Early birds jump into races;
 Mesa County parties bide time

While political party officials in Mesa County on both sides of the aisle still are searching for candidates to run for various offices here, a few elsewhere in the region have already entered the fray.

Chief among those announcements is that a Democrat has now entered the race in an attempt to replace term-limited Sen. Gail Schwartz, a Snowmass Village Democrat whose district includes Delta County.

That candidate, Vail City Councilwoman Kelly Donovan, said she got into the race at the behest of the party in hopes of keeping the expansive seven-county district in Democratic hands.

“It’s a huge district with lots of diverse interests once you include coal in Delta and ski resorts and Gunnison and all of us grass farmers,” Donovan said. “It’s a lot of drive time in the truck.”

Unless there is a primary in both parties, she will square off against Orchard City Mayor Don Suppes, a Republican, who entered the race in April.

Both Suppes and Donovan said they planned to run positive campaigns, but agreed that outside groups likely will get involved in the race, and pump tons of money into it.

“The problem is, we’ll get a lot of groups who are going to throw money into this race, and as a candidate you just don’t have any control over that,” Suppes said. “I don’t think anyone’s going to benefit from a nasty campaign.”

Beyond those two, three sitting state lawmakers, none of whom are expected to face primaries, have created campaign finance accounts for next year’s races, effectively announcing their re-election bids.

They include Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, and Reps. Robert Rankin, R-Glenwood Springs, and Millie Hamner, D-Dillon.

Locally, longtime Palisade resident J.J. Fletcher plans to challenge incumbent Rep. Jared Wright, R-Fruita, for House District 55, but no Democrat has yet announced in that contest.

Meanwhile, Grand Junction Republican Rep. Ray Scott’s decision to replace Sen. Steve King, R-Grand Junction, who plans to run for Mesa County Sheriff, has created an opening in the county’s other House district.

Some Republicans whose names have been floated as possible contenders include County Assessor Barbara Brewer and County Commissioner Steve Acquafresca, both of whom will be term-limited and barred from running for their seats again next year.  Brewer said running for the statehouse was not on her radar and Acquafresca said he’s too busy with county business to consider such a bid.

Other elected leaders in the county aren’t looking toward Denver either. Both County Clerk Sheila Reiner and County Treasurer Janice Rich have launched their campaign committees to seek re-election for their second terms in those positions.

With the election 16 months away, the chairwomen of the Mesa County GOP and Democratic parties, Lois Dunn-Susuras and Jolynn Phillips, respectively, said they aren’t feeling too much pressure — yet — to find candidates. Still, they are asking around.

“It seems like we’d be prepared, but you know how that goes,” Dunn joked.

“We don’t have anyone who has announced or has said anything definite yet,” Phillips added. “But I’m optimistic that we will.”

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