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House District 57 candidates differ on energy transition, health insurance, governor’s COVID-19 response

Colorado’s “Just Transition” efforts at helping the state’s coal-producing counties recover from the move away from fossil fuels is “bad policy” and another unfunded mandate, Colorado’s House District 57 representative says.

“The state’s role in the energy transition should not be to send out bad policy from the Capitol that affects communities the way it does,” Rep. Perry Will said when the question came up at Saturday’s Club 20 debate, which was live-streamed from Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction.

“We need to plan and figure out how we’re going to do this,” Will said. “This should have been well thought-out, instead of being dictated with [goals for] renewables and this ‘Green New Deal’ … people don’t understand how that affects these communities.”

Will, from Silt, is the Republican running for election to the HD57 seat (Garfield, Rio Blanco and Moffat counties) in the Nov. 3 election. He was appointed to the vacant post in early 2019.

His challenger is Democrat Colin Wilhelm, an attorney in Glenwood Springs who had an unsuccessful bid for the same seat two years ago against former state representative and now state Sen. Bob Rankin.

Wilhelm said the energy transition plan and its timeline are being driven by the companies that run the coal mines and the coal plants, not the state.

“Market forces are going to be driving us to produce less coal and transition away from it,” Wilhelm said. “Instead of fighting that tooth and nail, we need to work at keeping the jobs that we have, keep the facilities open as long as we can, and at same time bring in new economic drivers.”

Economic issues impacting northwest Colorado, related to the energy transition, challenges in the oil and gas industry and the statewide recession brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and other factors dominated the Saturday debate.

The full debate can be viewed on Club 20’s YouTube channel, along with that between SD8 candidates Rankin and Karl Hanlon, other Western Slope house district seats and the state Board of Education race between Joyce Rankin and Mayling Simpson.

Rep. Will did acknowledge when the question of the critical issues facing the state came up, that the region does need to be less reliant on fossil industries.

“When it comes to energy needs, we have so much unrenewable energy that we’re focusing too much on that and it’s killing some of our counties,” Will said.

As for general economic recovery, “We have got to get people back to work and keep our economic engine going. Everything hinges on good-paying jobs, and we need to create new jobs, especially in our rural areas, and bring in new industry,” Will added.

Wilhelm agreed with Will that, in a addition to efforts at rebuilding the economy, restoring K-12 education funding and bringing more state transportation dollars to the Western Slope are high priorities.

“I agree there is a battle between the Front Range and the West Slope, and we need hard voices out there willing to go to battle and get those needs met,” Wilhelm said.

Will and Wilhelm also agreed in opposing the statewide wolf reintroduction measure that is on the Nov. 3 ballot (Proposition 114).

With more than 40 years as a state wildlife officer, Will said “there’s no room for wolves in Colorado.

“It’s not fair to the wolves, because we do not have the open space and the country they need … and it will cause some real harm to our current wildlife,” he said. “We are not Wyoming, we’re not Idaho and we’re not Montana.”

Wilhelm agreed. He noted that wolves are naturally migrating into the northern reaches of the state anyway, so a reintroduction effort is unnecessary and expensive, he said.

“I don’t see the need to spend money when we’re in a budget shortfall,” Wilhelm said. “There are more important ways to focus our money on now, like schools and roads.”

In the cross-examination portion of the debate, where candidates can ask questions of each other, Wilhelm grilled Will on his non-support of a public health insurance option.

“The number one thing facing rural counties … is to protect our hospitals, facilities and our clinics,” Will said, noting his opposition to pricing controls that could come with a universal health-care plan.

“You can have the best health coverage in world, but if there is no facility to treat you, it’s useless,” Will said, adding that securing “good-paying jobs” with health benefits is his preferred approach.

Will grilled Wilhelm regarding Democratic Gov. Jared Polis’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the use of executive orders to keep businesses closed or operating at limited capacity.

“The lockdown and safer at home were prudent to protect our vulnerable. But do you think it went too far?,” Will asked.

