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WATCH: Every Issues and Answers debate, broken out by race and issue

The 2020 Issues and Answers forum was organized through a partnership with the Glenwood Springs Chamber, KMTS and the Post Independent.

Moderated by KMTS News Director Ron Milhorn, the forum took place in Garfield County Commission Chambers on Oct. 15.

Garfield County commission races

District 3 candidates Leslie Robinson (Democratic challenger) and Mike Samson (Republican incumbent):

District 2 candidates John Martin (Republican incumbent) and Beatriz Soto (Democratic challenger):

Colorado House, Senate and Board of Education races

House District 57 candidates Colin Wilhelm (Democratic challenger) and Perry Will (Republican incumbent):

Senate District 8 candidates Karl Hanlon (Democratic challenger) and Bob Rankin (Republican incumbent):

Colorado State Board of Education District 3 candidates Joyce Rankin (Republican incumbent) and Mayling Simpson (Democratic challenger):

Local and statewide ballot measures

Glenwood Springs Fire Chief Gary Tillotson speaks in support of Ballot Measure 6A:

Colorado River District ballot issue 7A proponents Zane Kessler and Russ George:

Amendment B proponent Bernie Busher and opponent Lindsey Singer:

Proposition 114 advocate Rob Edward and opponent Bonnie Brown:

Proposition 118 supporter Hunter Railey with Colorado Families First and Proposition 118 opponent Diane Schwenke with Not Now Colorado:

Various PACs, lobbyists among donors to area candidates running for Colorado state offices

A quick comb of campaign contribution reports for both Democrat and Republican candidates running for state offices in Garfield County turns up the usual mix of lobbyists, political action committees and labor unions.

In the seven-county race for Colorado’s Senate District 8 seat, incumbent Republican Bob Rankin leads Democrat Karl Hanlon in total contributions, $124,425 to $77,752, according to financial reports filed with the Colorado Secretary of State earlier this week.

As of the Oct. 19 filing deadline, former state Rep. Rankin had spent $39,364 in his bid to retain the seat that he was appointed by the Republican Party to fill in January 2019 following former state Sen. Randy Baumgardner’s resignation.

Among Rankin’s notable contributors in the most recent reporting period are the American Family Insurance Colorado PAC, in the amount of $400. He also received $500 from the Colorado police union’s Small Donor Committee (SDC), $200 from the Colorado Cleantech PAC, and $400 from Gilbert Romero, lobbyist with Capitol Success Group.

Hanlon, meanwhile, has spent more than he’s received in contributions, at $84,937, as a result of a $12,000 loan Hanlon made to his campaign.

Among his notable contributors is the Service Employees International Union Local 105 SDC, which gave $1,000, and the Jefferson County Education Association SDC, which gave $500.

Also contributing to Hanlon’s campaign have been Ashley Badesch, lobbyist for Sustainable Strategies Committee in Denver ($100), Coloradans for Fair Representation ($600); the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees ($2,000), the Colorado Wins SDC ($500), and the Locomotive Engineers and Trainment PAC ($200).

House District 57 financials

In the race for the Colorado House District 57 (Garfield, Rio Blanco and Moffat counties) seat, incumbent Republican Perry Will reported $38,695 in campaign contributions to Democratic challenger Colin Wilhelm’s $9,536.

The Oct. 19 financial report for Will shows he had spent $25,742 in his bid to retain the seat he was appointed to fill when Rankin moved to the Senate seat.

Among Will’s notable contributions were $400 from 3rd District Congressional GOP candidate Lauren Boebert, who defeated five-term incumbent U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton in the June Republican primary.

Will also received $200 from the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, $400 from former state Rep. Gregg Rippy, owner of Grand River Construction, and $400 from biofuels-focused Renewable Energy Group PAC of Ames, Iowa.

Wilhelm loan his own campaign $5,800 and has spent $14,619 in his bid to win the state House seat. He has been heavily backed by the Garfield County Democratic Party, which gave $3,000 to the campaign, according to the finance reports.

State Board of Education

In the comparatively low-profile race for the state Board of Education from District 3, incumbent Republican Joyce Rankin (Bob Rankin’s wife) has raised $15,352 and spent $14,143 so far on her campaign.

Her Democratic challenger, Mayling Simpson, had raised $25,040 and spent $11,108, as of the Oct. 19 filings.

Notables for Rankin include $200 from Julie McKenna, a lobbyist from Evergreen; and for Simpson, $100 from Nathaniel Golich, a lobbyist for the Colorado Education Association, $250 from the La Plata County Democratic Party, and $300 from the Pikes Peak SDC.

jstroud@postindependent.com

Glenwood Springs councilors interview Ward 2 applicants

Glenwood Springs City Council interviewed three applicants for the vacant Ward 2 seat Monday afternoon.

Some recurring themes that came up were, for Monica Wolny, improving communication between council and residents and making Glenwood more family-friendly; for Ray Schmahl, focusing on infrastructure; and for Ingrid Wussow, not being loved to death by tourism and getting data from experts to assist in decision making.

