Winter Park & Fraser Chamber hosts wide-ranging candidate forum
At the Winter Park Town Hall on Oct. 20, the Winter Park & Fraser Chamber hosted a candidate forum featuring those running for county and state offices. The event, which drew more spectators than the town hall could hold, gave three minutes to each candidate to introduce themselves and talk about their priorities before the moderator asked a few pre-selected questions.
The organizers also gave the candidates 30 seconds to give one last “vote for me” message. The state-level candidates went first, and the county candidates followed.
At the state level, candidates for District 13 Colorado State Representative, District 8 State Senator and governor attended the event. County commissioner and clerk and recorder candidates spoke during the county races section, as did Ed Raegner, a local business owner and the East Grand School Board President, who gave supporting arguments for ballot measure 6A.
Candidates for federal offices could not attend the event, but Grand County Democrats Co-chair Zachariah Falconer-Stout read a statement from U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, state Rep. Julie McCluskie read one from the U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse and District 13 state house candidate David Buckley spoke on behalf of senate candidate Joe O’Dea.
The only gubernatorial candidate to attend the forum was Kevin Ruskusky of the Libertarian Party. Falconer-Stout read a statement from incumbent Democratic Governor Jared Polis.
Ruskusky, speaking first, told the crowd about his background as a school teacher from Aurora. He focused his short speech on the idea that the current political landscape is unprecedented and calls for something outside of the status quo, like the election of a Libertarian governor.
“I don’t think anybody can argue — Jared Polis is doing a fine job,” Ruskusky said. “But there is a lot that needs to be changed. And we’re in a time in our world history that is unprecedented. And to continue on the same path of more of the same is going to get us more of the same.”
In his list of priorities, Ruskusky mentioned expanding early education and mental health services, helping students re-integrate into the classroom in a post-COVID world, protecting water rights and lowering government spending.
State Rep. Dylan Roberts, the Democratic candidate for the District 8 State Senate seat, spoke next. He mentioned his experience working as a Deputy District Attorney in Eagle County, but focused on his legislative experience representing District 26 in the Colorado House of Representatives.
“When we knew that our communities faced the highest health insurance costs in the state, we worked to pass bills that have lowered health insurance costs in the individual market by over 35%,” Roberts said. “I wrote and passed the bill that made Colorado the first state in the country to cap the cost of insulin.”
Roberts also covered his work on water, wildfire and housing issues in the state house, voiced his support for abortion access and covered the priorities he would have in the state senate — education, housing, support for rural economies, funding for mental health resources, support for law enforcement and protecting water rights.
Matt Solomon, Roberts’ Republican opponent, laid out his history of public service in the district as a paramedic, deputy coroner and Eagle town council member as private sector-business owner. Solomon highlighted ways in which he claimed Roberts and other Democrats have failed their constituents.
“We’ve heard my opponent and others say, ‘Oh, we didn’t think about the outcome of that, we’re going to have to address that later,’” Solomon said. “We see that with the fentanyl bill where they decriminalized it three years ago. And now we have a crisis of fentanyl.”
Solomon criticized Roberts and Democratic leadership in the state for their handling of the budget, education, health insurance, inflation and lawmaker accountability before his allotted time ran out.
The Democratic candidate for the State House District 13 seat, McCluskie, spoke about her history living and working in the mountains after moving to Dillon in 2001; then spent most of her time discussing what she has done in the state legislature while representing House District 61.
“We have spent a lot of time trying to address the challenges we face up here around affordability as well as livability,” McCluskie said. “As Chair of the Joint Budget Committee, I’m extremely proud of the work that we have done on health care, housing and childcare.”
McCluskie talked about the funding she helped secure for health care, housing and childcare issues, highlighting the bipartisan support bills in those areas received. She also touched on supporting teachers and mitigating fires before she ran out of time.
Kremmling resident David Buckley, the Republican House District 13 candidate, spoke about his excitement to be in his home county and urged the crowd to research him on buckleyforhouse.com before asking them questions.
“How many of you are paying higher gas and fuel prices?” Buckley said as audience members raised their hands. “How many of you are paying higher grocery prices? How many of you are paying more for energy? Right there, ladies and gentlemen, is what my focus is going to be. The inflation that’s hitting our state right now is significant.”
Buckley spoke about cutting taxes to fight inflation, supporting rural and mountain schools and funding law enforcement as priorities before running out of time.
Catherine Ross, the Winter Park & Fraser Chamber executive director, moderated the forum. She asked the state-level candidates about inflation, and while the Democratic candidates focused on the national and global nature of inflation, the Republican candidates criticized them for fueling inflation during their terms.