Wilhelm said the governor’s actions pass the legal test to protect public health and keep the disease in check, and also not stress the hospital system.

“Take the mask mandate, for instance,” he said. “There is a compelling government interest there to keep people safe, and keep our hospitals functioning.”


State Senate District 8 candidates spar over popular vote, public option health insurance during Club 20 debate

Karl Hanlon, the challenger for Colorado’s Senate District 8 against incumbent Bob Rankin, says he supports a statewide public health insurance option as a way to make costs equitable for the Western Slope.

“My colleagues offered a public option, which I oppose,” stated Rankin, the Republican former House District 57 representative who was appointed to the SD8 seat last year and is now seeking formal election.

“I had been part of the bipartisan team up to that point, but departed on the public option because it sets price controls and mandatory participation,” Rankin said.

Asked if he supports a public health insurance option, Hanlon, the Democratic challenger for the seat, said he does, as long as it’s one “that works out here in western Colorado.”

Under Colorado’s private insurance marketplace, Connect for Health, Hanlon noted that, for a family of four in SD8 to purchase a catastrophic health insurance plan, it would cost $1,800 per month, plus an $8,000 deductible.

Given that high cost, “I’m a proponent of taking steps that absolutely reduce costs, and that would be the public option,” Hanlon said.

Hanlon also said he’s not sure he could support Rankin’s Cost of Care bill in place of the public option, calling it “an industry drafted bill that’s favorable again to the Front Range, and doesn’t really work out here.

“… A state option is a way to get there,” Hanlon said.

The question was posed during the “cross examination” portion of Saturday’s Club 20 debates, where candidates are allowed to ask questions of each other.

The debates, inviting Western Slope candidates for state offices, were held live in Grand Junction at Colorado Mesa University and web-streamed for viewers on Club 20’s Facebook page and YouTube channel.

All of Saturday’s recorded debates, including those for several state House districts and the 3rd District representative on the state Board of Education, can be viewed on either platform.

Rankin and Hanlon both hail from the Carbondale area and are vying in the Nov. 3 election for the SD8 seat that includes Garfield, Moffat, Rio Blanco, Routt, Grand, Jackson and Summit counties.

Hanlon is a municipal and special district government and water attorney and, with his wife Sheryl Barto, runs the Smiling Goat Ranch, providing equine therapy services for autistic children and veterans with PTSD.

Rankin is a former small business owner and military veteran who has served 10 years in the Colorado Legislature, and is the senior member of the Joint Budget Committee. His wife, Joyce Rankin, serves on the state Board of Education from the Third District.

She, too, was part of the Saturday debates along with her Democratic challenger, Mayling Simpson from Steamboat Springs.

Popular vote for president

In the SD8 debate, Hanlon and Bob Rankin also differed on the question of support for Colorado’s National Popular Vote question, Proposition 113.

“I think it’s in fact unconstitutional,” Rankin said of the provision that several states are considering to do away with the Electoral College system of deciding the office of President of the United States state-by-state, in favor of using the nationwide popular vote.

“The constitution does not allow a state to modify the federal constitution. That’s what this does,” Rankin said, offering that, if it passes, it will likely be challenged and overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.

“I do not want us to be a subsidiary of California,” Rankin said in an oft-repeated argument that the popular vote would give too much power to more-populated and generally more liberal states.

Hanlon said the popular vote is more relevant today than when the Electoral College was created.

“I think it’s clear at this point, and Colorado is a great example where we have fantastic, safe voting, that we have a system where every person’s vote counts,” Hanlon said.

Education funding

In his cross examination question of Rankin, Hanlon asked whether the incumbent supports a private voucher system for K-12 education.

“You were the co-author of a July 28 letter to Gov. Polis asking for a special session to discuss a voucher program, while school districts out here were hurting so badly for funding,” Hanlon inquired. “Explain that.”

