Moving Mountains’ candidate debate gets off the ground despite initial challenges, miscommunications
Eagle County’s newest small donor committee will host a discussion with Colorado State Senate District 8 candidates Aug. 18
On Thursday, Aug. 18, Moving Mountains Eagle County — a recently formed small donor committee — will host a candidate event for three candidates running for state legislative seats.
The event will take place at the Eagle County municipal building in Eagle and will be moderated by Kevin Brubeck. Brubeck is a financial advisor for Edward Jones and has previously served as a trustee on the Eagle Town Board.
Republican Matt Solomon and Democrat Dylan Roberts, the candidates for Senate District 8, as well as Democrat Meghan Lukens, who is running for Colorado House District 26, will be in attendance at the event.
Seth Levy, a Gypsum resident who started the Moving Mountains Eagle County committee in July 2022, said the event will be split into two sections, one for the Senate candidates and one for Lukens.
Within each section — scheduled for 50 minutes each — he said that there will be four parts:
- First, each candidate will receive three minutes to give opening remarks
- Second, Brubeck will ask a set of questions to candidates, alternating who gets to respond first
- Third, Brubeck will ask a set of questions submitted from the community to candidates
- Fourth, each candidate will receive two minutes to give closing remarks
During the question-answer portions, candidates will be granted — at the moderator’s discretion — a 30-second rebuttal only if the other candidate calls them either “by name or insinuation.” Additionally, each candidate will be given two, 30-second “extension cards,” which can be used to extend either their opening or closing statements or any response given.
“Candidates will not get questions in advance, but two days before will be given the topics that will be discussed so that they can prepare adequately,” Levy said.
As for how this will work with only one candidate for House District 26 race, Levy said “the candidate will be asked questions the same as if there were more than one. This is not an adversarial debate with individual questions, it is more forum style where everyone on stage answers the same thing.”
While the debate is a go, the launch of Moving Mountains and the candidate debate got off to a rocky start as miscommunication, alleged inaccuracies, and reportedly rushed timing led certain candidates and board members to exit ahead of the Aug. 18 event.
Starting Moving Mountains
The idea for Moving Mountains Eagle County had been “percolating” in Levy’s head for several election cycles, he said in an interview on Thursday, Aug. 11, with the Vail Daily.
“I’ve been witnessing the politics in this country becoming more divisive, just on a national level, and it really hadn’t hit home too much. There were things here or there, but nothing too much with local politics,” he said.
However, Levy didn’t feel “pushed into action” until he said “people locally started — specifically on the Republican side — were getting into positions of leadership within the local Republican Party and using that platform to push conspiracy theories such as the election in 2020 not being legitimate,” he said.
Then, things really got rolling after a conversation with the former Eagle County Republican Chair Kaye Ferry following her removal in June from the group. Levy said Ferry asked him to help her “create a group for those of us who aren’t so extreme, a space for Republicans who may believe in the right to an abortion and gay marriage and for Democrats who may believe in the right to own a gun and lower taxes.”
This group would become Moving Mountains — which recently changed its name to Moving Mountains Eagle County to avoid confusion with a Routt County company vacation rental company with the same name.
What made it all come together quickly, however, Levy said, was the desire to create a debate for this election cycle.
Levy’s main goal with the candidate event “was to provide a forum for Eagle County residents to voice their concerns and questions to the candidates that are seeking their vote and have their questions answered,” as well as to provide “a platform for the candidates that are willing to show up.”
Levy began working to pull together an event that he felt should be held six weeks before ballots were mailed.
“Since most of the contested races that are being voted on in Eagle County expand beyond our district, beyond our county — the Senate district, the House district, and then some of the statewide races — I figured the closer we get to the election, the less important Eagle County becomes. Bigger events happen, that when push comes to shove, people would, even if they committed at one point to show up, would say, ‘You know, this is a more important event for me to go to,’” Levy said. “And so I figured six weeks before ballots are mailed in Eagle County would make sense for an intro event for the election season.”
Poor timing and miscommunication
Initially, there were six total candidates invited to the Moving Mountains Eagle County event. This included the candidates for Colorado Senate District 8, House District 26, and county commissioner.
Levy said he chose the state Senate and House races because his “focus is local,” and these races “are considered by some to be swing elections this year.”
