In November, El Paso County voters will decide who will get several well-paid government jobs with great benefits. The initial contract is for four years, with a renewal option, and the annual salary is $113,490.
The job: El Paso County commissioner. Available positions: three.
Thirteen Republicans and one Democrat (so far) are jousting for the three seats: three for District 2, seven for District 3 and four for District 4. Marc Snyder, former Manitou Springs mayor, hasn’t said he’s running yet in District 3, but an announcement is likely soon. Unlike nonpartisan municipal elections, where all qualified candidates are on the ballot, commission races are strictly partisan. Given the enduring Republican edge in the three districts in play, getting the GOP nomination virtually assures election.
There are three paths to the nomination — via the party caucuses, via the Republican primary or both. Here’s how to participate.
Start by attending party caucuses on March 1. Support a specific candidate by voting for delegates to the March 26 County Assembly. At the assembly, candidates need 30 percent of the votes to move forward to the June 28 primary.
Candidates receiving between 10-30 percent have the option to petition on, while those with less than 10 percent are out of the game.
Alternatively, candidates can bypass the caucuses entirely and petition on the ballot. To do so, they have to collect signatures of registered voters who reside in their district. The number required is 20 percent of the number of votes cast in the last primary for that office.
According El Paso County Republican Party Executive Director Daniel Cole, at least one District 3 candidate is considering the petition-only option.
In District 3, a candidate would have to gather 2,958 valid signatures. Getting that number would probably require collecting as least twice as many, a daunting task without paid signature collectors.
Change comes to county
Term limits have finally caught up with the three politicians who have largely directed county government for many years. Sallie Clark, Dennis Hisey and Amy Lathen are retiring.
Once a quarrelsome, dysfunctional elected body, the five-member Board of County Commissioners has benefited in the past decade from stability, competence and experience. Commissioners have often split 3-2, led by relatively moderate majorities whose members rotated leadership positions. In the past decade, Clark, Lathen, Hisey and former commissioner Jim Bensberg have served multiple terms as leaders of the elected body, while other long-serving commissioners have been relegated to the sidelines.
When three new commissioners take office next January, that model might change. To make things even murkier, it’s possible that one of two incumbents (Darryl Glenn or Peggy Littleton) will be the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate. One of them could defeat incumbent U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet and create a fourth vacancy on the board.
Will the three newcomers continue current policies? Or will a new majority form that will upend county government, change county procedures and objectives and eventually mirror the angry dysfunction that characterized city government from 2011 to 2015?
That’s hard to predict. All the Republican candidates present themselves as conservative defenders of traditional American values and liberties. They’re pro-life, pro-gun rights, pro-limited government and uniformly pledge to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars. Some have been longtime Republican wheel horses, working to get other Republicans elected and quietly building their own networks. Three have served as local elected officials, while others are political newcomers.
Departing Commissioner Clark (who has endorsed Manitou businesswoman Karen Cullen for the District 3 seat) is concerned about the future.
“Three votes could strip funding from the county health department or from human services,” Clark warned. “This is an important election, and we all need to pay attention, to ask questions and understand the candidates’ positions.”
Asked whether she would have run for a fourth term if eligible to do so, Clark was noncommittal.
“I don’t know,” she said, “but you know my position on term limits for elected officials. We already have them — and they’re called elections.”
District 3 candidate Javier Mazzetti, served on the District 20 school board in the 1990s. In announcing his candidacy, the Realtor displayed a willingness to call out his fellow conservatives for failing to fund vital infrastructure projects.
“They talk a big game about cutting waste in the budget and redirecting it to infrastructure,” he said. “Once elected, they eventually come back with the bad news that there’s simply not enough money to fund the huge backlog of needs … we can’t continue to expect the next generation of anti-tax politicians to find the money that the previous generation failed to find and somehow think we’re engaged in a noble exercise of limiting government. We’re engaged in unprecedented irresponsibility.”
District 3 candidates Jarred Rego, Rodney Gehrett and Tyler Stevens all bring recent, high-level local government experience to the race, as does District 2 candidate Mark Waller.
Rego, worked for two years as a senior adviser to former Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach. He’s currently communications director and regional director for Congressman Doug Lamborn, and serves on the board of directors for the Pioneers Museum and Urban Peak.
Stevens served four terms as mayor of Green Mountain Falls and has been deeply involved in regional entities such as the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments (since 1996) and the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority. He currently serves as chairman of the commission that oversees the Pikes Peak Regional Building Department.
