Republican Jim Candelaria, a local hemp promoter, builder and retired firefighter, has been elected to the Montezuma County commission.
During Tuesday’s election, Candelaria earned 4,754 votes over Democratic challenger MB McAfee, who received 4,361 votes, according to unofficial results. Candelaria received 40.78 percent of the vote to McAfee’s 37.41 percent.
Unaffiliated Steve Chappell had 1,862 votes (15.97 percent) and unaffiliated Jesse James Sattley got 681 votes (5.84 percent).
“Successes like this depend on faith, family, and friends, and I want to thank them and the voters for supporting me in this election,” Candelaria said Wednesday. “I am excited, energized and ready to go to work as your county commissioner.”
Candelaria’s campaign had a “man of action” theme. He is an ardent supporter of growing hemp as a way to diversify the local economy. To learn for himself, he obtained a state permit to grow hemp for fiber and medicinal oils in order to share the knowledge with others who might be interested.
“We can no longer just rely on oil and gas here,” Candelaria said. “By legalizing hemp, our state Legislature has given us an amazing opportunity to be leaders in a new agricultural industry that will help sustain our economy.”
Candelaria ran on a platform of reducing government regulations, increasing personal responsibility, developing multiple-use outdoor recreation, promoting entrepreneurship and public safety, and supporting the agricultural industry.
During the campaign, he supported the long tradition in the unincorporated county of not implementing residential building codes. Existing codes for commercial buildings are sufficient, he said, and he noted that residential septic and electrical codes also are in place.
“A homeowner still has the choice to build to whatever code they want. As a builder, we follow the 2015 International Residential Code,” Candelaria said, adding that homeowners can always hire an independent inspector if they choose.
Candelaria promised that he would not allow his construction ventures to cause a conflict of interest on the Board of Commissioners. His son Stephen is moving to the area to take over duties of Candelaria Construction.
“This will free up my time to focus on my full-time job as county commissioner,” Candelaria said. “I will work toward the greater good, listen and do my research.”
He believes the county’s climate is a good fit for solar energy. As a board member with the Cortez Sanitation District, he approved solar arrays to run two sewer plants, cutting customer costs by 5 percent.
He touted his energy and willingness to be proactive toward solving problems as a qualification to serve the public as a commissioner.
For example, when Groundhog Reservoir managers were considering prohibiting motorized use on the lake because of invasive mussels, Candelaria became a certified aquatic nuisance inspector and volunteered to do boat inspections to keep the lake open for boating.
Candelaria said he has the “negotiating skills and leadership” to find solutions to county problems. He has been a regular at the board meetings, and “I worked hard to be an informed candidate.”
During election night at the clerk’s office, conversation turned to the impressive voter participation in the election, and the community involvement that included six packed public forums, which at times became lively debates between candidates and members of the audience.
“It was a very interesting race, and it was fantastic to see the large turnout,” Candelaria said. “The competition made me work harder and strive to become a better leader. Now it is time to develop a solid plan forward.”
The topics at forums triggered community conversations in cafes, bars, and post offices on topics ranging from federal land management and a proposed county sales tax, to long-term planning, drought concerns, and brainstorming for economic development in a time of shrinking oil and gas revenues.
“Close races are good for the democratic process; they energize voters,” said Dave Spiegle, a Candelaria team member.
Candelaria also is a member of the Cortez Sanitation Board, and had a previous career as a firefighter for the city of Farmington.
Vote count goes into early morningIt was a close race between Candelaria and McAfee that was not decided until 2 a.m.
Candelaria was waiting results at the clerk’s office with his supporters, and left around 11 p.m. He had to catch a 6 a.m. flight to make a grant request presentation in his role as a Cortez Sanitation Board member.
Regarding the campaign, Candelaria said it was a “good and challenging experience. We anticipated a close race, and we got one. It was pretty gut-wrenching.”
In a phone interview Wednesday, McAfee stuck a congratulatory tone for the winning candidate, but also expressed disappointment.
“My team worked very hard, and I am very thankful for their efforts,” she said. “The final results are disappointing, but I was glad that the campaigning by all of the candidates was very clean and civil. I wish Jim the best, and I will still be attending commissioner meetings and continue to stay involved in the community.”
Regarding the close race, McAfee said her support of 4,361 voters showed “people wanted a different voice, but the Republican Party is strong here.”
She said the race generated “a lot of excitement, and hopefully that will inspire others to become involved in county government.”
Extended term limit for DA failsIn other unofficial results, Question 7A, which considered extending term limits for the 22nd District Attorney from two terms to three terms lost, with 6,819 (63.68 percent) against extending the term limits, and 3,890 (36.32 percent) for extending the term limits.
Ballot Question 6A, which asked voters whether they would increase the mill levy for the Lewis-Arriola Fire Protection District passed, with 847 (57.42 percent) voting for it and 628 (42.58 percent) voting against it, in unofficial results.