Both parties turn out big caucus crowds in Garfield County
Turnout was heavy Tuesday for Garfield County Republican and Democratic caucuses in several locations as the parties chose delegates to county assemblies and talked about local issues.
Democrats took a presidential preference poll, with Bernie Sanders as statewide winner, as was the case in Glenwood Springs and Carbondale.
Republicans did not have a presidential straw poll, but began the process of choosing delegates to county and then state assemblies, where national convention delegates ultimately will be selected.
The Post Independent attended four caucuses around the county, including GOP meetings attended by County Commissioner John Martin, who is seeking re-election, and one where Silt Trustee Aron Diaz, who will oppose Martin for the party’s nomination, spoke. PI reporters also watched Democratic caucuses in Glenwood Springs and Carbondale.
Close to 200 people attended the Republican caucus at the Glenwood Springs Community Center, representing the eight Glenwood-area precincts.
Garfield County GOP Chairman Dave Merritt announced that Rifle resident Andrea Matthews has filed paperwork to challenge incumbent county Commissioner Mike Samson for the party’s nomination in District 3.
District 2 incumbent John Martin of Glenwood Springs is being challenged for the Republican nod by Silt Trustee Aron Diaz.
Martin deferred to supporter Jerry Law to read a statement on his behalf.
“You should look to the candidate who can best fulfill the duties of the office,” the five-term county commissioner said in his letter. “I hope that before you cast your vote you will have … asked all the questions and done the background on me, and that you decide I am worthy of your choice.”
Party leader Dendy Heisel spoke on behalf of Jefferson Cheney, who intends to challenge incumbent 9th District Attorney Sherry Caloia, a Democrat.
“I cannot count the number of people who have complained to me about their lack of confidence in the DA’s Office,” Cheney, a prosecutor under former Republican DA Martin Beeson, said in a prepared statement read by Heisel. “I will not allow the DA’s Office to be known more for dismissing cases than prosecuting them.”
Before the event, former state Rep. Gregg Rippy expressed disappointment that Colorado Republicans were not weighing in on the presidential race.
“We don’t count under the system that we have now,” Rippy said. He and others at the Glenwood caucus said they would support legislation to bring a presidential primary back to Colorado.
“I love the concept of a brokered convention in July,” Rippy said, adding he personally supports either Ohio Gov. John Kasich or Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.
Five people got up and spoke on behalf of Republican presidential candidates, including Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Kasich, Rubio and Donald Trump.
Greg Beightel, owner of the former Glenwood Shell station that was recently condemned to make way for the new Grand Avenue bridge, spoke passionately for front-runner Trump.
“What has the GOP done for us in the last two years? We worked hard to get the House and to get the Senate, and what have they done, basically nothing.
“I just feel we need someone like (Trump). He’s the person for the United States, and the person for the United States right now.”
Others, including Law, impressed upon the party to reject Trump, saying he’s not conservative enough.
— John Stroud
COAL RIDGE GOP CAUCUS
If elected Garfield County commissioner, Aron Diaz would work to diversify and improve the county’s economy, Diaz told Republican caucus-goers at Coal Ridge High School.
Diaz, a Silt trustee, is challenging incumbent Garfield County District 2 Commissioner John Martin.
Echoing remarks shared in a guest column published in The Citizen Telegram, Diaz made the case for his candidacy before a room filled with many people attending their first caucus.
Hands across the cafeteria shot into the air when Shirley Starr, Garfield County Republican District 4 co-captain, asked the crowd how many were attending their first caucus.
New Castle resident Joe Ceremuga, 70, was among those attending his first caucus. Although he votes every year, Ceremuga said he had never attended a caucus. Following the conclusion of his precinct meeting, Ceremuga concluded the caucus system was interesting. He even stepped forward and was selected as an alternate delegate to the Garfield County Republican Assembly on March 12.
Natasha Piper, 26, of New Castle, also attended her first caucus Tuesday. Having recently moved to Colorado from Michigan, Piper said she attended Tuesday’s caucus out of a desire to become more involved in the political process and more engaged in her community.