Rankin said the word “voucher” was not used in requesting that discussion. Rather, it was meant to address the special needs of school districts that are having to deal with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“What’s happening is parents are realizing that they have options,” Rankin said, noting that the advent of online learning opens up a lot of choices for parents. “We need to give parents options for what they want to do. Why should they not be able to choose options for their kids?”

Hanlon said that any diversion of state education funds for private education options serves to reduce funding for school districts, and caters to Front Range interests.

Budget priorities

Both Rankin and Hanlon said they support the repeal of the Gallagher Amendment (on the Nov. 3 ballot as Amendment B) related to the ratcheting down of the statewide residential property tax assessment rate.

“The problem with Gallagher is … the statewide calculation [of the residential assessment rate],” Rankin said, adding that the difference between urban and rural property valuations was never considered when the law was passed in the early 1980s.

“If we don’t do this, we will have a half billion dollar hit to our school budget that the state does not have the money to replace,” Rankin said. “Fire departments are out there selling fire trucks in anticipation of this not being passed, so it’s very important to stabilize our property tax situation in the state.”

Hanlon agreed.

“If we don’t take these steps to repeal Gallagher, with a clean repeal … we’re facing a truly critical situation here on the Western Slope where education, fire departments, water and wastewater services are going to be cut,” Hanlon said.

When it comes to prioritizing state budget decisions coming out of the pandemic-caused recession, both candidates also agreed that economic recovery and jobs creation will need to come first.

Once the economy rebounds, Rankin said that restoring K-12 funding will be the first priority, and transportation is close on its heels along with health care and insurance concerns.

“Then, we’ve got about four more years of worrying about the priorities that fall below the big ones,” he said, mentioning funding to serve people with intellectual and developmental disabilities as a cause he has championed.

“We can’t just go after the priorities everyone thinks about,” Rankin said. “We’ve got to take care of those folks who need taken care of, without wasteful spending.”

Hanlon agreed that restoring K-12 funding will need to be the top priority, and added programs related to the “health and well-being of the people of Colorado” related to economic recovery to the list.

“We also can’t lose track of climate change, and how that’s affecting Senate District 8; water being one impact,” Hanlon said. “Public lands, water — those are the things that will allow us to continue to move forward, and for working families to continue to be successful.”

Rankin said the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources is “a big deal” on the climate front, but also on the jobs front.

“We have to help the people who are impacted by that,” he said.


Councilor Rick Voorhees to resign from City Council

Rick Voorhees is resigning from Glenwood Springs City Council, effective Oct. 15 after the City Council meeting that day.  Voorhees has served on council in the Ward 2 seat since April 2017. 

“I’m leaving the same way that I came in: fired with enthusiasm,” Voorhees said. “It has been a wonderful and exhilarating time, at times frightening. We have done a lot of good things and made tough decisions together that I think will serve generations to come.”

Voorhees said he is stepping down to spend more time with family.

The city will take applications to fill Voorhees’ position from Sept. 18 until close of business on Oct. 16.  The position will be until April 2021. Applicants must have resided in and been a registered voter in the city of Glenwood Springs for one year.

Ward 2 generally takes in the West Glenwood portion of the city, west of Traver Trail and north of the Colorado River. 

Interested applicants can find the application at www.cogs.us/Council. Contact the City Clerk’s Office at 970-384-6406 to obtain a copy of the application.  

During his tenure on council, Voorhees has served on the Garfield Clean Energy board, Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association board of directors, Northwest Colorado Council of Governments Rural Resort Region, and the Ruedi Water and Power Authority. He is strongly committed to the quality of life for our residents, affordable housing, and strengthening the economy of Glenwood Springs, according to a press release from the city of Glenwood Springs. 

Applications can be mailed to the attention of Catherine Fletcher, Office of the City Clerk, 101 W. Eighth St., Glenwood Springs, CO 81601; or emailed to Catherine.fletcher@cogs.us

Another effort to recall Gov. Jared Polis — this time over his coronavirus response — may begin collecting signatures

Backers of a long-shot effort to recall Gov. Jared Polis over his response to the coronavirus response and use of executive authority may begin collecting signatures. 

