By JIM SPEHAR

This is the column that wasn’t going to be.

I’d already messaged Andy Smith at The Daily Sentinel. “No column this week…it’s been a long week.” Then, after sleeping in until mid-morning following a couple of long travel days, I looked at the headlines atop the front page of Friday’s Sentinel and a related article on page 2 while downing a late breakfast.

“Clerk back in Junction, vows to fight,” said those big black and white letters at the top of page 1. “Costs of counting ballots multiple times could mount” was the similar headline leading the second page. Thursday’s Sentinel editorial about what happens when institutions come under attack added some additional spark.

After more than a month on the lam, Tina Peters decided to come home and face the music. There she was, behind the lectern at the Appleton Christian Church, an appearance live-streamed on the Stand for the Constitution Facebook page, at what was billed as a “Stand with Tina” rally.

“I’m so happy to be home,” she said as local Republican Party leaders, including party chair Kevin McCarney, looked on, “this is where my heart is and where we’re going to take back America.” Her head, evidently, is still resting on a My Pillow. Her mind is obviously still engrossed in election conspiracy theories that have yet to produce serious proof of wrongdoing in nearly 200 court challenges nationwide.

While the welcome wagon may have been out at the Appleton Christian Church on Thursday evening, it’s not hard to imagine distinctly different feelings from some others who’ll now deal with Peters face to face while attempting to make an omelet from all the eggs she’s broken. Include not only our county commissioners but Secretary of State Jena Griswold, who’s removed Peters from election-related oversight, as well as former Secretary of State Wayne Williams and Mesa County Treasurer (and former Clerk and Recorder) Sheila Reiner, who share responsibilities for making certain all’s well with the upcoming November elections. Sympathize with county administrator Pete Baier for the next little while.

There will be a few waiting with open arms. Some welcomes might not find be friendly as the GOP choir at the church. Those would be local, state and federal law enforcement authorities looking into possible criminal violations of elections-related laws. A couple of her deputies, one already facing charges, might have some company. Defense attorneys might already be counting potential fees.

Those hoping for this Peters-caused turmoil to end are sure to be disappointed. If anything it’ll increase, leaving most of us still answering queries from distant friends and relatives asking “What the hell is going on in Mesa County?” With Peters out of hiding, national news stories will likely continue, something she and her supporters likely see as appealing as the rest of us find them disappointing.

“Can’t they just fire her?” a well-known local businessman, a prominent traditional Republican, asked me during a meeting Thursday morning. The short answer is “No.” As my friend Ron Teck and my high school classmate Riecke Claussen learned together in our previous lives, the only control commissioners have over a fellow elected official is the budget.

This fiasco comes with a price tag. Commissioners are unnecessarily paying Wayne Williams because they needed to paw and snort over Griswold’s appointment of Reiner to temporarily oversee elections. As detailed in that second Sentinel story Friday morning, it might cost an additional $100,000 or more to triple check balloting in the upcoming election just to disprove unfounded premature worries that voting might be tainted. All seeming well and good as far as supposedly fiscally responsible local Republican Party leaders are concerned.

Finally, it’s important to remember some facts from the Sentinel’s editorial. Peters herself said shortly after the 2020 election that it had gone off without a hitch. No one, including Peters, ever questioned the integrity of Dominion’s voting machines until conspiracy theorists started making unproven allegations. While commissioners might have forcefully rejected those claims early on and avoided prolonged agony at the hands of a few vocal conspiracy theorists, it took them far too long to develop the spine to do so.

Here’s what’s really at stake, courtesy of Commissioner Cody Davis.

“I’m fearful this movement is going to have fewer and fewer people voting. I don’t want that. I want everybody voting. Nobody in the world should feel uncomfortable about the vote this fall.”

We can only hope — no thanks to Tina Peters.

Comments welcome to speharjim@gmail.com.