GOP makes sheriff picks

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— One day after Steamboat Springs police Officer Garrett Wiggins announced his candidacy for Routt County sheriff, a group of Republican delegates voted him onto August's primary ballot. Fellow GOP sheriff's candidate Ray Birch, a sergeant with the Routt County Sheriff's Office, also received enough votes during Saturday's Republican County Assembly to appear on the August ballot.

About 80 people showed up for the County Assembly to hear state and local candidates voice their opinions about a variety issues, introduce their candidacies to the public and elect candidates to the primary ballot.

Birch received 36 of the votes from the 69 delegates at the assembly, and Wiggins garnered 33 votes. Each needed and received 30 percent of the votes to secure a spot on the ballot.

Routt County Republican Party chairwoman Jennifer Schubert-Akin said she thought turnout at the assembly would have been better if more party members had known about Wiggins' decision to run for sheriff. Wiggins made his candidacy public Friday.

"Had people known about that, I am sure more people would have shown up. All in all, I think it was a good turnout," she said about the 69 delegates who represented the county's three districts.

Schubert-Akin also said she wasn't surprised to learn about Wiggins' decision. Such last-minute decisions are not uncommon, she said.

"Electing both candidates to the ballot shows they both obviously have a lot of support. I am glad we will have two strong candidates to choose from, and we will be proud to stand behind whichever candidate wins that (August primary) election," she said.

During his 10-minute speech, Wiggins introduced himself and outlined what he hopes to accomplish as sheriff.

"I will focus on retention of employees (at the Sheriff's Office). We need to work on retaining well-trained employees and offer better services to our citizens and spend less tax money," he said.

Wiggins, an Oak Creek resident, said he needs to play campaign catch-up and meet county residents to hear what they have to say.

"I want to know what each part of the county feels their needs are. I will continue to improve working on those needs," he said.

Birch's speech focused on his law enforcement career and the core values he hopes to bring to the Sheriff's Office.

"In my 30 years working in law enforcement, I have worked hard to establish and live by a set of core values. No. 1 is integrity. No. 2 is service before self, and No. 3 is excellence in all we do. These are the core values we express in law enforcement," he said after telling a short story about the time he spent in Iraq and what those values meant to him while he was there.

"I am passionate about the residents of this county -- the elderly, the young. ... We have a place for you," he said.

Wiggins' candidacy comes three weeks after Steamboat Springs police Officer and Republican Dwight Murphy withdrew from the sheriff's race after city officials told Murphy he could not work for the police department while campaigning. Murphy was given the option of taking an unpaid leave of absence while he campaigned, but he said he could not afford to do so.

Wiggins said he entered the race after returning from vacation and hearing about Murphy's decision.

"I didn't want to run against a fellow officer and friend, but after receiving inspirational calls of support from the residents of the county, I realized I still had the desire to run," he said.

Wiggins recently left his duties as a patrol officer to work as a task force officer for the Greater Routt and Moffat Narcotics Enforcement Team.

The sheriff's race is the only county position for which more than one Republican is seeking office. Routt County Clerk and Recorder Kay Weinland, Coroner Rob Ryg and Treasurer Jeanne Whiddon are seeking re-election. Each was chosen by the delegates to be placed on the primary ballot.

Dick Klumker was elected Saturday as the Republican candidate for county assessor, and City Council member Paul Strong was elected as the candidate for District 3 county commissioner.

Before the candidate speeches began, Weinland honored Sheriff John Warner, county Assessor Amy Williams and County Commissioner Dan Ellison -- who are not seeking re-election -- for the services they provided to Routt County for 12 years.

"We're going to miss each of you. It's been an honor to serve with you over these years," Weinland said as she presented plaques to Warner, Williams and Ellison.

State Sen. Jack Taylor, R-Steamboat Springs, told the assembly how important it is for the party to unify and vote Republican at the local, state and national levels.

"This is the most important level, because this is where it all starts. Our job as Republicans is to elect Republicans this election, this November. We need to unify this party and get going," Taylor said.

State Rep. Al White, R-Win--ter Park, echoed Taylor's comments.

"If we all turn out, if we all vote, we can elect our Republican candidates. We're going to support an 'R' behind a name before a 'D'," he said. White is up for re-election in November.

Also Saturday, the assembly's delegates voted for 21 delegates and seven alternate delegates to attend the Republican State Assembly in Colorado Springs in May.

The assembly also passed 10 resolutions regarding topics such as individual rights, illegal immigration, marriage, GRAMNET and the Steamboat Springs Airport, which local Republicans said should remain open and continue to grow.

-- To reach Alexis DeLaCruz, call 871-4234

or e-mail adelacruz@steamboatpilot.com

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