The Colorado Secretary of State’s Office on Monday approved the petition drafted by “Recall Polis 2020,” which is tied to at least one of the people behind the failed efforts last year to remove the Democrat from office. 

The organization has 60 days — or until Nov. 13 — to collect 631,266 signatures to force a special election to decide whether or not Polis, who is halfway through his first term in office, should be recalled. 

Thus far, the Recall Polis 2020 issue committee, formed on June 10, reports raising only about $4,000 in cash. Organizer Lori Ann Cutunelli, of Summit County, reported donating more than $7,300 to pay for drafting the petition wording and to make a downpayment on printing costs. Additionally, a GoFundMe campaign has raised about $7,600 from 275 donors.

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.

How Lauren Boebert rose from unknown to a candidate for Congress to someone in Donald Trump’s orbit

Lauren Boebert blasted into Colorado politics at an Aurora rally with an in-your-face microphone moment and a gun.

She emerged from the crowd at a rally for then presidential hopeful Beto O’Rourke of Texas and grabbed the mic to shout, “Hell no, you’re not!” in response to O’Rourke’s pledge to take away assault-style weapons.

That shout from an armed, brash, 5-foot-tall woman in sparkly high heels, tight jeans and a holstered Glock would catch the attention of conservative Republicans and electrify the far-right. It would help launch a newbie political candidate with enough momentum to take down a five-term congressman — something that hadn’t happened in a Colorado primary in 48 years.

But behind Boebert’s meteoric rise — before she became known for owning Shooters Grill, before she went viral, before she entered President Donald Trump’s orbit — is a past neither she nor her campaign is willing to discuss. It’s a history that includes run-ins with the law, an eviction and a failed restaurant venture.

Read more 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.

Boebert fundraiser prompts warning from Pitkin County for failure to follow pandemic protocols

Many supporters of a Rifle Republican running for U.S. Congress did not wear facemasks or practice social distancing during a recent Aspen fundraiser, prompting a warning letter Friday from Pitkin County’s public health department. 

Prior to the Aug. 31 event at a home off Cemetery Lane in the Aspen area, the public health department worked with the Lauren Boebert for Congress campaign to develop a safety plan because the event was for between 11 and 50 people, said Pitkin County Manager Jon Peacock. 

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, formal gatherings of up to 50 people must file a safety plan with the public health department beforehand that addresses protocols to reduce Covid virus transmission. That plan, which included the wearing of facemasks and social distancing protocols, was approved by the county, Peacock said. 

However, after the event, a more than 8-minute clip of Boebert’s speech to supporters gathered inside the home was posted on an Aspen resident’s Facebook page and came to the attention of county public health officials. The clip showed that no one in attendance, including Boebert, was wearing a facemask or practicing social distancing, Peacock said. 

“(The video showed) elements of the plan clearly weren’t followed,” he said. 

The warning letter to the Boebert campaign sent out Friday notes that attendees didn’t wear facemasks as provided in the safety plan, that the event was not held in an outdoor space as represented in the safety plan and that social distancing requirements “were not observed by attendees in accord with the event safety plan,” according to the letter. 

“The above-listed failures to adhere to the event safety plan for the Aug. 31, 2020 event constitute a violation of the Public Health Order and resulted in increased risk of transmission of the COVID-19 virus to the individuals and staff in attendance,” the letter states. “As such, Pitkin County Public Health hereby is providing you with the Compliance Warning to provide you with notice of a violation of the Public Health Order.”

When reached on her cell phone Friday afternoon, Boebert said she was in Pueblo about to attend a meeting and asked the reason for the call. When told about the letter from Pitkin County, Boebert said, “I’m stepping into my meeting now,” and hung up the phone. 

The Times did not receive a response to an email sent Friday to Boebert’s communications director seeking comment and a message left at the campaign office was not returned Friday. 

Peacock said the county wants the campaign to comply with a safety plan for any future events. 