Mayor Jonathan Godes asked the applicants 15 questions compiled from council and citizens in 45-minute interviews. Following are the applicants’ answers to 12 of them in the order the interviews were held.

The Glenwood Springs City Council is slated to meet at 1:30 p.m. Oct. 27 to select the Ward 2 councilor.

Goals in the next six months

Wolny said her goal would be to improve communication and be a voice for citizens, “to make a better relationship between the people and council and the city.” On some issues council should seek public input through polls or social media to act on what citizens want, she said.

“I have no goals of my own other than to assist council making the best decisions and plans for the city that we can come up with,” Schmahl said.

Wussow said her goal would be to integrate into council and to bring good listening ears.

Role of a councilor

Wolny said her role on council would be as a voice of the people. “I want communication to be between our citizens and the council, and that’s the only reason why I’m running.”

Schmahl said his role would be “reacting as rationally and as logically as possible to the issues that are before the council at this time.”

Wussow said her role would be as an advocate for her community.

Interaction with city staff and budget oversight

Wolny said that despite having been vocal about her views on council, she believes she can work together for solutions to problems. “If we work together and put all our thoughts together maybe it’ll be a better City Council,” she said.

Schmahl said he would like to help with budget decisions. “I would need to understand the budgeting process and the financial condition. … There has to be some hard decisions on where that money gets spent, and I would welcome being part of those decisions,” he said.

City staff can and should take direction from city council, Wussow said.

“Council is the employer of the city staff, and that’s how I want it. I want a top-down approach,” she said.

Big issues in the future

Wolny said there aren’t enough things for families to do in Glenwood Springs, which causes some families to leave after a few years. “I’m running because my kids are growing up in this area. It has to be a family-friendly place,” she said.

Both Schmahl and Wussow said one of the biggest issues in the next two years will be returning to normal following COVID-19, and transportation will be the biggest issue in 10 years. 

“The new bridge is already becoming obsolete or it wasn’t that much help to begin with. Gridlock is negatively affecting the character of the community,” Schmahl said.

Wussow said another long-term issue is “how to have tourism work for us without loving us to death.” 

2A and 7A

Council asked applicants how they feel about ballot issues 2A and 7A. Ballot issue 2A would provide a revenue stream for emergency services free from the restrictions of the Gallagher Amendment. Ballot issue 7A would raise taxes to benefit the Colorado River Water Conservation District.

Wolny and Schmahl both said they are opposed to repealing the Gallagher Amendment.

“Any increase in taxes is undesirable. I think citizens are taxed adequately and should get more return on their contributions,” Schmahl said.

“I am supportive of [2A] but I do think it was premature to put it on our ballot not knowing what direction Gallagher would go [statewide],” Wussow said. The statewide Amendment B vote would repeal Gallagher through all of Colorado. Wussow also supports 7A.

City fighting RMR mine

Wolny was in agreement with the city putting money to fight the mine.

Schmahl said the money the city has spent fighting the mine was not well spent. “I have a hard time seeing how that mine expansion is financially viable to begin with. … But if in fact [RMR] has a legal right as a property owner and have the mining rights to that stuff then fighting it and trying to say no is not as effective as trying to make sure that they do it with minimal impact,” Schmahl said.

Wussow is opposed to the mine and said a “no strip mine” bumper sticker was the first she had ever put on her car. “It’s that big of a deal,” she said. She said she doesn’t know enough about where the money the city spent fighting the mine went to have a strong opinion about whether it was put to good use.

City’s biggest economic opportunity and challenge

Wolny said future shutdowns from fires will be a big challenge for the city.

Schmahl said the city should focus on infrastructure to keep the city a healthy place to live. “I have some concerns that we may have overdone a good thing here, relying as heavily as we do on tourism that we’re trampling what made tourism so attractive to begin with,” he said.

Wussow said the greatest economic opportunity and threat are one and the same: tourism. “Tourism in general is our greatest opportunity … but that brings in more tourism which in turn brings in that ‘loving Glenwood to death’ component,” she said.

Role of city in supporting affordable housing

Wolny said the current economy makes it difficult for developers to build affordable housing. “Two years ago we got rid of affordable housing and we said developers no longer need to build affordable housing. … Maybe we wouldn’t have the problem now with all these apartments going up and none of them being affordable,” she said.

“I don’t think it’s the city’s role to try to manage or create affordable housing. … If businesses want employees that live in town they should pay them what it costs to live in town,” Schmahl said.

“We can encourage the incorporation of more townhomes and entry-level homes into [development] plans,” Wussow said, and municipal code already specifies that projects should have a diverse range of housing types.

Tourism vs. locals’ quality of life

Wolny said that the city should organize events in the off months to bring residents together. “We can have enough things in this town that not only will bring the citizens together but will bring the families out together, and that’s what we need,” she said.

“If the preponderance of the city’s income comes from tourists then it’s appropriate that we accommodate the tourists to continue that. If the bulk of the city’s income comes from people who live here then that appropriate amount ought to be dedicated to improving their quality of life,” Schmahl said.

