Jankovsky, Stepp step up rhetoric in fiery Garfield County commissioner debate | PostIndependent.com

Jankovsky, Stepp step up rhetoric in fiery Garfield County commissioner debate

Potential voters packed Glenwood Springs City Hall for a standing room only candidates and issues forum Wednesday evening which hosted spirited discussions between local candidates, including the headlining debate between Republican Garfield County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky and his challenger, Democrat Paula Stepp.

While the Democrat has utilized her last name as a campaign slogan, the Jankovsky camp has insisted, if unseated, Stepp would take Garfield County "a step backwards."

Campaign slogans aside, the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association's Issues and Answers Forum, moderated by KMTS News Director Ron Milhorn drilled to the heart of significant issues facing Garfield County residents.

It did not take long before natural gas drilling struck up a heated debate between Stepp and Jankovsky.

"Proposition 112 has been a tough one," Stepp answered when asked of her position on the proposed 2,500-foot oil and gas setback contained in the statewide ballot measure. "I look at it as water, health, safety, environment, but I also look at it as jobs, wealth, public service and our economy."

"I sit in the middle of that and I weigh both sides," Stepp added.

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Clearly unsatisfied with his opponent's answer, when it was Jankovsky's turn, the Republican's face appeared as red as his tie.

"Well, as usual, my opponent didn't answer the question. She didn't answer the question," Jankovsky reiterated. "I will tell you what 112 is about. It's about children. It's about families. It's about community. It's about putting Parachute and Rifle back into a recession."

"Let's take the fire district in Battlement Mesa-Parachute; 85 percent of their revenues, property tax comes from oil and gas," Jankovsky said.

Another contentious topic, the yet-to-be formally proposed strip mine expansion above Glenwood Springs, was also touched on.

Although Milhorn did not directly reference quarry owner Rocky Mountain Resources (RMR) in the question, Jankovsky clearly knew what the moderator was getting at.

"I think you are talking about the RMR quarry," Jankovsky said, adding how the company, which acquires and develops natural resource assets, had yet to submit a formal application to the Bureau of Land Management.

"But I'll say this, and that is that I have worked in the tourism industry, as I've mentioned, for over 30 years in Glenwood Springs and I've worked with the Hot Springs and I've worked with the caves and I've worked with the people that run the hotels and the motels, and I would not do anything that would hurt tourism or an economy that has been here for 125 years."

Both very careful with their words out of fear of future disqualification from hearing any forthcoming strip mine expansion proposals, Stepp offered a similar response.

"I have to say I agree with Tom… Tourism and the outdoors have been a basis for our communities for so many years and we really need to take care of that as we look at our future," Stepp stated. "At the same time, we do have to allow RMR, if they decide to, to present and allow for a hearing, so I will take that into consideration. But my priority will be our community and our citizens first."

While short, all of the evening's debates were cordial until closing statements from the county commissioner candidates, particularly that of Jankovsky. Milhorn even had to ask the audience to quiet down to let Jankovsky finish his criticism of Stepp.

"I do want to thank Paula for her compliment in her brochure here, it says, 'board of county commissioners whose influence reaches up to state and national levels,' and our influence does reach up to state and national levels," Jankovsky said. "I want to take a moment and talk a little bit about my opponent. She's a progressive Democrat, she believes in single-payer health care, she's opposed to the oil and gas industry…"

"Allow Mr. Jankovsky to complete his closing statement," Milhorn asked of the audience, which was not a fan of the commissioner's choice parting words for his opponent. "She also is in favor of taxes. She stated at our last forum that Colorado has some of the lowest taxes in the state and we should all be willing to pay more."

Jankovsky ended by telling the audience how, at the beginning of county commissioner board meetings they take a moment of silence, during which commissioner Jankovsky evidently asks, "Dear Lord, please let me be humble, let be respectful, let me listen and let me make the best decisions that I can for Garfield County."

Neither candidate offered to shake hands following the debate.

mabennett@postindependent.com