“They could go either way, and Eagle County is kind of the lynchpin for either one. I think that whoever wins Eagle County could win their election. I figured that would be a good place to start,” he added.
Levy announced the Aug. 18 debate in a July column in the Vail Daily stating that it was “the only scheduled debate for this year’s election in Eagle County with debates between candidates for the county commissioner, House District 26, and Senate District 8 races.”
From the moment the column was posted online, however, confusion arose for local party leaders and some of the candidates invited.
“My initial introduction to Moving Mountains was when the Eagle County Republican Party was characterized by Seth Levy in an article about this debate,” said Tony Martinez, the new Eagle County Republican chair, in an interview on Aug. 12. “My understanding was that, in the paper, the candidates were, for lack of a better word ‘committed’ to being part of this debate. They were quoted as going to be attending when none of them had committed to attending, so there’s inaccuracies there. That and mischaracterization of our Eagle County Republicans party, it was just not a good start for this thing.”
Similarly, Jennifer Filipowski, the local chair of the Eagle County Democrats, told the Vail Daily that while the local Democrats were aware of the group and debate, they hadn’t agreed to blanket participation.
The column was pulled from the Vail Daily website after it went up online, and never ran in print. Vail Daily Editor Nate Peterson published a column in response to the inaccuracies in Levy’s column after hearing from party officials and candidates.
County Commissioner Jeanne McQueeney, a Democrat who is running again for her seat this November, told the Vail Daily on Aug. 11 that she became aware of the debate from a phone call from Ferry in July. At that time, McQueeney told Ferry she needed more information before committing. McQueeney said that she got an email with the details later, but “before I could respond in any way it was on the Vail Daily saying I committed.”
Levy addressed these concerns in an email sent to the Vail Daily and all the invited candidates, stating that the “debate criteria was finalized with the moderator and sent to candidates” on Tuesday, July 19. In the email, Levy wrote that Solomon was the only response he received from the six candidates by the time his column was posted in the Vail Daily on Saturday, July 23.
“I felt that it was safe to assume that no response with questions or concerns meant that there was agreement,” Levy wrote.
However, in his column, Levy wrote that “of the six candidates on the ballot, five of six have agreed to participate with only Republican Savannah Wolfson not responding either way to our invitation.”
And for some of the candidates, the confusion was enough to pull out of the debate.
Wolfson, in an interview with the Vail Daily on Aug. 11, said that she ultimately pulled out of the debate because “all of the drama doesn’t do any service to the voters.”
“I agree with Moving Mountains’ goal of moving away from extremism and partisanship. I am very focused on returning affordability to this region and that is my goal right now and I’m going to be out knocking on doors for the foreseeable future,” Wolfson said.
Lukens, Wolfson’s opponent, will be participating in the Moving Mountains Eagle County event on Aug. 18.
“When I first heard of the event, I was immediately interested because it is always important to connect with the many hard-working people of Eagle County,” Lukens said. “By having elected officials accessible and responsive, as shown by my participation in this event, we can engage with more people in the political process to get real results for our communities.”
However, Wolfson and Lukens will get a chance to debate each other later this election season. Both candidates have agreed to a debate that will be hosted on Sept. 10 in Grand Junction by Club 20.
“Club 20 has a track record of being bipartisan, there are definitely Democrats and Republicans and unaffiliateds involved. What they are is an organization that advocates for the Western Slope specifically and I think that’s what this race is going to boil down to: Who’s a better advocate for Western Slope policies instead of Boulder policies,” Wolfson said.
McQueeney said that the initial confusion surrounding the Vail Daily column and debate “raised a lot of concerns.”
“This was a good idea in principal and a healthy debate is a good thing, I just felt like it was rushed,” she said, later adding that she “didn’t feel it was coming together in a way that was helpful” and she decided to decline the invitation based on the fact that the group “didn’t have a committee or a nonpartisan group.”
Overall, McQueeney expressed she was “supportive of the goal of Moving Mountains and what they were trying to do.”
“Seth can articulate it, but getting a committee of people to represent Moving Mountains, it wasn’t really coming together,” McQueeney said. “It really seems as if it was really a miscommunication.”
Republican Brian Brandl, the other candidate for Eagle County commissioner, also decided not to participate in the Aug. 18 event.