“The goal is always compliance, not punishment,” he said. “Hopefully, it won’t happen in the future.”

The county doesn’t plan to seek punishment against the Boebert campaign because the threat to public health doesn’t appear to be on-going, Peacock said. That is in comparison to the situation with the local nightclub, Bootsy Bellows, which the county moved against quickly after it appeared the bar was open for business last month because the risk to public health was on-going, he said. 

During the more than 8-minute clip of Boebert’s Aug. 31 speech to supporters Boebert addressed her attitudes toward COVID-related societal protocols, including facemasks, according to the video.  

“We have people on the left who are trying to take away everything from us,” Boebert said at the fundraiser. “They want to take away our rights, our freedom, our liberty. 

“As the virus has shown us, they want to take away your right of where you can shop, when you can shop there, how old you have to be, at what time and certainly what you have to wear to be in a certain store.”

A similar private event was scheduled near Beaver Creek in Eagle County on Aug. 21, according to RealVail.com

Eagle County spokesman Justin Patrick said Friday the county “was not aware of a private event featuring Lauren Boebert, nor were any plans submitted for the event.” He told the Vail Daily there “may be some followup early next week.”

Boebert, a supporter of President Donald Trump and the owner of Shooters Grill in Rifle, beat Republican Congressman Scott Tipton in the June 30 Republican primary. She is running for the 3rd Congressional District seat  against Democrat Diane Mitsch Bush and a pair of third-party candidates, Libertarian John Ryan Keil and Unity Party of Colorado candidate Critter Milton.

Sen. Cory Gardner tours Grizzly Creek Fire

One thing was clear early on in Sen. Cory Gardner’s (R-Colo.) tour of the Grizzly Creek Fire on Friday.

“The community has pulled together in an incredible way,” Gardner said afterward during an interview at Colorado Mountain College’s Morgridge Commons. “The firefighters, the forest service can’t be any more complimentary of the community.”

Gardner is visiting Glenwood Springs on Friday and Saturday to talk with local leaders, residents and others about needs relating to the fire and more. He offered words of praise to those who’d been working since Aug. 10 to get the Grizzly Creek Fire under control.

“They did a phenomenal job, the firefighters, of saving this,” he said. “There were many areas of the town where it had multiple chances to make a run and it didn’t do it. But, we’ve got a lot of work to do ahead of us for Glenwood.”

Gardner said he recognized the need for a “Glenwood resiliency project” to help the city recover not just from the fire but from the economic hardships brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’m looking forward to partnering with the local community, the county, and the city to create a long-term resiliency project. … Where we work with the Forest Service, the Department of Transportation, the city and the county to fund and fill the needs that we have to have, both in our drinking water systems and our transportation systems and the ongoing needs of this fire work.”

Odds are good for a second stimulus

For businesses and individuals hard-hit by the pandemic and resulting shutdowns, Gardner said he’s confident Congress will come together before the November elections to pass another stimulus package.

“For the economy, we’re really working hard on an additional Paycheck Protection Program round,” he said. “You have a lot of businesses locally that were participants in the paycheck protection program. Let’s allow those businesses who continue to have revenue loss to get a second draw on the loan. … Let’s expand the ability for them to use those dollars.”

Gardner said a national approach to coronavirus testing would also help ensure that economic improvement continues. He said he is working on a bill with Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) to do just that.

“We’ve introduced a bill called the TEST Act, along with Senator Bennett, that would create a national testing plan and create a system of diagnostic and testing so that we can identify the next hot spot before it becomes the next outbreak,” Gardner said.

Trump’s chances to take Colorado

Although President Donald Trump lost Colorado to Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016, Gardner said he thinks the president has a chance to take the state in November but that it’s going to be a challenge given the state has voted for a democratic president the past three presidential elections.

“He did better in the 2016 election than John McCain did in 2008 or than Mitt Romney did in 2012, but you know, it’s a dogfight,” he said.

