RIDGWAY/OURAY – Now and then a surprising response stood out at last week’s commissioner candidate forum in Ridgway. Like when incumbent Democratic Commissioner Lynn Padgett ended her answer to a question on mining in Ouray County by saying, “So, yes, I am pro mining.” And again, when her opponent, Republican property rights advocate Jack Flowers, jogged left with his answer to the same question: “I don’t want to see our streams polluted by mining.”
But for the most part the forum, sponsored by the Ouray County Cattlemen’s Association, and conducted before a big house at the 4-H Event Center, held to form. Padgett, a geologist, began her answer to the mining question with cautionary statements like, “We haven’t seen what modern, best practices looks like” and “Mining is a boom-and-bust economy.”
She also emphasized, “We can’t grow one sector of our economy while hurting others,” i.e., heritage tourism, which depends on the same high-country roads and vistas as mining does.
Flowers’ answer to the same question began, “Ouray County desperately needs these jobs,” jobs that a resurgence in mining would bring.
Running for the District 3 seat, Independent Pat Willits and Republican Don Batchelder, both former Ridgway mayors, worked to demonstrate a willingness to state the hard truths, too. In answer to a question on renewable energy projects in the county, Batchelder accused the neighbors of a proposed solar farm at Angel Ridge of “classic NIMBY-ism.” We’re going to run out of fossil fuels one day, he said. “You can’t have your cake and eat it, too.”
Willits, for his part, pointed out that visual impact regulation, a political hot potato for years, and a subject of some equivocation by the other candidates, “actually helps neighbors’ property rights and property values as well.”
The revision of Section 9 of the Land Use Code, visual impacts, was, as expected, one of the 10 questions submitted by the Cattlemen’s membership. (Moderator Don Latham, who is on the county Republican Party Central Committee, called at the outset for no comment, “no applause or jeering,” from the audience until the event’s conclusion, rules that were mostly respected.)
In another straight-shooter type response, Willits, alone among the four candidates, brought up the bitter nature of partisan county politics, and urged that “we get friendlier, that we look each other in the eye when it’s done.”
Each candidate answered questions on county roads, on potential budget shortfalls, water and the controversial Public Access Group map. Each candidate also had an opportunity to tell his or her personal story, and those details illuminated the rest of the evening.
Flowers went first. “I drew lucky No. 1,” he said, going on to emphasize the point that he is “not a career politician.” Flowers’ roots are on Log Hill, he said, where his family settled in 1967, when he was 7 years old. “There were 13 houses up there then. I went to school in Montrose because the road was not plowed south of our place. We had to haul water. We got used to solving our own problems.”
Padgett, who received her geology degree from Western State, lives “off the grid in Jack’s neighborhood,” she said. As the only incumbent, she was able to emphasize efficiencies and successes during her four years on the board. “I care deeply about the county’s future,” she said. “I’m invested here....We feel democracy, or the lack of democracy, intensely at the local level.”
Twelve-year Ridgway Mayor Pat Willits, running to secure the District 3 seat to which he was temporarily appointed by Governor Hickenlooper, emphasized his background with the Nature Conservancy and current work on mine reclamation projects as well as his ability to mediate opposing viewpoints on the Ridgway town council. “What we lack [in the county],” he said, “is the ability to come together and come to consensus.”
And Batchelder, a product, he said, of a small town in New Hampshire not unlike Ridgway, emphasized his decades of experience as mayor, town manager, school board member, and a previous stint as county commissioner. He’s also run a successful masonry business for decades. Community service is “a part of my background. It may be an illness,” he said with a chuckle. “I don’t know. If you live in a community, you need to be part of that community.”
Padgett got in the pun of the night, saying to challenger (and third-generation rancher) Flowers, “I know that ranching was the original grassroots industry in Ouray County.”
OURAY EVENT ALSO FEATURED HD 59 CANDIDATES MCLACHLAN AND BROWN
The second of three Ouray County public forums leading up to the Nov. 6 election was held in Ouray on Tuesday, Oct. 2. Hosted by Women in Support of Education, it featured an hour-long showdown between Colorado House District 59 candidates Mike McLachlan of Durango, an attorney and Democrat who served a stint as Colorado Solicitor General, and incumbent J. Paul Brown (R-Ignacio), a lifelong sheep rancher and former La Plata County Commissioner who has served in the state legislature since 2010. They were followed by an hour-long Q&A with Ouray County’s four BOCC candidates.
The audience submitted questions in written form.
As they have been doing throughout the race, McLachlan and Brown succeeded in drawing a sharp distinction between themselves on issues ranging from women’s reproductive rights (McLachlan is pro-choice and Brown, pro-life) fracking, to the TABOR amendment (Taxpayers Bill of Rights), which Brown said he didn’t support when it originally passed in the early 1990s, but now sees as a way of protecting Colorado residents from tax hikes they did not approve. McLachlan, in contrast, asserted that “the long-term effects of TABOR are very dangerous for Colorado.”
McLachlan aggressively attacked Brown on his voting record in the last state legislative session. “Brown’s votes don’t seem concerned about children living in poverty or children’s education,” he said.
Brown responded that his votes reflected his fiscal conservatism and his philosophical opposition to expanding government bureaucracy.
“I want to help homeless kids, but I don’t want to just expand programs at the expense of other programs. I love kids,” he said, pointing out that he has raised four of his own and now has seven grandchildren.
Both candidates agreed that protecting funding for K-12 public education should be a priority.
The final question for Brown and McLachlan asked the candidates how they feel about government subsidies and how much money they have received in the form of such subsidies in last five to ten years. The question appeared to have been crafted with the express purpose of revealing the fact that Brown, a sheep rancher, has accepted such government subsidies in the past.
Brown acknowledged he has received subsidies – “I don’t know how much” – but none in the past five years, and added that “I don’t agree with the subsidies and believe that they should be cut.”
McLachlan seized the opportunity to paint his opponent as hypocritical, stating that “people who have received subsidies should not say at the same time that they despise the federal government.”
Questions for BOCC candidates largely reprised those at last week’s Ridgway forum, covering topics that ranged from visual impact regulations to the proposed Mt. Sneffels Wilderness Area. The candidates refrained from verbally attacking each other.
Perhaps 200 county residents of all ages and political persuasions attended the well-organized Tuesday night event.
A third forum will be held at the Divide Ranch and Club on Log Hill, Monday, Oct. 8 from 6-8 p.m.
Look for individual candidate profiles and more election coverage in The Watch’s forthcoming special election pull-out, which will be published on Oct. 18.