Ruskusky said “remov(ing) the boot from the throat of small businesses” by cutting taxes would help the economy.
Someone asked about working “across the aisle” and the candidates’ stances on abortion. When Ross asked if the candidates believe the 2020 election was fair and accurate or stolen in some way, Buckley at first responded “yes” before saying fair and accurate. Every candidate except Ruskusky said fair and accurate as well.
Ruskusky said. “…I’m sorry to break the rules, but I don’t agree with either of those answers.”
Randy George, the Republican who was appointed to the county commissioner seat he is running for, talked about the first time someone told him he should run for commissioner, and how he thought he’d explore it a little bit and in February, started going to weekly commissioner meetings.
Manguso resigned in June, and the Grand County Republicans appointed George to serve the rest of her term. George talked about how he had prepared for the job by going to commissioner meetings and how his experience on other boards, including a school board and the Colorado Cross Country Ski Association Board, help him understand the job. He finished by talking about next year’s county budget.
KFFR Station Manager Steve Skinner is running against George and talked about his campaign priorities of youth, seniors and housing. He said an older woman called him early in his campaign and told him her worries about being priced out of her Grand Lake home.
“I told her right then that I was going to work for her, so I am going to work for her,” Skinner said. “I’ve met with other seniors in the community and have been to senior lunches all over the county, and that theme keeps coming up. So I’m here to represent seniors.”
Skinner said too many kids in the county miss out on certain opportunities because their parents cannot get them a spot in a preschool. He supports the county doing more to support affordable housing.
Jolene Stetson Linke
Jolene Stetson Linke, the Republican candidate for Grand County Clerk and Recorder, spoke after Skinner and focused on her background, highlighting her law degree, time practicing law in the county, motherhood and experience as the Grand County Republican Party’s secretary.
Linke also spoke about her experience as an election judge and school teacher and said, as clerk and recorder, she “will work to hire enough people to reopen the driver’s license office, to serve the people in Grand County, and propose keeping the office open during lunch hour by staggering lunch hours.”
She talked about working at the motor vehicle office and training under Clerk and Recorder Sara Rosene as other ways she has prepared for the job, denied that she would try to get rid of mail-in voting in the county and said her office would be “vigilant in our signature verification system to ensure that each and every ballot cast in our county is from an eligible voter.”
Linke’s Democratic opponent Abby Loberg also worked as a teacher in Grand County and highlighted her time teaching U.S. history, civics and law. She said she wanted her students to become educated voters and active citizens and would bring her blank ballot into her classes to show her students and create a shortened version for them to fill out.
“I would also bring in the Colorado Blue Book, and to their dismay, we would go over (it),” Loberg said. “We would learn the different initiatives and proposals that voters get to vote on in our state, and they’re always so excited to see the results of their own votes.”
Loberg also talked about service learning projects she had her students participate in and said students always asked her when she would run for office. After retiring from teaching, running for clerk seemed a great way to serve the community, she said. She said the 2020 election was fair and accurate and that mail-in voting is safe and secure.
Ross started the second round of questions with ones specifically for the clerk and recorder candidates. She first asked if the county needs to replace its Dominion voting machines, which have been the target of baseless claims of voter fraud in the 2020 Presidential Election. Linke said she would replace the machines if another company’s could be used for the same price because “there is a lot of suspicion about Dominion machines,” while Loberg said replacing them would be an unnecessary cost on the county.
Ross then asked Linke and Loberg about the legitimacy of the 2020 election. Loberg, who had already voiced her opinion in her speech, said the election was fair and accurate. Linke’s response came with a caveat.
“In Grand County, fair and accurate, yes,” Linke said before the crowd responded with a mix of applause and boos.
When an audience member pointed out that Linke did not answer for the whole country, Ross said Linke’s answer was her answer and the crowd should “take it as (they) will.” Linke has been criticized for avoiding answering the question in the past. Sky-Hi News asked her similar one in our candidate Q&A series, and she responded by writing about the excellent work Rosene has done and her goal to expand motor vehicle office hours.
The commissioner candidates answered questions about how they will help protect the Colorado River and what the need is for the Fraser River Valley Housing Partnership. Skinner talked about fighting overdevelopment to conserve water and supporting the housing partnership, and George mentioned protecting water rights, improving water quality and his opinion that the housing partnership is only one piece in the puzzle of solving the affordable housing crisis.
Skinner and George agreed about a question regarding the county hiring private snow plows this winter because of staffing issues in the county’s roads department. They both categorized the decision as a necessary one but said they would rather have the county department fully staffed.
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