Three Republican candidates for Montezuma County commissioner got their first chance to field questions from the public at a Friday forum in the meeting room at Baymont Inn and Suites.
Hosted by the Republican Women’s Club of Montezuma County, the forum featured a lengthy question-and-answer session with James Lambert, Jim Candelaria and Charlie Rosenbaugh, the candidates competing for their party’s nomination to the District 1 commissioner seat. They spent about an hour answering questions about issues facing the county, such as the budget, the proposed Paths to Mesa Verde bike trail and a possible countywide sales tax. Members of the county’s Republican central committee also spoke about what to expect in this year’s caucuses and primary elections.
Each candidate was given 10 minutes to introduce himself and explain what his goals would be as commissioner.
Incumbent James Lambert spoke more about his accomplishments than what he planned for the future, highlighting his role in developing the county’s fleet department and fighting for more concessions from the Bureau of Land Management.
“That experience is just going to be more important in two years, when the other two commissioners are term-limited out,” he said. “It does take time to learn this stuff.”
Candelaria, a retired firefighter who owns Candelaria Construction and serves on the Cortez Sanitation District, said one of his biggest concerns is finding a reliable source of income for the county to replace diminishing oil and gas revenue. He said he believes new agricultural crops, particularly hemp, could be the answer.
Rosenbaugh, a former county coroner and current deputy coroner, emphasized his desire to support the Colorado State University extension office and the 4-H program, and to improve safety at the county’s most rural schools. He said those programs should take priority over building the Paths to Mesa Verde trail, a mountain biking trail that the county has considered for years.
Several audience members grilled Candelaria on the difference between hemp and marijuana, and whether his support of hemp production meant he would also support lifting the county’s ban on retail pot shops. Candelaria emphasized that hemp is not the same as marijuana, since it contains only 0.3 percent THC, the intoxicating chemical that distinguishes pot. But he said he would also consider voting to allow retail marijuana in the county, something the other two candidates emphatically opposed.
“I would have to look at the pros and cons, because constitutionally, it’s not wrong,” Candelaria said. “I’m open-minded enough to say, Yeah, I would look at it.”
Forum attendees also asked the candidates how they would feel about creating ballot issues to fund projects like broadband and the bike trail. All three said they believed broadband was a low priority for the county, saying it should be left up to private businesses like Zumacom. Candelaria said he would consider a ballot issue for Paths to Mesa Verde if it seemed economically viable, but the other two disagreed.
Rosemarie Beall, vice president of the Women’s Club, asked whether the candidates would support establishing building codes in the county. Candelaria and Lambert said they wouldn’t, since the idea has been voted down in the past by county residents. Rosenbaugh said he might support more regulations in order to improve building safety.
One thing all three candidates agreed on was the possibility of a countywide sales tax. Lambert said the county planning and zoning commission is already pushing to put a tax on the ballot in a future election, and he would support it if it reached the commissioners for a vote. Rosenbaugh said he believed it might be the best way to improve the county budget without raising property taxes.
“A lot of county employees haven’t got a raise in three years,” he said. “We’ve got to look at other ways of generating revenue in this county.”
Before the Q&A session, County Clerk Kim Percell spoke about what the primary elections will look like this year, the first time unaffiliated voters will be able to participate. She said she is still working on a plan to implement the new rules for unaffiliated voters, but she said they are unlikely to affect registered Republicans or Democrats.
Party chair Danny Wilkin encouraged every Republican in the audience to participate in the precinct caucuses on Tuesday, where each of the county’s 11 precincts will choose delegates to send to the county assembly later in the month.
“The caucus is about your individual right to get out and help to pick and choose your candidates, and who you want to be on the ballot,” Wilkin said.
Beall said the Women’s Club tries to host a public event related to local politics at least a few times a year. Like most of those events, Friday’s forum was open to the public, regardless of party affiliation. Members of the club handed out lists of caucus locations and campaign materials from each candidate, along with baked goods and coffee.
The Montezuma County primary elections will be held on June 26. One Democrat, MB McAfee, has also announced her candidacy for the board of commissioners.