“We need to understand that [tourism] supports the community” but also creates traffic problems, Wussow said. Though she said she doesn’t know what the answer is, the role of city is to balance tourism and local quality of life.

City’s role in filling big box stores

Wolny said there aren’t enough people locally spending money in those stores. “First you need to build that community sense and have people want to stay here and live here, and people have to want to spend here,” she said.

“The city should fully understand why those stores are empty. I suspect that part of it is they’re difficult to get into and out of,” Schmahl said.

“It’s the city’s responsibility to create an environment where these big box stores can thrive and want to be here,” Wussow said. “We can support initiatives to bring them in.” She recommended consulting with experts.

Vision for transportation in next 20 years

Wolny said the city needs another road to get traffic through town, such as Midland Avenue, but that she sees it as more of a county and state issue. As for traffic: “Deal with it, there’s nothing you can do,” she said.

“It doesn’t appear that the buses are working, so some big method of getting around town without having to go through town for those people that want to is the target for the big vision,” Schmahl said.

Wussow said that she doesn’t know a lot about transportation, but the city could get feedback from other communities and help from consultants.

City’s role in dealing with homelessness

Wolny said homelessness is bigger than a city issue. “I don’t believe this is a city issue, I believe this is a state issue. I don’t think the city has enough manpower, it doesn’t have enough funding. I don’t feel like the city is responsible,” she said.

Schmahl said the city should stop accommodating the homeless, but if the city decides that that is its role then money should be spent on the problem.

Wussow said homelessness is an interagency issue. “So many of these homeless camps are actually on county property. We have an issue that trickles down from county property. … Some accountability from the county would be a good start,” she said.  

cwertheim@postindependent.com

Soto leads Garfield commissioner campaign fundraising by a longshot at nearly $70,000

Backed by numerous individual contributions in a maximum amount of $2,500 from both near and far, Democratic challenger Beatriz Soto is leading all other candidates in the two races for Garfield County commissioner in terms of campaign contributions.

According to candidate finance reports filed with the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office by the Oct. 13 deadline, Soto, who is running for the District 2 seat, was by far the most flush with campaign cash among the five candidates seeking two county commissioner seats this fall, at $69,929.

A distant second was the other Democrat in this year’s county commissioner races, Leslie Robinson, at $38,759; followed by Robinson’s District 3 opponent, Republican incumbent Mike Samson, $8,725; District 2 Republican incumbent John Martin, $6,681; and District 2 unaffiliated candidate Brian Bark, $2,400.

At more than $79,000 total raised by the five candidates — and nearly $40,500 spent through Oct. 13 — the 2020 campaigns are also shaping up to be among the most expensive election cycles for the Garfield County Board of County Commissioners.

With the money still rolling in two weeks before Election Day, there’s a good chance Soto will top the single-year campaign fundraising record set by current Republican County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky a decade ago.

In 2010, Jankovsky upset two-term incumbent Democrat Trési Houpt for the District 1 commissioner seat. That year, he raised a total of $79,707 in campaign contributions, according to Secretary of State’s records, to Houpt’s $56,564.

Garfield County commissioner campaign contributions over the past decade

2010

Tom Jankovsky — $79,707

Trési Houpt — $56,564

2012

Sonja Linman — $32,811

John Martin — $24,749

Aleks Briedis — $16,122

Mike Samson — $14,884

2014

Tom Jankovsky — $48,213

Michael Sullivan — $12,782

2016

John Martin — $21,030

John Acha — $6,586

2018

Paula Stepp — $47,117

Tom Jankovsky — $33,725

Source: Colorado Secretary of State TRACER webpage

An inspection of candidate contribution reports shows that Soto has benefited in her campaign to unseat Martin from numerous contributions in the maximum amount of $2,500. Many of those have come from outside of Garfield County, including donors from Pitkin County and one from former 3rd District Democratic Congressional candidate James Iacino of Ridgway.

Iacino, owner of the Seattle Fish Co., also contributed $500 to Robinson’s campaign. Others who donated big to the campaigns of both Democrats in the Garfield County races included Adam and Melony Lewis of Aspen, and Steve Elder, John Powers, Jill Soffer and Jerome Dayton of Carbondale.

Both Democrats have also benefited from outside spending by the political action group of Conservation Colorado, both in support of their candidacies and against the Republican incumbents, according to followthemoneyco.com.

Neither Martin nor Samson had received individual donations at the maximum amount. Both did receive $500 from David Keyte, CEO of Caerus Oil & Gas, one of the primary energy companies operating in Garfield County.

Martin contributed $1,200 of his own money to his campaign, and also received $1,000 from Glenwood Springs businessman Mike Fattor, and several $500 contributions from notable Garfield County Republican Party members. The same was true for Samson.

Bark, as an unaffiliated candidate, contributed $1,400 to his own campaign and also received $1,000 from Phillip Meadowcraft of Glenwood Springs, according to the Oct. 13 filings.

jstroud@postindependent.com

Diane Mitsch Bush outraises GOP rival Lauren Boebert in 3rd District as Democrats pour money into the race

Democrat Diane Mitsch Bush outraised her Republican rival for the 3rd Congressional race, new finance reports show, another sign Democrats are looking for an upset.

