Steamboat Springs For the past two weeks, Republican Routt County sheriff candidates Ray Birch and Garrett Wiggins have ridden horses in parades, spoken to voters at four public forums and worked lots of neighborhoods in preparation for the Aug. 8 primary.
"Every day after work, I go door to door for a couple hours trying to get to know people and handing them my brochures so that when they go to the polls, they'll know something and have a little bit of info about the candidates," said Wiggins, a Steamboat Springs police officer.
The Routt County Republican candidate forums that were held in Clark, Oak Creek, Hayden and Steamboat Springs were crucial for Birch, a Routt County Sheriff's Office seargent, to meet and talk with residents of the county.
"Obviously, the forums were huge," Birch said. "Covering the entire county has been my focus."
The men still have eight days to post signs and hand out literature, and every minute counts. Primary elections tend to have low turnout of committed voters, said Rout County Clerk and Recorder Kay Weinland.
"Primary elections historically have a low voter turnout, but people need to understand how important it is to get out and move your candidates forward onto the ballot," she said.
The Republican sheriff race is the only contested race on either the Republican or the Democrat ballot. Whichever Republican sheriff candidate garners the most votes will advance to the November general election ballot to face Democrat Gary Wall.
Jennifer Schubert-Akin, president of the Routt County Republican Party, encouraged Republicans to take the time to vote Aug. 8.
"This is the sheriff," she said. "He is the chief law enforcement officer in the county. It's an important position. If you want your voice to be heard in who is elected as the leader of law enforcement in Routt County, this is your chance."
Schubert-Akin said the Republican Party is pleased to have two well-qualified candidates to represent them but that the party's central committee has not chosen a candidate to support -- and won't until after the primary.
"We feel fortunate that we have two really strong candidates," Schubert-Aiken said. "When the time comes, we will be comfortable putting our 100 percent support behind either one. They're both guys of integrity that would make great sheriffs."
Birch and Wiggins echoed Schubert-Akin's sentiment, saying they felt supported by the party.
"Obviously there are people within our party who are going to and already have chosen who to stand behind," Wiggins said. "For the most part, I think people have been pretty neutral, though. Personally, they're going to support who they feel is the best candidate."
"There are Republicans that support Ray Birch, and there are Republicans that support Garrett Wiggins. That's a fact," he said. "The party has remained in tact, because we're all working toward the same goal."
In a way, the campaign is a referendum on current sheriff John Warner, who has endorsed Birch and is critical of Wiggins.
"I made the decision to support Ray well before he even announced he was running," Warner said. "My opinion is, who better to run the office than someone who has been working here?"
Warner, a Republican who decided not to seek another term, said he is not sure he could support Wiggins if Wiggins wins the primary.
"I haven't made that determination yet," Warner said. "If (Wiggins) continues to speak negatively about this administration, why would I support him? All I've heard is him bad-mouth us at these forums."
Wiggins has said the high employee turnover rate in the sheriff's office is a concern and that he would make changes to policies. He said not having the current sheriff's support is a disadvantage.
"It is a concern not to have John Warner's support," Wiggins said. "Prior to me leaving the Routt County Sheriff's Office, we had a good relationship."
Wiggins said Warner's "animosity" toward him stems from an incident that occurred while he was working for the sheriff's office. Wiggins brought a departmental concern to county officials, not Warner.
"To a certain extent, I can understand (Warner's anger)," Wiggins said. "I just didn't think he'd appropriately handled the issue I had."
Birch and Wiggins have said they are prepared to support one another after the primary.
"If Garrett wins, I'll support him 100 percent," Birch said. "I'm a proud Republican, and I don't take my oath lightly."
"I don't totally agree with everything Ray Birch believes in, but I don't totally believe in everything Gary Wall believes in. However, I do agree with both on certain issues," Wiggins said. "If it were on a scale, though, I'd be more behind Ray. If he wins this primary, I will support him."
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Check out the Routt County Clerk and Recorder's Web site at www.co.routt.co.us
for additional new voter information.
Republican sheriff candidates Ray Birch and Garrett Wiggins will face off in the Aug. 8 primary. The candidate who garners the most votes will face Democratic candidate Gary Wall in the November general election.
There are three ways to vote in the primary.
Absentee/mail voting: The deadline has passed to request an absentee ballot by mail. Residents can pick up absentee ballots at the Clerk and Recorder's Office. Completed absentee ballots must be returned to the Routt County Clerk and Recorder's Office by 7 p.m. Aug. 8.
Early voting: Early voting for the Aug. 8 primary begins Monday. Early voting is from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday until Aug. 4. Voters can vote at the Routt County Courthouse Annex, 136 Sixth St.
Election Day: Registered voters can cast ballots from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Voters can vote only for the primary races in the party for which they are registered. The new Routt County voting system will allow voters to go to the polling center most convenient to them. The polling centers are at North Routt Community Charter School in Clark, the Routt County Fairgrounds Exhibit Hall in Hayden, the Routt County Courthouse Annex conference room in Steamboat Springs, the Steamboat Pilot & Today conference room, the Yampa Valley Medical Center conference room, the Fairfield Inn conference room, Oak Creek Town Hall, and Yampa Town Hall.
For more information, call the Routt County Clerk and Recorder's Office at 870-5556.