Sullivan won 57% of vote within Jankovsky’s district; Dems talk home rule
Precinct totals from the Nov. 4 election for Garfield County commissioner drive home one of the main messages put forward by Democrat Michael Sullivan in his unsuccessful bid to unseat Republican Tom Jankovsky for the District 1 seat on the three-member county board.
A breakdown of the voting by precinct shows that voters within District 1, which includes Carbondale and a sizable portion of Glenwood Springs, favored Sullivan by nearly the same percentage as Jankovsky won in the county-wide balloting.
With a commanding 77 percent of the vote from New Castle west to Parachute, though, Jankovsky easily won re-election to a second four-year term as commissioner, carrying 58 percent of the total votes cast in the race.
The outcome renews questions by Democrats in particular about whether it’s time for the county to again explore the notion of becoming home rule, which could allow for district-by-district voting for commissioners or possibly expanding the county board to five members.
Under state law, although county commissioners must reside in specific geographical districts within their county, they represent the entire county and are voted on by all eligible electors in the county.
Sullivan, for one, thinks it’s time to revisit the home rule question, or perhaps back state legislation that would allow statutory counties to consider electing commissioners by representative district.
“I started off this campaign to prove a point that a voice is missing on the Board of County Commissioners, and I believe we proved our point,” Sullivan said this week after reviewing the post-election precinct report issued by the Garfield County Clerk and Recorder’s Office.
“I do congratulate Tom on his victory,” Sullivan added. “He ran a great campaign, was well-organized and was well-funded.
“However, I can’t help but think that District 1 needs to have a voice on the board and a system that more accurately reflects the will of the people,” he said.
An analysis of the precinct report shows that Sullivan carried 57 percent of the vote in the nine precincts that make up District 1. The only precincts he lost in that district were Precinct 5, which happens to be the home precinct for both Jankovsky and Sullivan, and Precinct 10, which includes the Four Mile area.
Looking at the 12 precincts stretching across the east end of the county from Carbondale to Canyon Creek, Sullivan was preferred by 65 percent of the voters in the heavily Democratic Carbondale-area precincts. He also pulled in 50.5 percent of the vote in the Glenwood Springs-area precincts.
County-wide, though, Sullivan had just 42 percent of the vote, resulting in Jankovsky’s re-election and an all-Republican Board of County Commissioners for another two years.
“I’m fairly proud of that 42 percent,” Sullivan said. “Looking at 2016, there is a lot of work to be done for Democrats, but I think that’s something we can build on.”
By the same token, Jankovksy said 43 percent is a good pull for him in the eastern part of the county, where any Republican would have a hard time winning.
“As county commissioners, we do make decisions for the whole county, and not just one district,” Jankovsky said. “If I were just running in District 1, it would be a different way of campaigning, and it’s hard to say if a Republican could win there.”
‘Formidable’ path to home rule
Sullivan and other Garfield County Democratic Party leaders said it’s worth at least exploring the idea of seeking voter approval in the coming years to adopt a home rule charter.
“There is an expense to that, and it is a rather formidable process,” Sullivan acknowledged.
Home rule allows for self governance by Colorado counties aside from state statutes on a variety of matters, including the election of county officials.
But the process to adopt a home rule charter can be expensive, requires two separate elections, and is often just as politically charged as the partisan races for elected offices themselves.
Various efforts over the years in Garfield County have been short-lived, partly because of the expense and time commitment involved.
Only a handful of Colorado counties have adopted home rule charters, including neighboring Pitkin County, Weld County and the combined Denver city-county government. Eagle County twice put the question before voters, both of which ultimately failed.
Pitkin County’s home rule charter provides for five, rather than three, commissioners. Although Pitkin commissioners are required to live within a geographic district, they are still voted on county-wide.
Jankovsky was involved in the discussions the last time home rule was seriously talked about in Garfield County in the late 1990s.
“We didn’t move forward, partly because of the cost of having two elections, and the county didn’t have the resources to do any kind of polling to see how people felt,” Jankovsky said. “It is a lot more complicated than it sounds.”
Should it be considered again, “It would really depend on how it’s set up,” he said.
Garfield County Democratic Party Chairman Bob Shivley said party officials are analyzing the voting breakdowns from last week’s voting to better plan for future election cycles.
“Home rule has come up, but nothing is decided yet whether it’s something we might take on,” Shivley said. “It’s something we will look at, among other things.”
One of those other things, according to Sullivan, is possibly seeking a remedy through state legislation to allow counties to use district-by-district voting without going through the home rule process.
So far, though, efforts to pass such a bill have been unsuccessful. Other legislative attempts have revolved around lowering the population threshold for counties to consider expanding to five commissioners. Currently, that number is 70,000, while Garfield County’s population is just over 56,000 as of the 2010 census.
Former Garfield County commissioner Trési Houpt lost her own re-election bid to Jankovsky in 2010 with similar favor among District 1 voters as Sullivan had this time around.
Houpt also has long supported a move by the county toward home rule and/or district voting for commissioner seats.
“It makes a great deal of sense to have people elected from different districts, especially for a county that’s as diverse as Garfield County,” she said. “The way the system is set up now, it gets to the point where a district can’t elect someone to represent them.”
Until that time, it’s incumbent on Democrats to put forward candidates who have broader appeal and can win enough of that west-end Garfield County vote to make a difference, as Houpt was able to do in 2002 and 2006.
That success came down to name recognition and a “willingness to go out and meet folks” all throughout the county, not just in particular part of the county, she said.
“A lot of it also had to do with the fact that we weren’t feuding as heavily as parties at that time,” Houpt said. “It used to be that people could feel good about voting for a person who could best represent them” regardless of political labels.
“I don’t know if people are doing that as often,” she said. “Some people are feeling under-represented, though, and we need to figure out a way to take care of that.”
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