Mitsch Bush, a former state lawmaker, raised $2.6 million from July 1 through the end of September, according to figures filed with the Federal Elections Commission. Republican Lauren Boebert raised $1.9 million, her campaign said.

Boebert’s surprising primary defeat of five-term incumbent Rep. Scott Tipton gave Democrats an opening in the contest, and outside money is pouring into the district — the only competitive congressional race in Colorado this year. 

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the party’s leading organization, is spending about $574,000 on TV ads opposing Boebert to help Mitsch Bush. And the Republican counterpart is expected to join the fray this week. Boebert, who owns Shooters Grill, a Rifle restaurant where servers carry guns, is attempting to galvanize conservatives and drew praise from President Donald Trump, but so far she has struggled to catch fire and raise big money.

Read the full story via The Colorado Sun.

The Colorado Sun is a reader-supported news organization dedicated to covering the people, places and policies that matter in Colorado. Read more, sign up for free newsletters and subscribe at coloradosun.com.

Garfield County District 2 commissioner race plays ‘new ideas’ vs. no to ‘new social order’

Changing times require new leadership, said Beatriz Soto, the Democrat challenging for the Garfield County commissioner seat held for 24 years by Republican John Martin.

“I thank John Martin for his service,” Soto said when the question of Martin’s long tenure came up during the Oct. 14 Issues & Answers Forum.

“But I think we should not have career politicians at a local level. … I do believe it’s time for new leadership, for new ideas and for new representation in Garfield County,” she said.

Responding to the question of whether it’s time for a change in county government, Martin said not the kind of change Soto proposes.

“I have been a mentor for 24 years … bringing issues to bear,” Martin said. “I want people to be involved and to be informed.

“People do wish to step forward, but they are waiting,” Martin said of would-be successors within the local Republican Party. “But they know at this present time that there is tremendous pressure to keep our present way of life. They are not ready, and not acceptable to a new social order.”

Garfield County Commissioner John Martin
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

Martin said that touches on everything from stewardship of county finances and preserving the revenues the oil and gas revenue brings in to diversifying the county’s economy and addressing housing needs — all topics that came up during the election forum.

A third candidate in the District 2 race, Brian Bark (unaffiliated) was unable to participate in the forum.

Co-sponsored by the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association, the Post Independent and KMTS radio, the forum included a mix of candidates and representatives discussing ballot questions both in person at the debate venue and online via Zoom.

Watch the full Issues and Answers Forum below:

Soto took Martin to task for the commissioners’ decision to spend $1.5 million in oil and gas mitigation funds to protect industry interests as the state writes new oil and gas rules in implementing Senate Bill 181. Oil and gas issues also dominated the debate between District 3 Commissioner Mike Samson and challenger Leslie Robinson.

“What’s happening is we’ve not diversified our economy to where we are not as reliant on this one single industry,” Soto said. “Continuing to invest in a bridge industry that we are supposed to move away from, … that is not the best use of our resources.”

Beatriz Soto, candidate for Garfield County commissioner.
Sierra Jeter photo

Soto noted that only 3% of jobs in Garfield County are in the oil and gas industry, but Martin pointed to the multiplier effect of that.

“It’s 20 percent of our economy, not 3 percent,” Martin said. “There’s a ripple effect to everyone when they’re buying a car, buying groceries, to paying your mortgage. Those jobs are important, as well, and we have to fight for that.”

Martin said it costs money to have expert voices at the table when the new oil and gas regulations are being discussed and decided upon.

Soto said that money would be better spent on economic development efforts aside from oil and gas.

“We don’t have people tasked just to do that,” said Soto, suggesting the formation of an economic development office. An advisory council, such as the county has, and designation of enterprise and opportunity zones are great, she said, adding they need to be marketed better.

The county should also consider borrowing money for various capital projects as a way to keep the economy ticking, Soto said.

“We are at a period in time where borrowing money at really low interest rates is something to consider. That’s something I would like to explore, and see if it’s viable,” she said.

Martin said the county has built the economy aside from oil and gas, investing in the Rifle-Garfield County Airport, the Center For Excellence that is based there and turning the county landfill into an enterprise fund.

“All of that drives other businesses,” he said, adding that the county is not in a position to fund an economic development department.

“I have a simple calling that’s not driven by politics or an over-stimulated ego,” Martin said in his closing statement.

“I believe citizens want that kind of government and are not ready to move over to a progressive, heavy-handed government,” he said.

Soto countered that not all of the voices in Garfield County are being heard or represented by the county commissioners.

“I want to bring innovative ideas to our county government,” she said. “I’m going to work really hard to include the people who have historically not been involved in shaping the future of our community … from our young farmers, to entrepreneurs, to incredibly talented young professionals, to our immigrant community … to build an economy that works for all of us.”

jstroud@postindependent.com

Garfield County Commission District 3 candidates offer voters stark contrast on energy development

Amid growing concerns over economic forecasts, Garfield County voters face a tough question: Will the region’s natural gas industry recuperate or should more economic diversification be the solution?