Gehrett, a commander in the El Paso County sheriff’s office, has 20 years’ experience in local law enforcement. His career took an odd turn in 2014 when he and two other commanders were placed on paid leave by then-Sheriff Terry Maketa who, the three claimed in a subsequent lawsuit, had initiated a meritless investigation intended to smear former employee Bill Elder. Maketa eventually resigned and county voters chose Elder as his replacement.
Gehrett’s campaign, like Mazzetti’s, is focused on infrastructure.
“Sadly, parts of our community have deteriorated and don’t present the type of image that will keep visitors coming back,” he said. “Beyond basic infrastructure concerns like potholes and poor roads, some areas simply need a makeover.”
In common with their District 3 rivals, Alex Johnson and Karen Cullen have been active in their communities. Cullen served as president of the Manitou Springs Chamber of Commerce in 2015, while the fast-moving Johnson, 23, is a member of the Colorado Springs Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Advisory Board.
Also in District 3, retired Air Force Col. Stan Vanderwerf has a sparkling military resumé, a solid business background and is a self-described “experienced expedition mountain climber who has climbed several notable peaks worldwide.”
In District 4, Elizabeth Rosenbaum, Scott Turner, Joan Lucia-Treese and Longinos Gonzalez hope to replace Dennis Hisey. The district, which includes much of southeast Colorado Springs, Security, Widefield, Fountain and a broad swath of eastern and southern El Paso County has long been in the Republican camp, despite its diversity.
That hasn’t deterred Rosenbaum, the lone declared Democrat in any of the three races. A Fountain resident, Rosenbaum operates Her Story Café at Library 21C.
Gonzales, a 1992 Air Force Academy graduate, retired as a lieutenant colonel in 2012 and has lived in Colorado Springs since. He impressed many when he ran for City Council in 2015, and has been endorsed by four current councilors. Lucia-Treese has lived in the district since 1991 and, like Turner, has long been active in the local Republican party. Turner, a retired banker, has been a tireless community volunteer in Fountain.
In District 2, Tim Geitner, Sherrie Gibson and Waller are the declared candidates. Colorado Springs attorney Waller represented HD 15 (northeast Colorado Springs) in the Colorado General Assembly from 2009 to 2014, serving as House Minority Leader in the 2013 legislative session.
Political newcomer Gibson has raised the most money by far, thanks to a $30,000 contribution from a family friend, but has had to deal with past financial problems and a driving-under-the-influence violation.
Geitner currently serves as a legislative analyst for the Colorado Springs City Council. A combat veteran who served in Afghanistan, Geitner is also a small businessowner who “knows businesses thrive when they are not burdened by government.”
The wild card
Snyder has told intimates that he’ll enter the race sometime this month. If unopposed for the Democratic nomination, Snyder will have a head start on his Republican opponent, though El Paso County hasn’t had a Democratic commissioner since the 1970s.
And in an election year that has already upended conventional wisdom and conventional candidates, who knows what might happen?
He says he is a fiscal conservative who is socially responsible, and someone who will strive for more efficient government.
Going for the gold
Announced and likely candidates for the three Board of County Commissioners seats being vacated by term limits: Amy Lathen in District 2, Sallie Clark in District 3 and Dennis Hisey in District 4.
Tim Geitner (R), City Council legislative analyst, timgeitner.org
Sherrie Gibson (R), program coordinator, sherriegibson.com
Mark Waller (R), attorney and former state legislator, wallerforcommissioner.com
Karen Cullen (R), former bed-and-breakfast owner, tinyurl.com/gpqha7g
Rodney Gehrett (R), Sheriff’s Office commander, rodneygehrett.com
Alex Johnson (R), political activist and legislative aide, alex-johnson.org
Javier Mazzetti (R), real estate broker, facebook.com/electmazzetti
Jarred Rego (R), district director for Rep. Doug Lamborn, voterego.com
Marc Snyder (D), attorney and former Manitou mayor, facebook.com/marc.snyder.370
(not yet officially declared)
Tyler Stevens (R), business owner and former Green Mountain Falls mayor, electtylerstevens.com
Stan Vanderwerf (R), defense contractor and retired USAF colonel, stanforcommissioner.com
Longinos Gonzales Jr. (R), school teacher and businessman, facebook.com/LonginosForCountyCommissioner/
Joan Lucia-Treese (R), county volunteer, facebook.com/joan.luciatreese
Elizabeth Rosenbaum (D), Her Story Café, facebook.com/RosenbaumD4CC2016
Scott Turner (R), volunteer and retired banker, scottturnerworksforyou.com