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No contest? No problem

Reid Williams

SUMMIT COUNTY – In Summit County, as well as many state-level races, elections were effectively decided Tuesday. Although elections still will be held in November, many candidates will go uncontested, and the primary election winners will be the ones to take office.

But to many local officials and political activists, this isn’t a sign of apathy. Rather, some said, it’s an indication that Summit County citizens value professional, effective candidates, as opposed to voting along party lines.

Summit’s Republican chairman, however, thinks the absence of competition means Democrats are focusing their efforts beyond the local arena and missing an opportunity to develop local leaders.

Consider, for instance:

– Independent County Commissioner Gary Lindstrom, a former Republican seeking re-election in November, earned the endorsement of Summit County’s Democratic and Republican parties.

– Democratic District Attorney Mike Goodbee, most recently elected in 2000, earned the endorsement of Republican Sheriff Joe Morales; Goodbee returned the favor. In addition, Morales has endorsed Democratic Attorney General Ken Salazar, who will seek reelection in November.

– Despite a dearth of choices in Tuesday’s primary election (only two of five primary races had more than one candidate; only one Democrat is running for county office), 1,209 Summit County citizens cast ballots. The average for primary elections, according to staff at the county clerk’s office, is between 250 and 300 voters.

“It’s the old saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,'” Goodbee said.

As district attorney, Goodbee works with officials and citizens in five counties. He said Summit County residents would consider themselves fortunate if they saw the political wrangling that can mire other governments in debate and inactivity.

“More than other counties, Summit is concerned with getting the job done,” Goodbee said. “It’s not the party, but whether they’re competent and effective in the job. I think this speaks to the level of integrity people expect.”

Summit County Treasurer Larry Gilliland defeated fellow Republican Marty Ferris in Tuesday’s primary. Gilliland will officially win his third and final term in November. Other than Ferris, Gilliland hasn’t seen any competition in eight years.

“I think they think I’m doing a good job – an excellent job,” Gilliland said. “People are more likely to vote for the person, not the party. Yes, there’s been rumors that the Democrats have always been looking for a candidate to run against me, but they have said, “Not as long as he’s in office – why turn someone out necessarily when we think he’s doing a good job?'”

Summit County Republican Chairman Harley Williams doesn’t buy the nonpartisan explanation. He agrees that Summit citizens are less confrontational about politics and are “a friendly bunch.” But, Williams said, the difference is that the Republican party is “really into local politics.”

“If you look at the Democrats, they’re talking about (Mark) Udall,” Williams said, referring to the Democratic incumbent for Colorado’s Second Congressional District. “My theme is, “Local is what counts.'”

Williams said the Democrats are missing out on a chance to develop local candidates into state and national leaders who can represent Summit’s concerns at higher levels of government.

“And the more people you get involved, the better government will be,” Williams said. “That’s my goal: to get as many people as I can, from all walks of life, into the Republican party.”

Summit County Democrat Chairman George Sherman agreed that single-candidate races aren’t good for a democratic government. He also agreed with other observers that local races tend to be more about the job than the political party.

The chairmen also agreed that a problem at the local level is finding people willing to serve. Sherman, who took office earlier this year and didn’t have much chance to recruit local candidates, said he plans on making a stronger effort before the next round of elections.

“One thing I’m bothered by, “politicians’ have a very bad image,” Williams said. “That keeps good, moral, civic-minded people from running for office. They say, “Why would I want to put myself and my family through all that?’ The people we do get are great, but there’s more out there.”

Reid Williams can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 237 or rwilliams@summitdaily.com.


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