Soto seeks to cast wide net in bid for Garfield County commissioner seat | PostIndependent.com
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Soto seeks to cast wide net in bid for Garfield County commissioner seat

Martin points to efforts at inclusion; county sees first 3-way race for commissioner since 1986

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

General Election info

Ballots for the Nov. 3 General Election are expected to be mailed to registered voters in Garfield County and throughout Colorado in mid-October. The Garfield County District 2 and 3 commissioner seats are the only county-level races to be decided in the fall election, but voters will also be deciding contested races for several regional state and federal offices, as well as President of the United States.

Look for ongoing elections coverage at postindependent.com in the coming weeks.

For Colorado House District 57, incumbent Republican Perry Will faces Democrat Colin Wilhelm; for state Senate District 8, incumbent Republican Bob Rankin faces Democrat Karl Hanlon; and for the state Board of Education from the 3rd District, Republican incumbent Joyce Rankin faces Democrat Mayling E. Simpson.

And, there’s a four-way race for the 3rd Congressional District seat being vacated by Scott Tipton, who lost the Republican Primary in June to Lauren Boebert. She squares off in the Nov. 3 election against Democrat Diane Mitsch Bush, Libertarian John Ryan Keil and Unity Party of Colorado candidates Critter Milton.

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.
Provided

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.”

jstroud@postindependent.com


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