The crowd of roughly 200 people in the cafeteria at Coal Ridge High also heard from Jefferson Cheney, a former prosecutor who is challenging 9th Judicial District Attorney Sherry Caloia.
Under Caloia’s leadership the DA’s office has garnered a reputation for dismissing cases, Cheney said. If elected, the former prosecutor said he would prosecute cases and rebuild a general feeling of safety that has eroded in recent years.
— Ryan Hoffman
The parking lot overflowed and the 500 capacity auditorium had trouble accommodating all the Democrats who showed up to caucus at Carbondale Middle School.
That’s marginally higher than the strong turnout in 2008, according to former Garfield County Treasurer Georgia Chamberlain, who helped run the event.
“The candidates bring out the newcomers,” Chamberlain said. “That’s what’s kind of fun about it. There are a lot of people that have never caucused before.”
In some cases, the participants had been too young to vote during the last hotly contested Democratic race.
“I’m excited to be here to represent,” said Natalie Fuller. “I support Bernie because I believe in climate action and supporting the middle class.”
“I feel the Bern,” agreed Lindsay Gorley. “I believe in Bernie Sanders, and I think we need a true transformation to the way this country runs.”
They weren’t alone. Sanders came out on top in all four Carbondale precincts, with 60 percent of delegates elected from his camp.
His appeal was even strong enough to alter some allegiances.
“I’ve been an independent my entire life. This is the first time I’ve registered with a party,” said Dave Taylor. “I don’t agree with him 100 percent, but I see Bernie as the only person with any consistent integrity in the race.”
Veteran caucuser Russ Criswell had a candidate in mind, but planned to listen to all sides.
“It’s disorganized, chaotic, and hopefully productive,” he said of the process.
Edward Tiernan was less complimentary.
“I hate caucuses,” he said. “I’d love to see a primary in Colorado.”
It was certainly an adjustment for recent transplant Kathleen Barger, who spent most of her voting years with New Hampshire’s open primary.
“I’m from a longtime Republican family, but I’ve been an independent because the Republican Party hasn’t really represented me,” she said. “I’m very disappointed in the tenor of this political campaign — the personal attacks, the lack of decorum and dignity that I think is important for the office.”
Of the candidates on the table, Barger supported Hillary Clinton.
“Hillary comes with lots of history,” she said. “I feel that she has the knowledge and experience for the position.”
— Will Grandbois
Democrats crowded the Glenwood Springs Branch Library, with Bernie Sanders winning the majority of delegates in all three precincts caucusing there.
Many at the event were first-time caucus-goers who said they didn’t fully understand the process but wanted to learn about it firsthand.
Kara Lewis said she came to support Sanders, in part because of his support for equal pay for women and balancing taxes to benefit the middle class.
The caucus process seems a little disorganized compared with a simple vote, she said. “But as long as my vote gets in and makes a difference, that’s what matters.”
“I’m about to be 66 years old, and it’s about time I get involved in this process and learn how it’s done,” said Julia Gallegher.
Aften Willcuts, too, was a first-time caucus-goer who said she wanted to be involved in making a bright future for her 4-year-old daughter.
Among the Hillary Clinton supporters was Soraya Burg, an Iranian-American who’s been in the U.S. for 48 years. Voting is an honor, she said, and in an all her years in the U.S. she votes every chance she gets.
Bandy Logan said she’s never been very political, but Sanders’ campaign had motivated her to get involved. And though the caucus process is more collaborative than primary voting, it takes more effort that some working people don’t have time for, she said.
Tom and Tracy Westhoff were among the few caucus-goers still on the fence even minutes before the precincts started breaking up to vote. Tom said he’d changed his mind a few times but was leaning toward Clinton because she has the “superior résumé.” But the bottom line, said Tom, is who can beat Donald Trump in the general election.
“We have two capable candidates, and the candidates the Republicans have I wouldn’t elect to be the dog catcher.”
“If I had it my way, we’d have Hillary running for president with Sanders on the ticket at the vice president,” he said.
— Ryan Summerlin
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Silt, Rifle and Parachute high schools are holding their graduation ceremonies this Saturday in Western Garfield County.