Clinton had 48.2% of the votes to Trump’s 43.3% in Colorado; while President Barack Obama won Colorado in 2008 53.7% to McCain’s 44.7% and Obama in 2012 won with 51.5% to Romney’s 46.1%.


Soto seeks to cast wide net in bid for Garfield County commissioner seat

Beatriz Soto says her entry into the race for the District 2 Garfield County commissioner seat is not just about championing the cause for broader representation on a wide range of issues, but being representative of that cause.

Soto, of Glenwood Springs, was a co-founder of the Roaring Fork Latino Network, an initiative of Voces Unidas de las Montañas that formed this spring to give a stronger voice to the Roaring Fork Valley’s Latino population.

“There has been a lot of conversation about leadership within our community, and making sure we are not only heard but are represented and being active politically, on boards, at schools and at the government level,” Soto said of that effort.

Katrina Byars won the Garfield County Democratic Party nomination in the spring to challenge six-term Republican County Commissioner John Martin for the seat he’s held since 1997. In her initial campaign outreach, she connected with the Latino Network and was ready to carry the torch.

Soto said she and Byars spoke in late winter, before the COVID-19 pandemic hit locally, about how to incorporate that voice into her campaign. About a month ago, as the pandemic began to hit the Latino community hard with the reopening of the service-sector economy, Byars turned to Soto with an idea.

“She said, ‘you know, I’m never going to be able to be Latina. I’ve advocated and represented as much as I can, but I’ll never be in those same spaces as you,'” Soto said, paraphrasing that conversation with Byars.

On Aug. 7, Byars announced she was stepping aside and would work with the local Democrats to have Soto replace her on the Nov. 3 ballot for county commissioner.

That process has since been completed, and Soto is now the party’s candidate in a three-way race for the District 2 seat with Martin, also of Glenwood Springs, and unaffiliated candidate Brian Bark, from New Castle.

“We are enthusiastic about Beatriz’s entry into the race” Democratic County Chairman John Krousouloudis said in an official party statement recently. “She is going to bring a lot of excitement to the commissioner races here in Garfield County.”

A little GarCo election history

This will be the first three-way race for a Garfield County commissioner seat since 1986, when Marian Smith became the first woman elected to the County Commission.

Smith, a Democrat, won that election over Republican Dick Martin and Independent Frank Smotherman. Before that, Smith was Glenwood Springs’ first woman mayor. She later was the long-time chairwoman of the County Commission.

There were also three-way races for county commissioner in 1978 and in 1964, according to Garfield County Clerk and Recorder’s Office records, but none since Smith’s historic win.

Garfield County Commissioner John Martin was first elected to the District 2 seat in 1996, and has won reelection five times over.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

John Martin is the Republican nominee seeking a seventh four-year term as county commissioner. He is the current longtime chairman of the three-member Board of County Commissioners, all Republicans, including Tom Jankovsky from District 1 and Mike Samson from District 3.

County commissioners are elected countywide, but must reside within a representative district in the sprawling county that stretches from Carbondale on the east to the Utah state line on the west.

Samson’s seat is also up for election this fall. He seeks a fourth term on the commission against Democrat and longtime citizen activist Leslie Robinson.

Bark petitioned his way onto the ballot as an unaffiliated candidate for the District 2 seat, saying Garfield County residents deserve non-partisan representation on their county board.

Both Martin and Bark welcomed Soto to the race.

“I wish her the best, and I welcome all voices to the table,” Martin said, adding he believes his record as a conservative is well-established, and still resonates with the electorate of the largely conservative Garfield County.

Brian Bark, unaffiliated candidate for Garfield County commissioner, District 2.

Bark said of Soto’s candidacy that he believes anyone who is qualified for the position of county commissioner should run, as he chose to do.

“She says the same thing I have said, that ‘the citizens of Garfield County feel as though the current commissioners are not listening,'” Bark said. “As an unaffiliated candidate, I’ll work for the people, not the party.”

Party leader

Soto is an architect by trade, and a 1999 graduate of Basalt High School who immigrated with her family from Mexico as a teenager and later worked through the long process to become a U.S. Citizen.

