and I’m sick of partisanship. It is a compelling message.

What is less clear is what drove Leane to become independent, or what he is offering economically conservative voters in Mesa County. Will he be a moderate like John Hickenlooper on energy issues, even if it means standing up to Ken Salazar and the Sierra Club? What about taxes? Did he eschew the Democratic Party’s endless appetite for more taxes when he left the party? As county commissioner, would he be more Bill Grant or Janet Rowland?

With one solid Republican, two quality independent candidates, and no Democrats, the race for county commissioner is unorthodox for sure. Voters who prefer more traditional Republican-on-Democrat action have an election they can sink their teeth into in the contest between Congressman Scott Tipton and State Rep. Sal Pace. In a divided America, this race is all too familiar.

Tipton is on TV slamming Pace for supporting Obamacare. Being attached to Obama and winning in the 3rd Congressional District is the electoral equivalent of doing cartwheels uphill on Red Mountain Pass — in January, during an ice storm, through gale force winds. It’s doable but not near the top of the list of best bets in Vegas.

Pace is shrewd. He knows his only chance to cut through a rotten political environment is to become the nonpartisan problem-solver guy. The trouble is, Pace isn’t.

He’s affable, but he is party line. When Nancy Pelosi brings out the goodies (committee assignments, appointments and perks) you can bet he will do exactly as he’s told.

How do we know? His four years in the Legislature prove it. Higher taxes, more regulations, TABOR is the problem, more cash for government is the answer — same old Democratic song.

Pace is a skilled candidate, but no amount of skill can mask a party-line liberal record in a year when party-line and liberal are scarlet letters. Scarlet, like Red Mountain Pass.

Josh Penry is a former minority leader of the Colorado Senate. He is a graduate of Grand Junction High School and Mesa State College.


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