King’s experience and record of fighting for conservative causes set him apart

If you’re into things like mushroom clouds, high-speed collisions and collateral damage, Republican primary season in Mesa County rarely disappoints.

The Republican primary process in my hometown isn’t a contact sport. It’s a collision sport.

No one gets a free pass.

Some high-and-mighty types in my party call primaries a diversion — a waste of resources better spent defeating Democrats.

Occasionally that concern has merit, but in a de facto one-party town like our own, a little intramural rough-and-tumble is good for the system.

Tough primaries force would-be office holders to make their case, take their licks, show their mettle. No one should get a free pass into an important electoral office, at least in my view.

The toughest primary taking place this year in Mesa County is the contest for sheriff between Steve King and John Pennington.

First a word about the job of sheriff: The job really matters.

If you elect a bone-headed county commissioner, there are always two other commissioners at the ready to set things straight. Same is true for jobs like state representative and state senator. Checks and balances make it hard for one person to screw things up too awful bad.

Those Founding Fathers of ours were pretty smart, weren’t they?

But if there is one job in our little corner of the republic that boasts real power and real responsibility, it is that of the sheriff. Here in Colorado, the position receives its powers straight from the Constitution. And save for an oath to that Constitution and the limited budgeting powers that county commissioners have over the sheriff’s office, sheriffs exercise those powers with broad independence.

There are other important reasons the sheriff’s gig matters a lot.

Competent sheriffs are the difference between safe communities and something less enviable. If your sheriff doesn’t do the job well, your kids aren’t safe, meth houses proliferate and bad people do bad things in scale.

All of which is prologue to the sheriff’s primary.

Pennington has played the role of insurgent. He’s revved up the base with tough critiques on the overreaching power of the federal government. Pennington loathes the Environmental Protection Agency. Three cheers for that.

I suspect if he were running for a different office, Pennington’s path would be clearer — his message has resonated with many. But Pennington, whose background is in social work, lacks something that a sheriff must have — real law enforcement experience. If elected, Pennington would be required by law to get on-the-job training to close his experience gap.

To compensate for this deficit in law enforcement experience, Pennington’s people have questioned King’s conservative credentials. Pennington is the tough guy. King is Mr. Establishment, they whisper.

But this is so much rubbish.

In the first place, King is a martial arts expert. Like Clint Eastwood, he doesn’t need big talk to prove his chops.

More importantly, King has a distinguished record of law enforcement service, first with the Grand Junction Police Department and then with the sheriff’s office he now seeks to lead. That doesn’t make him somehow entitled to the job. It does, however, make him qualified.

And to those who question whether King is a conservative fighter, my answer is: Ask Michael Bloomberg and his lobbyists.

During the fight over gun control at the Legislature last year, King roared with fire and fury, earning statewide and national attention. His leadership and that of a handful of others in the Senate literally turned the Democrats’ gun-grabbing overreach into a political blood bath that culminated in the recall of two senators.

When Bloomberg rolled into town, guess who put his nose right into the New York mayor’s metaphorical face? Steve King. King turned the trick again this year, winning a high-profile fight with Gov. John Hickenlooper that resulted in a huge slug of new funding for firefighting planes, a priority the governor for two years had refused to fund.

King has plenty of experience with budgets. For the two years that Republicans shared power in the Legislature, King and Republicans actually cut budgets and kept the trains moving forward. That’s a skill that the new sheriff will need during these tough economic times.

As for Pennington, I’m sure he will keep fighting until the votes get counted. Good for him and good for the system, I say. Important offices should be earned. But when those votes get counted, I suspect it will be King’s law enforcement experience and long résumé of fighting for conservative causes that put him over.

It’s a record that would suit the next Mesa County sheriff well.

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


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You know what the best part of this column is? The part about King fighting to reduce Colorado’s budget. Colorado’s budget got smaller because Colorado’s revenues decreased. Why? Because people who are on unemployment don’t pay income taxes at the level that they do when gainfully employed. Nobody had to fight to shrink the budget, it shrank because it was the only way to balance it.

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