She is married with two sons, including a 9-year-old who started school this week.

Soto is a founding member of the Garfield, Eagle and Pitkin county Latino Dems, and vice chair for Garfield County. The group formed to make sure the party is talking about Latino issues and giving consideration to Latino candidates for elected office.

Garfield County’s population, according to recent state demographic data, hovers between 26% and 30% Latino. But Soto said she believes her appeal as a candidate goes beyond that.

She points to the “three pillars” of her campaign — social, economic and environmental.

“I really want Garfield County to lead the path in environmental stewardship,” said Soto, who works as director of the Carbondale-based Wilderness Workshop’s Defiende Nuestra Tierra, a program that aims to connect the Latino population with conservation efforts.

But environmental causes work hand in hand with the economy and social justice, she said. “You can’t solve one without solving the other,” Soto said.

On the economic front, “We really need to diversify our income in Garfield County. We are heavily reliant on a single industry (oil and gas), and that’s just bad economics. We need to make sure small businesses can thrive, and that we are looking at rural economic development in a broader way.”

And, on the social front, “We must make sure our government is representative of how diverse Garfield County is,” Soto said. “How do we bring the broader community into government, and how do we have more of the community participate? We have to come up with a better, more balanced government that is serving more people.”

That gap became evident during the COVID crisis, she said, and especially as disease spread became more prominent in the Latino community after businesses began opening back up in May after the spring shutdowns.

“Our local government did not move fast enough to get information out that was bilingual and culturally relevant, and to make sure our Latino community is being served,” she said.

Martin takes issue with Soto’s claim that the county’s outreach within the Latino community has been lacking. He said the county has worked hard to make sure all residents are informed and equally served.

“I don’t know how much more we can do,” he said. “We are listening, and helping them just like everyone else. And I’ve been open to that every since I’ve been on the board.”

Likewise, Bark said he’s in the race to “represent everybody. …I’m qualified for the position, I have the skills needed to make good decisions, and I will listen to everyone’s concerns.”


Candidate switch for Democrats in District 2 Garfield County Commissioner race

There will be a change on the fall ballot in the Democratic Party candidate who is running for Garfield County Commissioner from District 2.

Katrina Byars announced late Friday that she is stepping aside in her bid to unseat six-term incumbent Republican Commissioner John Martin, and is throwing her support to new candidate Beatriz Soto.

“I’d like to thank Garfield County for the honor and privilege of a place on the ballot for Garfield County Commissioner this November,” Byars wrote in her Facebook announcement. “But this race is not about me, it’s about the people of this county and the need for real representation.

“This is why, with the support of Democratic Party, I have asked Beatriz Soto to take my place on the ballot this November,” she wrote. “In the history of Garfield County there has never been a Latina on the Board of County Commissioners, despite the fact that Latinos have lived here since before Colorado was a state.”

The Garfield County Democratic Party, in its own Facebook announcement late Friday, said Soto has been nominated to replace Byars on the Nov. 3 ballot in accordance with the Colorado Secretary of State requirements.

Beatriz Soto
Facebook photo

“We are thrilled to have such a qualified, intelligent and dynamic candidate as Beatriz. “She is a longtime resident of Garfield County and brings extensive experience in the areas of environmental protection, social justice, community building, and has 15 years experience in architecture and construction.”

Soto was not immediately available for comment for this story, and has not yet formally filed as a candidate with the Secretary of State’s Office.

A three-way race for the District 2 commissioner seat will now include Martin, who was elected to the seat in 1996, and unaffiliated candidate Brian Bark, who petitioned his way on to the ballot.

Garfield County Commissioner John Martin.
Brian Bark, candidate for Garfield County Commissioner District 2.
Facebook photo

Soto has worked as the Latino outreach coordinator for the Wilderness Workshop, based in Carbondale, since September 2018, and is a co-founder of the Roaring Fork Latino Network, an initiative of the newly formed organization Voces Unidas de las Montañas.

