Candidates square off at Rifle forum
The Rifle Area Chamber of Commerce hosted an election forum at Rifle City Hall on Thursday evening as residents throughout Garfield County tuned in to hear candidates’ thoughts on the various issues facing voters this election season.
In addition to hearing about statewide ballot initiatives, including Amendment 73, which would bring more funding for public schools, and Proposition 112, which seeks to increase the oil and gas setbacks throughout the state, local questions like RFTA’s proposed property tax and Garfield Re-2’s two tax questions were also discussed.
Nobody spoke officially against the Re-2 ballot questions 4A and 4B, which seek a mill levy override to pay teachers and a bond measure for new classrooms. Supporter Gina Thompson reiterated how important these proposals are for the district.
She said the ballot measures are supported by the towns of New Castle and Silt, as strong schools remain a foundational element of a strong community, in her words.
Both candidates running for the state House District 57 seat, Republican Bob Rankin and Democrat Colin Wilhelm, focused primarily on equity for Western Slope residents and health care costs. Both also pushed for the repeal of the Gallagher Amendment.
While their discussion touched on several broader issues facing voters this year, the Garfield County Clerk and Recorder debate focused much more specifically on the Garfield County office itself.
Incumbent Democrat Jean Alberico is facing a challenge from Republican Bonnie McLean, who has taken Alberico to task over a string a embezzlement cases that occurred in the office more than four years ago.
One of the first questions the moderator asked Alberico was about what measures she will take to uphold integrity in the department.
“Fraud does not proudly walk into your office and announce itself,” she said. “People who commit fraud [are manipulative].”
Much like the forum held in Glenwood Springs last week, the conversation quickly centered on the three embezzlements that took place between 2012 to 2015.
Alberico said that after they discovered what happened, the cases were immediately investigated and prosecuted.
“There is no lack of integrity in the county clerk’s office,” Alberico said in her closing statement. “I take very seriously my oath of office. … We work hard to treat everyone fairly and respectfully.”
“Yes, these embezzlements happened a while ago, but there were three,” Bonnie McLean responded. “If I was a clerk, I’d be mortified if it happened ever.”
While discussions on Proposition 112 occurred throughout the night, no race focused more on economic diversity and the oil and gas industry than the District 1 county commissioner debate, where incumbent Republican Tom Jankovsky is being challenged by Democrat Paula Stepp.
“It’s important to make it clear there is a difference between my opponent and I,” Jankovsky said in his closing statement. “My opponent is opposed to oil and gas. … You are the company you keep. During Northwest Oil and Gas Forums, Paula sits with Grand Valley Citizens Alliance, which is an anti-oil and gas group.”
He said that if someone isn’t opposed to Proposition 112, then they are basically anti-oil and gas.
“I am not anti-oil and gas,” Stepp responded.
She said she just wants to see responsible development.
When asked her view on Proposition 112, Stepp said she sees both sides of the issue.
“I leave it to each person to look at what it means to them,” she said. “As a county commissioner, if it doesn’t pass, then I will work really hard to push the setback back. … If it does pass, then that’s where we dive in, and I will sit down with Mike and John and look at what we can do differently.”
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“I feel I have the opportunity to go out and work for the people, and represent the people directly,” Wilhelm said.