County commissioner candidates went head-to-head over local strategies for economic development at a Summit Chamber of Commerce political forum Thursday night, heating up what has thus far been a polite race.
Incumbent Democrat Karn Stiegelmeier and Republican challenger Kevin Mastin also clashed over backcountry access and the management of the county's dwindling budget during the event.
Hopefuls running for the state House, Senate and district attorney also joined the forum at the Silverthorne Pavilion to discuss their positions on issues ranging from forest health to business support.
Thursday night's event was the first time the candidates have met in front of a public audience in Summit County. The forum was coordinated by the Summit Chamber of Commerce in partnership with the Summit Independent Business Alliance.
Questions were posed to the candidates by race, sparking some debate over ongoing issues of contention between contenders.
The hopefuls for the 5th Judicial District Attorney's Office, Democrat Bruce Brown, of Evergreen, and Summit County Republican Scott Turner agreed on the need for some type of restorative justice or victim-offender mediation program, but faced off over past cases and track records.
Brown said he never had a "burning desire" to be the district's top prosecutor, but he felt like the current DA's office, of which Turner is a part as chief deputy DA, is failing to adequately represent victims.
Turner countered noting that Brown ran for the DA's office eight years ago and highlighted his own record of accomplishing goals
Republican candidates Randy Baumgardner, who is running for state Senate District 8, and Debra Irvine, whose name is in the hat for House District 61, focused largely on reducing regulations and red tape.
Millie Hamner and Kathleen Curry, the Democratic and Independent hopefuls for HD61, both highlighted their commitment to education at the state level.
American Constitution Party candidate Robert Petrowsky opposed the federal government's involvement in local businesses' affairs.
Democrat Emily Tracy, who is challenging Baumgardner for the state Senate seat, focused on her own ability to resolve problems and cross the partisan divide.
But it was the conversations between Mastin and Stiegelmeier that became the most heated, as Mastin challenged the county government for imposing hefty permit fees, approving a nearly $3 million library project during tight budget times and failing to create a local economic development council.
Stiegelmeier defended her record, saying she didn't want to create a "redundant" organization focused on economic development. She advocated allowing the private sector, including the two ski resorts located in unincorporated Summit County to take the lead on marketing and promotion efforts.
Mastin also challenged the Hidden Gems wilderness proposal Stiegelmeier supported, saying it would limit backcountry access to various recreational user groups, limiting the county's open space capacity as an economic driver.
Baumgardner and Tracy also went head-to-head on forest health issues, when Tracy noted that her opponent had voted against a bill extending a forest restoration program.
Baumgardner challenged the claim, saying he'd voted against the bill because it would have taken funding away from water infrastructure projects.