Incumbent Commissioner Mike Samson, a longtime Republican commissioner and avid supporter of the natural gas industry, seeks to maintain the District 3 commission seat he’s held for the past 12 years. Leslie Robinson, a Democrat and a longtime Rifle resident who’s spent years advocating for more oil and gas regulations, is his opponent.

One answer to where and how to use additional sources to make up for declines in oil and gas revenues involves “different industries and enterprises,” Samson said at Thursday’s Issues and Answers Forum.

“Among those are the economic development district I’ve worked hard with,” Samson said. “This will enable more federal funds to come in easily for businesses.”

“The small business district association, opportunity zones, enterprise zones…  all of these things we have given money to help with economic industry and benefits to all within our county.”

Robinson said she’s not entirely opposed to extractive industries but that there are other small businesses in the county that can help sustain the community during economic turmoil. This includes the American Soda plant in Parachute — “the largest baking soda mine in the United States” — and Osage Garden Greenhouses in New Castle.

“We have to grow from within,” she said. “… I think it’s important to help mom-and-pop retail businesses because they hire more employees than big businesses do. In the case of hemp, we need to grow, process, manufacture and do something with the waste – perhaps burn it for energy.”

Moderator and KMTS News Director Ron Milhorn pressed Robinson on a comment she made last month that it “would be great” if she “had the power to close the oil and gas industry.” Robinson said she was being sarcastic.

“One person, especially someone like me in Rifle, Colorado, has no control over the oil and gas market,” she said. “We’ve got hundreds of ships full of oil and full of liquid natural gas sailing the oceans because there’s nobody to buy it.”

“We have an oversupply of oil and gas and that’s why the markets are going down and that’s why companies in western Garfield County are having problems… they cannot compete.”

Samson said there’s no reason to be sarcastic regarding an industry that’s “helped our county immensely.” The tax base generated from natural gas has helped finance hospitals, schools, fire districts “and on and on and on,” Samson noted.

“With the absence of that (tax base) has hurt us a great deal,” he said. “I agree, the price of natural gas has gone down and that has something to do with it. But when you take someone like Leslie, who fights hard for Senate Bill 181 and goes to every air quality commission and every COGCC (Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission) meeting with a hammer against the companies that have given so much, that’s hurting us. And I’m not giving her a pass on that.”

“That’s a part of the problem there… and it has hurt our county. Our tax revenues have gone down greatly.”

Further speaking against 2019’s Senate Bill 181, which imposed tighter regulations on oil and gas production within Colorado, Samson said he thinks it’s because of the natural gas industry that Garfield County is the best county to live in, not only in the state but perhaps the country. This is a big reason why he supports using federal mineral lease funds to combat new regulations being implemented by the COGCC.

“We have to help those that have helped us so much. Natural gas companies have given a tremendous amount,” he said. “That’s why we’re in such good fiscal shape, is because we have all kinds of reserves… $130 million. But because of the tough times, by the end of next year we anticipate that will be $90 million.”

“I would ask you to find another county that is going to have $90 million in reserves by the end of 2021… we planned forward with this.”

For Robinson, one major example of her work to increase regulation of natural gas development came in 2019.

Ursa Operating Co. was approved to drill 24 new wells within the Battlement Mesa community. Robinson, who chairs the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance and is a strong supporter of 2,000-foot setback rules, said she helped “fight hard” to stop the drilling.

“I’ve been representing the people of Battlement Mesa affected by oil and gas less than 1,000 feet away from their homes and neighborhoods,” she said. “The county commissioners did not take into consideration the health and safety of these Battlement Mesa residents.”

“There’s no reason why natural gas companies have to drill within residential areas… there’s plenty of federal land to drill in.”

rerku@citizentelegram.com

Watch the full Issues and Answers forum below:

2020 Issues & Answers Forum

Want to make the most informed decision you can in this year’s elections? Join the Post Independent, Glenwood Chamber and KMTS for our Issues and Answers Forum at 5 p.m. today here, or on our site at postindependent.com/election.Attendees can expect to learn about the local ballot measures as well as Amendment B, Proposition 114, and Proposition 118. Candidates participating include Garfield County Commissioners District 2 and District 3; Colorado House of Representatives District 57; Colorado State Senate District 8; and State Board of Education.

Posted by Glenwood Springs Post Independent on Thursday, October 15, 2020

House District 57 candidates address Colorado’s urban-rural political divide

There’s a war on in Colorado, and it pits Front Range interests against the interests of the Western Slope, incumbent Republican state Rep. Perry Will said during Thursday night’s Issues and Answers Forum.

“They push their agenda, their policies, and they don’t really seem to care about the effect over here in the Western Slope,” Will said when asked about one of his key campaign messages.

