Editorial: Martin and Diaz should heed their critics
Voters in the Republican primary for District 2 Garfield County commissioner have an important choice to make between 20-year incumbent John Martin and Silt town Councilor Aron Diaz.
The winner will face construction contractor John Acha, who’s running as a Democrat. While a Democrat can win a Garfield County commissioner seat, the party faces an uphill battle in a countywide race. On balance, the diverse county is conservative, and Republicans are better-organized and typically better-financed.
We don’t mean to discount Acha’s candidacy, and we look forward to discussions as the general election campaign gets in gear, but history tells us there’s a good chance the Republican primary will determine who wins the seat.
For that reason, we intended to make an editorial endorsement in the primary. We had good, long discussions with Diaz and Martin toward that goal — but have decided not to make an endorsement in the race.
It boils down to this: Both men make good arguments for their election and have points in their favor, but we also have reservations about each that keep us from feeling good about endorsing either.
John Martin has been a Garfield County commissioner for nearly 20 years.
Among many contributions to the county and its enviable finances — debt-free with reserves that top $100 million — was proposing and pushing for passage of the Colorado Federal Mineral Lease District Act, which has eased the county’s ability to get lease payments from federal land to cities and organizations around Garfield County.
During his tenure, the county has expanded the airport in Rifle and was able to attract the state’s new Center of Excellence for Advanced Technology Aerial Firefighting to the airport, an example of good investment.
These are a couple of small examples; the county’s finances and infrastructure would be the envy of a great number of counties around the country, and Martin deserves some of the credit for that.
Martin is extremely intelligent (and isn’t shy about it) and is a walking compendium of knowledge about county governance, the land and the issues we face. That depth of knowledge and intelligence also create a my-way-or-the-highway air about him, and over the years, he has rubbed many folks wrong.
More than a few people we talked with in the public and private sector, including some Republicans, feel passionately that it’s past time for Martin to go. They say he can be condescending, that he’s not a flexible partner (with Glenwood Springs especially), that he behaves as if he thinks he’s the king of Garfield County.
At a minimum, we are concerned that Martin stands in the way of collaboration and creative problem-solving.
We’re pretty darned sure he had a role in the “personality conflicts” that led to costly departures last year of the county manager and county attorney, and we see and hear that his approach has created bad feelings in some quarters that transcend normal baggage of even 20 years in office.
We also see him as the leader of the county’s reluctance to issue bonds for infrastructure needs such as the South Bridge project to connect the west side of the Roaring Fork River in Glenwood and up Four Mile Road to Highway 82.
So some prominent Republicans have rallied to his primary election opponent, Aron Diaz, a Silt trustee who was an aide to Gov. Bill Owens and for five years was executive director of the Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado.
Diaz expresses an interest in being a more proactive partner with Garfield County communities at the front end of projects and has a greater appreciation for the county’s diversity than we typically see from the commission.
Those who have worked with him, though, express concern that he can be unwilling to listen or work with others when their opinions run counter to his. A little like Martin, and that’s not good.
In Silt trustee meetings, it at times is visually clear when Diaz disagrees with somebody, including town staff, fellow board members or people presenting to the board.
While we think Martin might be a bit too much of a skinflint with the county reserves, some Republicans worry that Diaz might be a little free with spending. We doubt that would be a problem given the makeup of the board, but we also feel like we should report what we heard in seeking to vet the two candidates.
Some people also fear that defeat of Martin, who is president of the National Association of Counties Western Interstate Region, would cause Garfield County to risk its standing in certain organizations.
So we have more proof that nobody’s perfect — and, despite the criticisms, we want to emphasize that Martin and Diaz are good men sincere in their desire to serve.
The county commission is the richest and most powerful government body here. It can be a catalyst for regional planning, housing strategy and economic growth. Thus the choice facing Republicans matters to us all.
If Martin wins, we hope he takes the criticism to heart and stays off the imaginary throne. If Diaz wins, we hope he can focus on his policy ideas and be a receptive listener. We are looking for someone who can be a convener and collaborator, and look forward to the fall campaign.
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Intro: Brisa Chavez is lead educator and Hispanic engagement coordinator for Garfield County’s Public Health Services.