The starting gates have opened for a slew of local election races in Teller County and several cities in the area.
At stake are two county commissioner seats and eight elected positions in Green Mountain Falls and Woodland Park. For the most part, these seats will be determined within the next few months.
Last week, the election season officially kicked off with the announcement of candidate bids by incumbents Norm Steen and Marc Dettenrieder for the positions of Teller County commissioner for District 3 and District 1 respectively.
Both candidates were elected to these slots in 2012, following one of the more competitive showdowns for these positions, capped by nearly 10 contenders at one time. They both announced their intentions to seek re-election during the January monthly meeting of the Teller GOP Central Committee in Divide. In addition, both Steen and Dettenrieder told the press and a handful of employees of their intentions at the annual kick-off organization meeting of the Teller County Commissioners last Thursday.
Both candidates will undoubtedly emerge as the front-runners for the highly touted races for these commissioner seats. If re-elected, this will mark the second and final term the incumbents can served in office as commissioners.
The two commissioner incumbents are both high profile elected leaders, with Steen getting the nod last Thursday as board chairman (see related story). Meanwhile, Dettenrieder was the board chairman for 2015. They both have served on a number of key advisory boards and committees in the region during the last few years and are actively involved in tracking state legislation.
Steen and Dettenrieder emerged as the big champs in the heavily contested commissioner races of 2012. That competition was extremely heated due to the fact that no incumbents could run then due to term limits, with a record number of candidates throwing their hats into the ring.
The county races will kick into full gear in March, with the Republican and Democratic Party caucuses scheduled for March 1. This is when party delegates are selected that ultimately will make the top picks for key local, state and national races. But for this year, the GOP caucuses won’t feature any preference polls for president. The Dems, though, will make their tallies known for president.
Then, on March 12, the Teller County Republican Party will host its GOP Assembly at Summit Elementary in Divide. This forum typically serves as the “do or die” contest for the top Republican candidates for county elected seats for the Nov. 2016 election. That’s when dozens of delegates will make their picks for the two county commissioner seats, and attend to other party business. The Teller Democratic Assembly is usually held a little later.
Although the finalists aren’t picked until November, many county races in in Teller County are decided at the GOP County Assembly due to the resounding strength of the Republican Party. The last time any Democratic contenders openly challenged Republican candidates for county seats was in 2008, following the initial political surge of President Barack Obama and the Democratic Party in Colorado, with Denver serving as the site of the Democratic National Convention. Despite running fairly aggressive campaigns, the two Teller Democratic primary winners for commissioner, Florissant resident Rodney Saunders (who pens frequent letters to the editor in The Mountain Jackpot) and former Woodland Park Planning Commission member Charles Olson, lost by two-to-one margins. With the current political landscape where the Republicans have a predominant advantage in the number of registered voters, it is extremely difficult for a Democratic candidate to snag an elected seat in Teller County.
In order for a candidate from the Republican or Democratic Party to gain a spot on the primary ballot and stay in the running, he/she must garner at least 30 percent of the votes from delegates at the party assembly.
However, the door is still open for candidates to file petitions as unaffiliated contenders, similar to the path that former sheriff candidate Mark Manriquez of Divide pursued in challenging current sheriff Mike Ensminger. Manriquez lost by a hefty 60 to 40 percent margin, but fared better than other candidates who challenged the status quo Republican establishment in recent years. Also, candidates from the Republican and Democratic parties can bypass the assembly process altogether and petition their way onto the primary ballot.
Woodland Park and Green Mountain Falls Elections
Election fever will also infiltrate Woodland Park and Green Mountain Falls.
In both cities, voters on April 5 will select a mayor and three council positions. In GMF, prospective candidates for mayor and board of trustee seats must file petitions by Jan. 25 at 5 p.m. Candidate packets are now available at the GMF Town Hall.
In Woodland Park, the process starts a little later, with the deadline for turning in petitions slated for Feb. 12 a 5 p.m. Petition can be obtained in early February. A candidate informational meeting has been scheduled for Jan. 20 between 6 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. in the council chambers to outline the process.
The stakes are high for both cities with this election playing a big role in determining the community’s political and economic future. In GMF, tension has persisted between the current leaders and a group of staunch critics, who favor the previous administration. The outcome of this election could determine the town’s fate regarding road maintenance, law enforcement and public safety, parks, special events and a variety of fiscal issues.
In Woodland Park, the council and mayoral verdict will have big impacts on its Main Street program, downtown improvements and the Woodland Station area, along with such issues as economic development and affordable housing. In addition, the new council winners will oversee a spree of potential and significant changes to the city charter.