Will, a longtime state wildlife officer from New Castle, is seeking formal election to the Colorado House District 57 seat that he was appointed to last year. His opponent is Democrat Colin Wilhelm, a Glenwood Springs lawyer.

War is a strong term, and one that isn’t helpful in forging political partnerships in Denver, Wilhelm said.

Yes, Democrats hold the majority in both the state House and Senate, as well as the Governor’s Office, Wilhelm said.

“That means you have to work within the boundaries you have,” he said. “It doesn’t mean you go to war against people and not compromise.

“… When you do that, you still have to fight for western Colorado and the 57th District,” Wilhelm said.

Will and Wilhelm agreed on some issues, including opposition to Proposition 114 regarding the formal reintroduction of gray wolves to Colorado, and whether Colorado should support the National Popular vote question. Both had serious reservations.

They also had similar ideas for diversifying the region’s economy.

“Public lands make up 75% of our district,” Will said, pointing to recreation opportunities and the outdoor industry and manufacturing opportunities around that.

Said Wilhelm, “We’re really beholden to single industries.” That can be different for different communities in the district, but the need to diversify applies to Garfield as much as Rio Blanco and Moffat counties, he said.

“I agree with increasing outdoor recreation businesses, and other small business,” Wilhelm said.

Both candidates said the region should embrace the one possible silver lining of COVID-19 — remote working by professionals and online entrepreneurs who are relocating to rural areas.

“People want to live here in western Colorado, because of what’s happening in the cities with lawlessness,” Will said. “People want to be safe.”

jstroud@postindependent.com

Watch the entire Issues & Answers Forum, co-sponsored by the Glenwood Springs Post Independent — including races for Garfield County commissioner, state Senate District 8, state Board of Education and information about ballot questions — here:

https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=3500465010013842

SD8 candidates spar over health insurance solutions, intentions regarding education

Republican incumbent state Sen. Bob Rankin and Democratic challenger Karl Hanlon found much to agree on during Thursday night’s Issues & Answers Forum, but differed sharply on one key issue — how to bring down health care costs in rural western Colorado.

Rankin, who is seeking formal election to the Senate District 8 seat he was appointed to last year, touted the reinsurance bill he co-sponsored as a way to reduce insurance costs on the individual market by 38%.

Coupled with cooperative partnerships such as the Summit County Alliance, which other West Slope counties are looking to join, it’s a good start, Rankin said. 

“It is structural,” he said. “Reinsurance is only good for about 8% of people statewide, and maybe 15% in our area, and it’s tremendous for single families.”

Rankin disagreed with Hanlon’s support of a public option within Colorado’s insurance marketplace.

“The public option is capping prices. … It’s not a solution, it is simply moving the cost around,” he said, adding those costs get passed on to those with private insurance.

Hanlon said reinsurance is a good short-term solution, but the public option creates needed competition in the insurance market, he said.

“You have to recognize that reinsurance was a bandaid on a gaping compound fracture,” Hanlon said. “It did have an impact on stabilizing rates … and bringing insurance costs down.”

Still, the cost per month for a typical family policy within SD8 is about $1,800, Hanlon said.

“That’s simply too much,” he said.

“I am a huge proponent of creating a public option, so that we can create some competition in the market, and so the Affordable Care Act can work the way it’s supposed to,” Hanlon said. 

Hanlon took Rankin to task over his request for a special session over the summer to “talk about defunding public schools, and using that funding for private individuals,” as Hanlon described it.

“That’s a classic voucher program,” he charged.

That wasn’t the intent at all, Rankin said.

“I never said I wanted to defund public schools,” he said. “We simply asked for special session to look at possible ways that we could go back to school (given the COVID crisis) and address the many options that are out there.”

Instead, he said he’s a “champion” for K-12 education, fighting for a better state funding formula than the current one, which he said favors urban school districts.

“I believe our funding formula is unconstitutional and immoral, because kids do not have equal opportunity,” Rankin said.

Rankin also countered charges contained in recent third-party political mailers accusing him of wanting to sell off public lands, and calling him a climate denier.

“I do not have intentions and do not advocate selling public lands, … and I also don’t deny climate change, just to get those two things on record,” he said.

Hanlon was asked to explain a campaign theme that seems to suggest Rankin is “looking back,” rather than forward-thinking.

“I don’t think it’s just Sen. Rankin who’s been looking back, I think unfortunately we have been looking back for a long time on the Western Slope and not pushing ourselves forward and taking the leadership role that we should,” Hanlon said.

Rankin said he considers himself a visionary, and said his bipartisan work on the Joint Budget Committee and the Education Leadership Council are examples of that.

There is a “Boulder-Democrat, Front Range agenda” that doesn’t favor the Western Slope of Colorado, Rankin said, adding he’s “uniquely positioned” to battle on that front.

Both candidates said they support Amendment 8 on the Colorado ballot to repeal the Gallagher Amendment regarding residential and commercial property assessment rates.

Rankin said he opposes Proposition 114 to restore the gray wolf in Colorado, while Hanlon said the timing is wrong, though he said the legislature has to be prepared to implement it if it passes.

