Teller Republican Leaders Slam Door On Assessor

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Photo by CR Chambers

by Rick Langenberg:

Watt wins big at GOP Assembly

Related front page story

Unless Teller County Assessor Betty Clark-Wine mounts a miraculous petition effort in the next two weeks, challenger Violet Watt will dethrone the incumbent for this heavily contested position early next year in a sweeping changing of the guard. Last Saturday, the Teller Republicans delivered Clark-Wine a huge defeat and denied her a spot on the primary ballot by overwhelmingly supporting Florissant resident Violet Watt, a former employee of the assessor’s office for five years, in the GOP assembly in Divide. This is the first step in the county election process.

But as part of a growing trend in Teller politics, the GOP county assembly has actually turned into a “do or die” verdict for many county Republican candidates (see related editorial). With no Democrats or Independents in the field for county elections, the tally of GOP delegates amounts to the actual final vote in many cases.

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Challenger Violet Watt for Assessor (photo by CR Chambers)

Following a strong volley of cheers from the assembly floor, Watt, who currently works for the Teller County budget office, clearly emerged as the victor with a 79-22 vote. With this verdict, Clark-Wine fell short of the minimum total required to get onto the primary ballot this summer.

Watt expressed much elation with the outcome, contending that she received a lot more delegate support than she expected. “I was surprised I did as well I did,” said Watt. “I didn’t expect this amount of support. I am very happy,” added the assessor candidate, who has worked in the past with the Teller County Republican Central Committee.

Watt has cited returning good customer service to the office and preparing for the 2015 revaluation period as her primary objectives. Throughout her initial campaign, she has hammered at the point of dealing with the large level of turnover at the office, with the reported loss of 11 key employees over the last several years, and providing good service to the taxpayers. She got quite emotional in accepting the nomination for the seat, stressing the need for a change in the running of the assessor’s office. “I will return a sense of camaraderie to the assessor’s office,” said Watt, a statement that generated a thunderous ovation form the large crowd of delegates, including many county leaders and employees. Watt also touted her background as a third-generation native, with strong roots in the area.

Immediately following the vote, Clark-Wine vowed to continue her campaign and attempt to petition her way onto the ballot. However, she admits this is a steep hurdle, as she must secure close to 750 autographs from registered GOP voters by the end of the month.

But more than anything, she announced a pledge to set the record straight. “There is a lot of misinformation out there,” said Clark-Wine, who especially objects to statements made by Watt and other county officials regarding allegations of a failed audit and other problems with the office. Moreover, she says the issue of turnover is big problem with many county offices, especially during a changing administration.

She also questioned the campaign antics of her opponents. Clark-Wine says she is still committed to the goal of getting her name onto the primary ballot for the June election. “I was looking forward to a head-to-head competition,” said Clark-Wine, who believes she would fare better with a vote decided by all Teller Republicans and not just 101 GOP leaders. “I would like the people and voters to decide this election instead of just one percent of the Republicans,” said Clark-Wine.

In her nomination speech, the assessor outlined a strong commitment to the Teller taxpayers and a more flexible stance in assessing properties than what was done in the past. She also cited many improvements in getting information out to the public.

But based on the reaction of the delegates, she faced an uphill battle during the GOP assembly. Clark-Wine said she didn’t expect to win the delegate vote, but was hoping to secure the minimum threshold of approximately 30 percent of the delegate tallies.

During her nomination speech, Watt was quite critical of the incumbent and suggested that Clark-Wine has overstepped her authority. If Watt becomes the next assessor, this office will in essence will become a revolving door. Teller has not had an assessor who has served for more than four consecutive years since Al Jordan, who got the job following a recall election in the mid-1990s. In fact, most county assessors have faced much criticism in the last 20 years.

Betty Clark-Wine won this seat in the primary election of 2010, beating incumbent Tom King by a fairly convincing margin. King, though, was the winner during the 2010 assembly. Betty Clark-Wine, who has extensive experience in real estate, also served as a Woodland Park council member, and unsuccessfully attempted to run against Dave Turley for mayor.

In other races, the Republican delegates declared strong support for the other candidates for county offices, including Mike Ensminger for sheriff, Krystal Brown for clerk and recorder, Dave Paul for commissioner, Al Born for coroner and Bob Campbell for treasurer. Out of these races, the only one under contention is sheriff, with Danny “DJ” Riley of Florissant opting to challenge Ensminger. However, he is attempting to petition his way onto the ballot.

As a part of the assembly, the Teller Republicans continued to rally for many key GOP office-holders for key state seats, such as the governor’s office and Colorado’s U.S. Senate spot. Congressman Doug Lamborn told the delegates that the U.S. Senate may return to the Republican control, but this outcome will likely hinge on the race between Democrat Mark Udall, who is running for re-election, and the eventual Republican nominee.