“It’s just poor timing for me; I feel like it’s a little early in the campaign season for a debate,” Brandl said. “I’d rather get something put together for later in the campaign season.”
Brandl, however, expressed support for the debate between Solomon and Roberts. According to Brandl, he told Levy that he felt the event “should be a marquee event for the Senate candidates.”
“I have full support for the debate for Matt Solomon and Dylan Roberts, I’d love to see those guys do it,” he said, adding that his full support is behind Solomon.
For his part, Solomon said he “agreed to participate in the debate, as presented and without hesitation, because this is an opportunity for the residents of our district to see and hear, first-hand, answers to some of their concerns and the contrast between the two candidates.”
“I look forward to discussing policy and solution-oriented ideas with fact-based reasoning,” he added.
Similarly, Roberts expressed that his participation spoke to his responsibility to his constituents.
“As a candidate, I believe it is my responsibility to be as open and transparent as possible to voters. So, any event in our community that allows for us to fairly present our views and answer questions about state legislative policy is going to be a priority for me to attend,” Roberts said. “I am looking forward to a productive and issue-based forum next week.”
This initial push and confusion also led to both the naming and subsequent loss of two board members. In Levy’s Vail Daily column, he named the Moving Mountains’ Eagle County board members as: “Kaye Ferry, a Republican, Jon Stavney, a Democrat, Scott Schlosser, who is unaffiliated, and I (unaffiliated) will be a non-voting chair.”
Schlosser responded to Levy’s July 24 email on Monday, July 25, withdrawing from the committee.
“I was initially interested in being on this committee in the hopes of bringing a bit of unity, kindness, peace and love during these very divisive political times but sadly that seems unrealistic,” he wrote.
When the Vail Daily reached out for further comment, Schlosser wrote he was “not interested in commenting on this topic.”
The board’s other member, Stavney also withdrew from the board shortly after, telling the Vail Daily that it was primarily due to the rushed nature of things.
Stavney first heard about the group from Levy and was drawn to the concept of “a group that is focused on civility and is focused on helping elected leaders have sort of, if not a party, but a platform for not-extremist views and positions.”
However, from their initial conversation, wires got crossed, Stavney said.
“He immediately took (my interest) to mean, I want to be on the board and my take was I’d like to hear more about the concept,” he said.
“I thought there would be some more runway for defining the thing as a group, and this is a passionate thing for him, he wants to be involved, and he has a very strong — from just my limited time meeting him — personality and is just off to the races for this,” Stavney said.
Ultimately, Stavney said he told Levy that, “this is all happening too fast and this isn’t really what I thought I was going to be signed up for.”
However, Stavney said he wasn’t necessarily out for good.
“If Seth can get a group off the ground that makes a difference in this and tones down that more conspiratorial, angry extremist parts of our conversation — I’m all for it,” he said. “And who knows, maybe if there’s a group that has a part of that, I have a place in that. But things were happening too fast, quite frankly.”
For Levy, part of the committee’s eventual mission is to “be a voice” for what he called the “currently silent majority” that is the 52% of unaffiliated registered voters in Eagle County.
“Part of the hope with us running things was that we would be able to kind of push party politics aside and get this done — and by get this done, I mean have a debate that is civil and is absent of the normal party politics — and that just didn’t happen,” Levy said, adding that both the local Republican and Democrat parties got involved and “muddied the waters,” even though “frankly, they weren’t invited to the debate.”
However, Levy referred to this as “growing pains” for the small donor committee.
“It’s something that I hope to work past over the next couple of years where we’re able to just kind of do our own thing without the interference that we witnessed this time,” he said.
Long-term, Levy also hopes to grow back the board to be a “five-person executive board with three unaffiliated members and one Republican and one Democrat.”
This election cycle, Levy said Moving Mountains Eagle County doesn’t have any other events currently planned.
“My hope is really to get this (candidate event) done and prepare for the 2024 cycle,” he said. “And if something comes up next year, OK, we’ll see. But really try to plan some more robust series of activities for 2024.”
This story is from vaildaily.com.
What: Moving Mountains Eagle County Candidate Event
When: Thursday, Aug. 18 at 6 p.m.
Where: In person at the Eagle County municipal building (500 Broadway, Eagle) and broadcast on High Five Access Media, both on Channel 5 locally and streaming online at highfivemedia.org
To submit a question, visit Movingmtns.co/events
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