Republicans hold on to GarCo commission seats |

Republicans hold on to GarCo commission seats

Pete Fowler
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Kelley Cox Post Independent

GARFIELD COUNTY, Colorado ” Republican Garfield County Commission candidates held on to the commission seats in close races, according to preliminary unofficial results.

Incumbent County Commissioner John Martin beat Democrat Stephen Bershenyi 11,030-10,680. Bershenyi is a blacksmith-artist and drives a school bus for a second job.

This will be Martin’s fourth term on the commission. Martin said he would have won either way: He would start a new life or continue the one he loves.

“My task is to best serve the citizens of Garfield County in the way that I believe in ” to be open, honest and fair and to give them an ear, listen to what they have to say and to make decisions in a fair manner, just like I always do,” Martin said.

Republican candidate Mike Samson, Rifle High School’s dean of students, beat Democratic candidate Steve Carter 11,143-10,485. Carter is an attorney and former county judge.

Samson said his head was buzzing Wednesday morning because he hadn’t gotten any sleep.

“My main task, as I see it, is what I started my campaign with ” working together to unite Garfield County,” Samson said.

Samson takes over for Republican Larry McCown who did not run for re-election.

Garfield County Clerk Jean Alberico said there are 14 days to count 330 provisional votes, but those probably won’t change anything due to the leads the Republican candidates have.

“It’s really not going to come into play in any of the races,” Alberico said.

The races also weren’t close enough to trigger an automatic recount. That would only happen if the difference between the winning and losing vote was less than one half of one percent of the winning vote.

Alberico said candidates have until Nov. 28 to request a recount, but she hasn’t heard that anyone plans to do that.

The preliminary unofficial results weren’t finished until around 3:30 a.m. Wednesday.

Alberico said the majority of the results were counted before midnight, but counting took longer than anticipated and the county clerk’s office probably should have bought a larger scanner.

The commission seats sparked lots of outside interest as Garfield County continues to be a battleground for energy development. Outside groups poured tens of thousands of dollars into both sides of the race without the candidates’ approval.

Someone even mailed out a fake newspaper over the weekend with attack articles targeting Bershenyi and Carter with what they said were false claims. A group of area mayors endorsed the Democratic county commission candidates and blasted outside funding for ads and mailers meant to help the Republican candidates. They said the groups providing the money failed to properly register or disclose their funding sources, and they criticized the fact that much of the money in support of the Republican candidates was connected to the oil and gas industry.

Commissioner Martin said the mayors were hypocritical for endorsing candidates as a group in ads and in a press conference, but not registering as a political action committee. The mayors that appeared at the recent press conference were Carbondale Mayor Michael Hassig, Glenwood Springs Mayor Bruce Christensen, Rifle Mayor Keith Lambert and New Castle Mayor Frank Breslin.

As of Oct. 24, five groups outside the county spent about $45,700 in about two months to try to influence the county commissioner races. Around $31,500 went to pay for ads supporting the Republican candidates or attacking the Democratic ones, while around $14,200 went to ads supporting the Democratic candidates or targeting the Republican ones.

The mayors blasted a $20,000 donation to a group targeting Democrats from the chairman and CEO of Denver-based drilling company Antero Resources Corp. Most of the money supporting the Democratic county commission candidates came from an environmental advocacy group called Western Organization of Resource Councils. The mayors said donations supporting their candidates weren’t troubling because they were done by the rules and because they came mostly from an environmental group that has the public good as its priority.

In a pre-election interview, Garfield County Commissioner Tresi Houpt told the Aspen Daily News last week that fellow commissioners (Martin and McCown) had a “hostile” relationship with her and shut her out.

She said that county staff was told their jobs were on the line if they even talked to her.

“I didn’t think it can get any worse,” Houpt said in the article.

She didn’t return a cell phone message seeking comment on the election results Wednesday.

Martin said he hangs politics up at the door and if anyone’s politics affect county business, they’re not his.

“I will remain open and honest with (Houpt) and professional and courteous,” he said. “The politics are hung up on the outside of the building. When I come in, I have a code of conduct and a code of ethics, and politics and egos are not part of those while we’re doing work for the citizens of Garfield County.”

Houpt will be up for re-election in 2010.

Samson will join Martin and Houpt on the board after the first of the year.

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