Voters in Routt County have a chance to do something this year that they don't often get to do -- elect a new congressman.
In politics, incumbency is a huge advantage and nowhere is that advantage more apparent than in the U.S. House of Representatives. Since 1990, congressional incumbents have won 93 percent or more of the contested races. The last time Routt County had a congressman other than Republican Scott McInnis, there were only 6,695 people living in Steamboat Springs, Kamori Kanko International owned the ski area and commercial flights were landing at Steamboat Springs Airport.
McInnis was elected only after incumbent Ben "Nighthorse" Campbell gave up the District 3 seat for the U.S. Senate. But after six terms and 12 years, McInnis is not seeking re-election, opening the door for that rarest of opportunities: the chance to elect a new congressman.
There are few congressional districts like Colorado's District 3. It is one of the largest districts in the nation, stretching across a 30-county area that is larger than the state of Florida. It goes from Trinidad to Craig, Durango to Steamboat and Pueblo to Grand Junction, and includes half of the state.
In such a massive geographic area, it is easy for the interests of a region such as Northwest Colorado or of a small county such as Routt or of a resort town such as Steamboat to get lost. That's why it is so important that Routt County voters participate in the election process, beginning with the party caucuses April 13, continuing with the August primaries and culminating with the November election.
It is at the caucuses that the field of 13 candidates from the two major parties -- eight Republicans and five Democrats -- will start to be narrowed. The Republicans include Ken Chlouber, Dan Corsentino, Delina DiSanto, Gregg Rippy, Doug Sitter, Ronald J. Teck, Greg Walcher and Matt Smith. Democrats include John Salazar, Randy Fricke, Jim Fritz, Anthony Martinez and Jim Spehar. None of the candidates is from Northwest Colorado.
Of the 435 congressional elections this year, only a few are expected to be competitive, and the District 3 race is among them, meaning the national parties will be pouring money into the Western Slope of Colorado to support the campaigns. Media scrutiny will be intense. Advertising will be heavy. Voters will learn much about the candidates, who range from a sometimes homeless short-order cook to several state legislators.
If history is any indication, whoever is elected to the District 3 seat will be there for at least the next decade. That person will be our federal representative on issues critical to Northwest Colorado including immigration reform, federal land uses, environmental laws, transportation funding and others.
This is an important election, the kind that only comes along once in a while. Voter apathy is shameful in any election, but it would be particularly so in this one. We hope that Routt County residents seize this opportunity by getting educated about the candidates, participating in the primary process and making their voices heard at the ballot box.