She was also the co- founder of the Latino Dems of Garfield, Pitkin and Eagle Counties, and is a member of the Garfield County Democratic Party Executive Committee as Latino outreach coordinator.

Byars was the Democratic Party nominee to run for the County Commission District 2 seat, going through the party caucus and assembly process in the spring.

Katrina Byars
Thomas Phippen / Post Independent

However, she has not been very visible as a candidate in the early months of the campaign.

She sought to dispel rumors that she was dropping out of the race in late July, writing on her Facebook page that she has been busy working to establish a safe house for young girls who have been rescued from sex trafficking.

Byars wrote in her Friday post that her decision to drop out is not for personal or political reasons. She said Soto will give voice to Garfield County’s Latino community, and on environmental and human rights issues that she also champions.

“Beatriz is a strong community organizer with a track record of building community throughout our valleys promoting progressive policies and solutions to the challenges we face today,” Byars wrote. “She will not only defend our public lands, air, water and civil rights, but she will also give a voice to thousands in our community who have gone unheard for too long.”

The District 2 seat is one of two county commissioner seats up for election in November. Three-term incumbent Republican Mike Samson is seeking re-election to the District 3 seat against Democratic challenger Leslie Robinson.


Unaffiliated candidate Brian Bark makes ballot in GarCo Commissioner District 2 race

A three-way race is shaping up for one of the two Garfield County commissioner seats up for election in November.

Brian Bark of New Castle, who is unaffiliated, has been cleared by Garfield County Clerk Jean Alberico after submitting sufficient petition signatures to appear on the Nov. 3 ballot.

He will be up against six-term incumbent Republican John Martin of Glenwood Springs and Democrat Katrina Byars, also of Glenwood, who earned her party’s nomination in the spring to challenge for the District 2 commissioner seat.

Bark notes on his campaign Facebook page that he is a stalwart non-partisan.

“Many people are tired of the two-party monopoly, if you will. You’re tired of the current parties attacking each other at all levels of government and not doing the jobs they were elected to do,” he writes.

“We currently have three Republican commissioners and a large portion of Garfield County citizens feel as though their voices are not being heard. Many voters are looking for a candidate that will represent the people and not a political party.”

A politician he is not, Bark continues.

“I’m not running against or in opposition to anyone or any party,” he said. “I am running for the people of Garfield County.”

Bark elaborated in an interview with the Post Independent on Thursday that he has no particular political ideologies.

“I don’t represent a political party,” he said. “The way I look at it, there’s a job opening in November, the county is hiring a county commissioner and the voting public is the hiring committee. In that sense, the voters look at everybody’s qualifications and decide who can best represent them.”

Bark said he has over 40 years of experience in building and facilities maintenance and management, specializing in HVAC systems and having worked for Garfield County school districts and the Grand River Hospital District.

“I’m good with money, both in the public and private sector,” he said. “I think it is important for people to know what their county government is doing and where their money is being spent.”

To get on the ballot, Bark had to navigate the state’s new temporary petition timeline rules related to the COVID-19 pandemic and concerns about in-person petition signature gathering during the height of the outbreak.

Gov. Jared Polis issued an executive order in the spring that changed the date when candidates not being certified by the Colorado Secretary of State could start circulating petitions, from May 14 to June 1, and the date for turning in the petitions from July 9 to July 27.  

Bark said he needed 506 valid signatures and turned in 622, of which 514 were determined by Alberico’s office to be valid.

While gathering signatures, Bark said he talked to more than 2,000 people in Garfield County.

“I’ve been telling everybody, you need to get involved in your local government and find out what they are spending your tax dollars on, to hold them accountable and don’t just sit there and complain about it,” Bark said.

The District 2 commissioner seat is one of two seats on the Board of County Commissioners up for election in the Nov. 3 general election, which is being conducted by mail ballot. Incumbent Republican Mike Samson is running for reelection to the District 3 seat against Democratic challenger Leslie Robinson. Both are from Rifle.