Small bands of Cortez voters gathered in churches, government and medical buildings Tuesday night for the 2018 Montezuma County caucuses.
The Montezuma County Republican and Democrat parties used Tuesday’s caucuses to choose the delegates they would send to the county assembly on March 16. There, members of each party will choose which names they want to be on the county’s primary ballot, and some delegates will be chosen to represent the county at regional and state assemblies. Based on how many people in each party voted in the last presidential election, the Montezuma County Republicans can send a maximum of 197 delegates, and the Democrats can send a maximum of 79.
Each Republican precinct had its own caucus location. For Precinct 8, which covers most of northwestern Cortez, it was Hospice of Montezuma, where six people gathered to appoint five delegates. Several Republicans in the Montezuma County government are running for reelection this year, although most will be unopposed on the primary ballot. But three Republicans – James Lambert, Jim Candelaria and Charlie Rosenbaugh – are running for the District 1 county commissioner position, and at the county assembly, the delegates will be responsible for voting them on or off the ballot.
One Precinct 8 delegate, Rich Feit, said he didn’t know much about the caucus process before attending this one, but he was eager to learn.
“I came here because I want Jim Candelaria to win,” he said.
His precinct’s chair, Patti French, explained that the county assembly would be local voters’ chance to have a say in who ends up on their party’s ballot.
Several delegates read campaign letters from their preferred candidates during the caucus, touching on the issues they hope to influence as part of county government. Danny Wilkin, chair of the Montezuma County Republicans, visited several of the precincts to speak about the importance of caucuses and assemblies in helping the party elect the right candidates.
At the Montezuma County Annex building, where Democratic representatives from Precincts 4-10 met, the mood was loud and bustling as voters gathered around tables labeled with glittering balloons for each precinct. Although Precinct 8 could only send seven delegates to the county assembly, more than 20 people gathered around its table at the caucus. Because none of this year’s local Democrat candidates are contested, the Democrat caucus focused on the five Democrats running for state governor. Straw polls around the county showed a majority of the caucus participants favored Cary Kennedy, with 91 votes. Jared Polis and Mike Johnston were in second place, with 42 and 40 votes, respectively.
Jonathan Walker, a City Council candidate who has caucused for the Montezuma County Democrats since 2008, said the caucuses are usually more crowded for presidential elections, but he was still impressed by the turnout on Tuesday.
“For Montezuma County to have this kind of a turnout, I think, is pretty phenomenal for on an off year, a non-presidential year,” he said. “But governor is pretty important, too.”
Although the Cortez municipal election is nonpartisan, Walker was far from the only City Council candidate to participate in the caucuses. One candidate, Gary Noyes, brought his own campaign letter to the Precinct 9 caucus at Montezuma Valley Presbyterian Church, which about a dozen people attended. Several of that precinct’s delegates expressed support for Noyes.
“Word of mouth is very important, especially in a small community,” delegate Tiffany Cheny said.
Wilkin said he didn’t expect the maximum number of Republican delegates at the county assembly, but he added that he wouldn’t know the final tally until later in the week. Alan Klein, co-chair of the Democrats, said he expected around 65 to 70 delegates to attend.
The Montezuma County assembly will be held at the Annex building, 103 N. Chestnut St., Cortez, at 6 p.m. on March 16.