Plot twists at Republican county assembly
March 22, 2016
It's shaping up to be an interesting year for politics in Grand County.
Delegates at the Grand County Republican Party County Assembly on Sunday, March 20, put two challengers on the primary ballot for the District One county commissioner seat while shunning the Republican District Two incumbent in favor of a reformist challenger.
On Sunday afternoon, a sedan sporting a large campaign sign for Republican Chas McConnell sat outside of Fraser Valley Elementary School where the assembly was taking place.
For some attendants, it was the first they had heard of McConnell's candidacy for District One county commissioner – McConnell filed his affidavit with the state on March 15.
But the 92 delegates in attendance had no trouble making up their minds about the late arrival – McConnell received 36 votes, or 40 percent, well above the 28-vote threshold needed to get on the primary ballot.
Rich Cimino received 29 votes, enough to get on the ballot, while former Grand County Finance Director Scott Berger received 25 votes.
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Candidates with at least 10 votes can petition onto the ballot, but Berger said he would not.
"Chas and I, our platforms are very similar, so all we would be doing would be splitting that vote of people that want to see change at the county, and I don't want to do that," Berger said.
In his nomination speech, McConnell touted his part in uncovering mismanagement in county government, ostensibly referring to his involvement with the group Citizens for Transparency in Grand County Government, which first raised concerns with former Grand County Commissioner James Newberry's county mileage reimbursement reports.
Newberry eventually pled no contest to one felony count of embezzlement of public funds in relation to his mileage reports and resigned from office.
McConnell ran unsuccessfully against Newberry for District One County Commissioner in 2008 and 2012.
McConnell said he was running again in light of Grand County's recent financial woes.
"Our county needs strong leadership – a person who will do the research, isn't afraid to ask the difficult questions and make the hard decisions," McConnell said, adding the county needed to restore the trust of citizens with "transparency and honesty."
In District Two, incumbent Merrit Linke received 23 votes, or 25 percent, while Grand County Assessor Tom Weydert received 59 votes, or 64 percent, automatically earning a spot on the primary ballot.
Chris Ruske of Grand Lake received 10 votes, enough to petition onto the ballot.
Weydert, who has publicly criticized county leadership and the conduct of the board of commissioners on multiple occasions, has made reforming the culture of the board a cornerstone of his campaign.
"I want to be your commissioner because I believe we need changes in county leadership, and I can provide the leadership and experience to make those changes," Weydert said during his nomination speech, calling the atmosphere at recent commissioner meetings "toxic and confrontational."
Weydert was elected Grand County Assessor in 2006.
"I was certainly surprised," Linke said of the results. "I had believed, I guess mistakenly, that I had more support going into there. People had said they were supporting me, but that didn't pan out into the numbers that I thought were correct."
Linke said he would attempt to petition onto the primary ballot.
"I am going to petition because I believe that the vote that was taken there does not support the wish of the people, and I think the people should decide who should be in their commissioner seat," Linke said. "I just don't think it was a good, accurate representation of the population."
Linke must collect around 426 signatures, or 20 percent of the electors that voted during the last primary or general election for the same seat, he said.
Ruske said he would not petition onto the ballot.
"It is what it is," Ruske said. "I don't know what else to say. The delegates made their decisions, and that's fine. They had to make their choices."
Ruske added that he would support any of the other Republican candidates.
"They'd all do a great job," Ruske said.
Baumgardner: White could cost GOP the state senate
On the state political stage, Senator Randy Baumgardner took his fight against local unaffiliated candidate Al White to the challenger's doorstep, telling the assembly that splitting the vote with White in District 8 could compromise the GOP's hold on the Colorado Senate.
"If we lose this senate seat to a Democrat, which that's what will happen if that vote splits, the Democrats will control it – they'll control all three branches," Baumgardner said. "So any fears that you have about more gun legislation that will take more of your rights away, it's going to pass. Any tax increase that you think might happen that could be passed by the legislature, it's going to pass."
White previously served as a Republican in both the state Senate and House. Baumgardner and White will face Democrat Emily Tracy from Breckenridge in the election.
Baumgardner called the senate "the only backstop" between Colorado Republicans and Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper.
Hank Shell can be reached at 970-557-6010.