Summit County commissioner candidates discuss equity at public forum
Editor’s note: This article has been updated to include Summit Together as a host of the candidate forum.
KEYSTONE — As Election Day quickly approaches, Summit County community members are taking advantage of any opportunity to hear from local candidates.
On Tuesday, Sept. 29, Summit Together and Solidarity Nation — the organization behind the monthly Solidarity Talk series — hosted a virtual county commissioner candidate forum themed around equity. Democrats Tamara Pogue and Josh Blanchard attended the event along with Erin Young, who is running unaffiliated.
Two other candidates, Republican Allen Bacher and Democrat Elisabeth Lawrence, who is the District 1 incumbent, both planned to attend the forum but had to drop out at the last minute, organizer Evin Harris said.
At the forum, Harris and Alexandria Carns asked the candidates a series of equity-based questions that were gathered through surveys sent out in the community. The questions were focused on a wide variety of topics, including affordable housing, wage disparities and equity education in the community.
On the topic of affordable housing, opponents Young and Blanchard agreed that the county needs to look at ways to diversify housing options.
“For many families, it makes a lot of sense to rent,” Blanchard said. “We need to look at several ways we can do this. We should look at ways to diversify housing types.”
Blanchard suggested making public-private partnerships between the county and local businesses, offering tax incentives for private companies to offer more housing and looking at incentives for short-term rental owners to provide their homes for long-term rentals.
Pogue agreed that the county could look at ways to incentivize second-home owners to offer their units as rentals when they are not living in them.
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“One of the things we don’t do is incentivize those homeowners to build accessory dwelling units — to build second kinds of units on their property that can be made available to be rentals,” she said. “That’s a very concrete change we can make in our code very quickly to try and begin chipping away at the problem.”
Pogue said she also would be in favor of incentivizing short-term rental owners to move into the long-term market in addition to giving organizations like Summit Habitat for Humanity a seat at the table in housing conversations.
The candidates also answered questions about wage disparities between hospitality and tourism industry workers and other workers in the county. Both Pogue and Young advocated for an economic advisory committee.
“We need an economic advisory committee so we’re not addressing these issues only as workgroups as they come up by legislative push,” Young said. “We need to be ahead of the curve and prepared to address them holistically.”
Young said the county can’t expect small-business owners to solve wage problems on their own simply by increasing pay.
The candidates also discussed how they would work to educate the community on equity, diversity and social justice.
Democrats Thomas Davidson, District 2, and Karn Stiegelmeier, District 3, are term limited.
District 1: Breckenridge
District 2: Dillon and Frisco
District 3: Silverthorne
“My son was a victim of racism during COVID,” Young said. “(He was) told that his friends can’t play with him because he’s Chinese. That’s not something they learned at school. That’s something they learned at home.”
Young said county commissioners need to have “hard, open conversations” so people see that the issue is real.
Blanchard pointed to the success of the Growing Together program — which aims to provide support for the local Hispanic community — in giving families a space to talk about their experiences with injustice and racism.
“It’s empowered families. It’s given families and individuals the opportunity to have agency over their own stories,” he said. “It’s also an opportunity to spread awareness.”
Blanchard said he would continue to champion the school board in its efforts to include more equity-based curriculum and provide opportunities for more learning in the community.
Pogue said she would bolster partnerships with nonprofits like the Family & Intercultural Resource Center, the organization she used to head.
“The power of just voicing the problem and talking about it in safe and open spaces is really important,” she said. “I also think continuing to support our nonprofits and being leaders on these issues are also very concrete strategies that we need to continue as a community and as county government.”
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