Election Frenzy!

Voters to Decide Fate of Key Local and National Races

Rick Langenberg

Election season has arrived in Teller County and the Ute Pass with a bang.

In fact, make that a couple of big bangs, coupled with political and legal fireworks, as Colorado could be watched by party insiders from across the country.  As what occurs in Colorado could determine the outcome of the race for the nation’s next commander-in-chief seat.

In the next month, voters will decide the fate of key municipal elections in Green Mountain Falls and Woodland Park. Plus, voters have the chance to participate in a presidential primary and lobby for key leaders at the county stage during the forthcoming party caucuses and assemblies.

All in all, it is a jam-packed election schedule over the next couple of weeks.

The election frenzy actually kicks off on Wednesday (Feb. 28) night during a trustee candidates’ forum in Green Mountain Falls. GMF and Woodland Park will be holding their municipal elections on April 2.

Local Races

For the first time in recent memory, GMF is actually sporting a contested race at the trustee stage. Four candidates – Ann Speir-Esch, Donald Walker, John Bell and Brandy Moralez – are running for two open positions. Mayor Todd Dixon is seeking another term but is not being challenged.

The candidates’ forum, the first time such an event has been organized in GMF in years, is being moderated by Darlene Avery, a local community leader, who also serves as the pastor of the Church in the Wildwood. The event will occur at the GMF town hall on Wednesday evening, beginning at 6 p.m.

This is designed as an in-person forum-only. In order to ask questions, participants must attend in-person and submit their questions in writing to the moderator during the introductory period. The forum will feature candidate introductions, a modified question and answer session (with questions read by the moderator), closing remarks and a candidate reception.

No plans have been set for on-line access, but a possibility exists that Zoom capability may be available, but there are no guarantees. Avery explained to the trustees last week that this is an independently organized event, with no ties to the town government.  In fact, no town hall employees will attend.

Then on March 5, starting at 5 p.m. the Woodland Park Chamber of Commerce will moderate a candidates’ forum for the forthcoming Woodland Park city election, also set for April 2. The event will start at 5 p.m. in the council chambers.  Not surprisingly, there are no shortage of candidates, with 10 competitors bolting from the starting gates. Two contenders, Jerry Penland and Kellie Case, are running for mayor. Meanwhile, eight candidates —  Tim Northrup, Teri Baldwin, Eric Lockman, George Jones, Frank Connors, Steve “Smitty” Smith, Don Dezellem and Jeffrey Geer – are running for four available seats.

According to Debbie Miller, the president of the chamber, all of the candidates are participating in the forthcoming forum. The chamber has done a number of candidate forums in the past, and this one will be done in the same fashion, with candidate introductions, questions from chamber representatives and the press and closing remarks. Steve Woolf, a former chamber chairperson and superintendent of the RE-2 School District, will moderate the event.

Both the Woodland Park and GMF elections are being done, via a mail ballot. This could be the last time a spring election occurs for GMF residents, as voters in the Ute Pass community will cast tallies on a city-sponsored plan to have coordinated elections with the El Paso and Teller clerk’s offices. If this gets approved, the town won’t have any more independently run spring elections, with future elections occurring in November. GMF candidate races and possible ballot issues would be part of the El Paso and Teller County coordinated ballot package. This is touted as a cost-saving measure, and a plan that could increase voter participation, since the November date is more attuned to a flurry of state and national races.

Presidential Primaries

March 5 is a hot election date in Teller County and throughout the state of Colorado.

Besides serving as the date for the Woodland Park mayoral and council candidates’ forum, that’s the date for Colorado’s presidential primary for the GOP and Democratic parties. In Teller County, close to 17,000 ballots have been mailed out to registered Republicans, Democrats and unaffiliated voters.

Under a ballot issue previously approved by Colorado voters, unaffiliated electors can now participate in party primaries. But they must choose which party contest that want to vote in and can’t partake in both primaries.

Of course, the entire country will be closely watching the GOP primary contest, with former President Donald Trump competing against a slew of candidates, with the list still containing the names of contenders who previously dropped out of the competition, such as Chris Christie and Ron DeSantis.

Another key question hinges on whether votes for Trump can even be counted. The U.S Supreme Court is tasked with reviewing a previous decision made by a Colorado court that raised concerns regarding Trump’s eligibility as a candidate in a presidential primary due to claims that he led an insurrection at the nation’s capitol building in early 2021.

Teller County Clerk and Recorder Stephanie Kees admitted that this race has triggered a number of questions, with many residents wondering if their (Trump) vote is getting wasted, if the Supreme Court doesn’t override the lower court’s action. She also cited the issue of voter eligibility as a big topic of interest.

“During most elections, we encourage people to vote early.  But in this case, it is probably better to wait before turning in your ballot,” said Kees.

On primary day, voters can cast their ballot in-person at the county’s sole designated vote center, located at the Woodland Park Public library, or they can use a variety of drop box outlets (see related information on the county’s website), located in Woodland Park, Divide and Cripple Creek.

This issue is also peppered by a war of words between Trump and Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold who contends that Trump violated the constitution by leading an insurrection at the U.S. Capitol building. Meanwhile, Trump supporters say this action is a witch-hunt and a violation of the democratic process.

At the time of this writing, this question was still up in the air. However, earlier press reports have hinted that the Supreme Court, with a heavy conservative majority, will allow Trump votes to count. In earlier testimony, the majority members maintained that barring Trump from the primary vote could set a bad precedent.

But this case is just not limited to Colorado, as a number of other states have found themselves in the same predicament.

The Democratic primary is not quite as wild, with Joe Biden competing against a slew of candidates, most of whom have little name recognition.

To further top off the election frenzy, Republican and Democrats will also be holding their respective caucuses and assemblies in March. The Republican caucuses are scheduled for March 7 and are held at a variety of locations throughout the county. The Democratic caucuses and assembly will occur jointly at the Cripple Creek Heritage Center on March 9.

Unfortunately, Colorado is no longer a caucus-driven state. In the past, these town hall-like forums, determined the local favorites for president. But in a previous election, voters opted in favor of a presidential primary for determining these primary contests, arguing that the caucuses were often dominated by party insiders.

Now, they serve as designated forums for picking delegates for the assembly.

The GOP county assembly is set for March 16. This is when delegate votes will be cast for the top Republican contenders for the District 1 and 3 commissioner positions, currently held by Dan Williams and Erik Stone respectfully. They are both running unopposed, at least so far.

The only other Teller race will be held for country treasurer. Krystal Brown was recently appointed to this position due to the resignation of Mark Czelusta.