“I anticipate that it’s going to pass,” he said. But the implementation should be delayed, if it does, and the reintroduction program has to be based on science when the time comes, Hanlon said.

Rankin said he stands opposed to the measure, and added he would introduce a bill if Prop 114 passes to release an equal number of wolves in Denver and Boulder as in the Colorado wilds.

jstroud@postindependent.com

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Colorado voters weigh whether to bring back the endangered gray wolf

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — While other Colorado residents spent their stay-at-home days binge-watching Netflix shows or trying to bake Instagram-worthy loaves of bread amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Larry Desjardin developed an obsession with wolves.

More specifically, Desjardin, a conservationist in Routt County, wanted to know how bringing wolves back to Colorado would impact the environment and what would be required to ensure a balance in the ecosystem.

Those are among the top questions posed by Proposition 114, a ballot initiative to reintroduce wolves, specifically the gray wolf, to Western Colorado. It marks the first time voters get to decide whether or not to bring back an endangered species, a decision that usually falls to wildlife managers. This has become a major point of contention for naysayers to the proposition, who claim it turns what should be a science-based approach into a political campaign.

The debate over wolf reintroduction has become one of the most controversial issues facing Coloradans, on par with polarizing opinions over climate change or gun laws.

“Even among the conservation community, people are split,” Desjardin said.

Proponents say wolves could improve the environment by restoring natural order and help to bring back an endangered species that once roamed freely across the West.

Opponents, particularly ranchers and hunters, worry about the threats to livestock and wildlife. Some also point to the natural migration of wolves into Colorado, contending that human intervention is unnecessary. Earlier this year, Colorado Parks and Wildlife confirmed the presence of a group of wolves in Moffat County near the Wyoming border.

People’s perception of wolves, either positive or negative, is often shrouded in some degree of myth. Those in favor of wolf reintroduction tend to see them as symbols of unadulterated wildness and their return to the landscape a way to reclaim a world tarnished by human intervention.

Opponents, on the other hand, believe wolves prey ruthlessly on livestock and pets.

At the same time, both sides claim their arguments are rooted in science and hard facts. All of this makes for a complicated, contentious debate that, ultimately, will be decided at the ballot box.

A brief history of wolves in the West

Before the arrival of Europeans, wolves lived in abundance across North America. As settlers moved across the continent in the 1800s and 1900s, looking to carve out farmland and build communities, they decimated wolf populations.

The wolf emerged as a barrier to creating a civilized society. Even President Theodore Roosevelt, a man heralded for his conservationism, called the wolf a “beast of waste and desolation.”

By the 1940s, with the help of government-subsidized wolf extermination programs, the animals were almost extinct, disappearing entirely in Colorado.

With the birth of the modern conservation movement, public perception of the animals warmed. Wolves were one of the first species protected with the passage of the 1973 Endangered Species Act. At the time, most packs lived in northern Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan.

When U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials started reintroducing wolves back to Yellowstone National Park in 1995, it marked the first deliberate effort to return a top-level carnivore to such a large habitat. It has been largely successful, with wolf populations thriving and once again spreading across the West.

Understanding Proposition 114

This year, Coloradans garnered enough support for wolves to put the matter to a public vote in November. Proposition 114, if approved, would task the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission, a governor-appointed citizen board that sets regulations and policies for state parks and wildlife programs, with devising a plan to reintroduce gray wolves on land west of the Continental Divide by the end of 2023.

The plan must include a system to pay fair compensation to livestock owners for any losses due to wolves, according to the proposal.

The Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission opposes intentional wolf reintroduction to the state. In a 2016 resolution, the commission said it recommends allowing the animals to return naturally.

Parks and Wildlife, the agency that carries out the commission’s regulations, has decided to restrict its role in the matter to providing scientific information about wolves without expressing an opinion on the ballot initiative.

Many questions remain about how the program will look or operate, which will not be answered until, and if, the proposition passes.

State wildlife officials estimate the reintroduction and compensation programs would cost about $5.7 million during the next eight years, but it is not clear where Colorado would get the money. It also is not clear exactly where in Colorado the wolves would be introduced.

For now, wolf management is under the jurisdiction of Fish and Wildlife. This will continue to be the case until the species is delisted from the Endangered Species Act.

In the Northern Rockies, reintroduction programs have fostered sustainable populations to the point that wolves already have been delisted as an endangered species. Idaho, Wyoming and Montana have since allowed wolf hunting to keep the predators in check.

President Donald Trump has announced plans to remove gray wolves from the Endangered Species List by the end of the year and return authority to the states, but the move has faced strong opposition. It is uncertain how long the process could take, and implementation of any final decisions could face lengthy lawsuits.

Nonetheless, Coloradans have a choice before them, so it is important to understand the potential effects of Proposition 114.

Effects on wildlife and hunting

How wolves could impact Colorado ecosystems is top of mind for both proponents and adversaries of wolf reintroduction.

During his days of pandemic-caused isolation, Desjardin devised a mathematical-based simulation to measure some of these effects.

“Newton invented calculus while he was in lockdown for the plague. I only built this wolf simulator,” joked Desjardin, who also serves as president of Keep Routt Wild.

In a presentation recently to the Routt Board of County Commissioners, he claimed it is the only quantitative evaluation on the impact of wolves in Colorado.

Dr. Matt Holloran, a biologist who grew up in Routt County and now works on the Front Range, worked with Desjardin to develop the simulator. Both said they are taking a neutral position on Proposition 114.

What their simulator essentially shows is that Colorado could accommodate wolves, but it would require a reduction in hunting for the animal’s primary prey, namely elk, deer and moose. If 100 wolves were introduced, the state would need to decrease the number of hunting licenses for elk by about 5% to offset the number killed by wolves, according to their data. Bringing more wolves would require a proportional decrease in hunting, Desjardin said.

Less hunting would mean less revenue from hunters. Using data on the value of the hunting industry in Colorado, Desjardin estimated wolf introduction could cost $24 million in lost economic output.

This data is speculative, but Desjardin said his simulation was able to predict elk population and hunting rates in Montana. From 1995 to 2018, elk populations in the state increased by about 50%, while the number of elk killed by hunters rose just 20%.

It is important to note that, when it comes to economics, states that allow wolf hunting generate additional revenue through those licenses. In the 2016-17 hunting season alone, Montana raised $393,000 from wolf licenses, according to an annual report.

There also could be money generated from wolf-centric tourism. One study from 2008 estimated that wolf-watching activities in Yellowstone National Park generated a combined $35 million annually for Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.

In a report, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks said wolf impacts on big game are variable from year to year and from one habitat to another. In some areas, elk herds have decreased since wolf reintroduction, while in others they have grown or stayed about the same.

“Wolf predation by itself does not initiate declines in prey populations, but it can exacerbate declines or lengthen periods of prey population rebounds,” according to the report.

Eric Washburn, a local hunter and proponent of wolf reintroduction, claims the animals can improve game herds. A couple years ago, he had to dispose of a mule deer buck he shot after it tested positive for chronic wasting disease. The contagious neurological disease has been documented in at least 27 Colorado counties.

Because wolves tend to target sick or dying prey, some experts believe they could help reduce the number of infected big game. Others are more skeptical, arguing that adding more predators would cause further stress to ailing herds.

Wolves’ benefits to the land are far-reaching, Washburn claims. By changing big game herd behavior, other species, from willow trees to songbirds to beavers, have better chances to thrive.

He also attributes a rise in hunting revenue for Idaho, Montana and Wyoming at least in part to the existence of wolves.

“The story is really only good,” Washburn said.

Effects on ranching

The story does not sound so good to rancher Jeff Meyers, a member of the Routt County Cattlemen’s Association. He argues Proposition 114 poses “unacceptable levels of risk” for local ranching families.

As Meyers told the commissioners, losing livestock to wolves is not a likelihood — it is a certainty.

“The question is will the compensation be fair,” he said.

Though Proposition 114 would establish funding to compensate ranchers, Meyers is skeptical it will actually offset the cost of losing his Angus cattle. As he explained, raising the animals in a high-altitude climate is no cheap task, and a statewide compensation program might not offer payments commensurate with all of the work he puts into the meticulous breeding and rearing of his livestock.

Particularly as ranchers already are struggling with rising taxes and water shortages, Meyers worries what an added stressor would do to local agriculture.

Even a reintroduction proponent like Washburn concedes wolves will kill some livestock, but he argues the losses are comparatively small.

In 2015, for example, wolves in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho killed 148 cattle, 208 sheep, three dogs and three horses, according to a report from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a tiny fraction of the millions of livestock lost each year due to non-predator causes, such as illness or weather.

As some agricultural leaders argue, the number of livestock lost to wolves likely is underreported because it can be difficult to prove.

What bothers Meyers is that, in his view, the majority of people supporting Proposition 114, namely people in urban areas or on the Front Range, would not be directly affected by it.

“It’s not your calves that are going to be killed. It’s not your lambs. It’s not your colts. It’s not your border collie,” Meyers said. “You will be voting to be killing someone else’s lambs, someone else’s calves, someone else’s best friend.”

Only time will tell

In the end, it is impossible to know exactly how Proposition 114 will affect the state.

While Idaho, Montana and Wyoming provide a certain degree of similarity to Colorado, each state manages wolves differently. The success of reintroduction in one state does not guarantee its success in another. Wildlife management does not exist in a vacuum, and a multitude of environmental, social and political forces could sway outcomes.

The public seems to be in wide support of the measure. An online survey last year conducted by Colorado State University showed 84% of residents would vote in favor of wolf reintroduction, while 16% would vote against.

Groups supporting Proposition 114 have deep pockets, with the Rocky Mountain Wolf Action Fund raising more than $1.7 million in the past two years, mostly from out-of-state donors.

On the opposing side, two groups, Coloradans Protecting Wildlife and the Stop the Wolf PAC, have raised about $700,000 collectively.

November will show whether the numbers speak for themselves.