Routt County politics kicks into gear in lead up to primary election

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District One primary

Declared candidates for Routt County Board of Commissioners

Republicans

■ Tony Stich, Stagecoach resident and businessman

■ Brita Horn, McCoy-area rancher and rural fire chief in Eagle County

■ Moose Barrows, businessman living in the south valley

Democrats

■ Tim Corrigan, South Routt School Board president

■ Nikki Knoebel, mayor of Oak Creek

— America has been focused on the Republican presidential primary race this month, but the local political process is about to kick into high gear.

Routt County Republicans will hold their precinct caucuses Feb. 7, with the local Democratic Party to follow suit March 6. Both caucuses are part of the lead up to the June 26 primary election.

Chuck McConnell, chairman of the Routt County Republican Party, said Colorado Republicans now can register online for their local caucuses at www.caucus.cologop.org. The Web page also allows caucus-goers to find their caucus location.

Voters and political activists who recall previous primary elections here taking place in August are not mistaken. Routt County Clerk and Recorder Kay Weinland said the state Legislature passed a bill in 2011 moving primary elections to the fourth week in June to alleviate time pressures felt across the state with deadlines for the general election in November following so closely behind the August primaries.

Both political parties should see strong interest locally this election cycle due in part to the decision of longtime District 1 Routt County Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak not to seek re-election this fall. Already, the race to fill the vacancy is shaping up to be the most hotly contested county commissioner race in years. Three Republicans and two Democrats already have announced their candidacies, and there’s still time for other candidates to join the fray.

The Libertarian Party has fielded commissioner candidates in Routt County in the recent past, but Weinland said she has not yet heard from the Libertarians in this election cycle.

In the other county commissioner race on the fall ballot, incumbent Doug Monger, a Democrat, is the only announced candidate for this District 2 seat representing portions of Steamboat and all of western Routt County.

McConnell, who himself is a declared candidate for the House District 26 race, called the caucuses an opportunity for party members to be heard.

“My thought is people are getting together on Feb. 7 and at central meeting locations, homes and churches to talk not only about the election process but issues that are pertinent to the people of Colorado,” McConnell said.

Catherine Carson, chairwoman of the Routt County Democratic Party, said a likely strategy right now for candidates is to reach out to known registered party members and seek their willingness to speak up for them and become a delegate to the party’s county assembly.

“What I encourage our candidates to do is to study and learn the responsibilities of the county commissioners,” Carson said.

Before candidates for county offices can place their names on the primary ballot, they must earn that opportunity by winning delegates through their party’s precinct caucuses and assembly process.

It’s the same process that gathers issues, ideas and political stances that contribute to a local platform as well as delegate selection for the county and state assemblies and, ultimately, delegates to the national conventions of each of the two major parties, Carson said.

During the caucus, registered party members from the same voting precincts across the county gather to discuss the candidates and to confirm their preference.

Local party committees decide in advance how many delegates they want to go to the county assembly later in the spring. Then they prorate them for each precinct based on voter turnout in the last election.

The Democrats will host their county assembly March 31 at the Steamboat Springs Community Center, Carson said. They will bring 100 delegates to the assembly from the precinct caucuses. The numbers from each precinct are determined by the number of registered party members living within the precinct boundaries, Carson said.

To earn a spot on the primary ballot, candidates in the Democratic and Republican parties must gain the support of 30 percent of the delegates. However, a candidate who fails to get 30 percent of the delegates but reaches 15 percent has the option to petition his or her way onto the primary ballot.

With three Republican candidates already having announced their candidacies, it will be possible, but difficult, for all three of them to put their names on the ballot through the nomination process, McConnell said.

“This is absolutely grassroots politics,” McConnell said.

Election calendar

■ May 29: Last day to register to vote for primary

■ June 19: Last day to request a mail ballot for primary (all active registered voters who are affiliated with the Republican or Democratic parties will automatically receive a mail ballot)

■ June 22: Last day to apply and pick-up a mail ballot

■ June 26: Primary election

*Unaffiliated voters who want to vote in the primary may declare a party affiliation and fill out a form at the Routt County Courthouse (or online at www.co.routt.co.us) up to and including the June 26 primary election day.

The 2012 Republican primary does not include a vote for a presidential candidate. However, the local party and the state party will collect presidential preferences through the caucus process and report the unofficial results.

Caucus locations

Find a list of Feb. 7 precinct caucus locations at the Routt County government website, www.co.routt.co.us. Click on the link to the county clerk’s page, then click on the elections link. Registered Republicans can get caucus location information directly from www.caucus.cologop.org. For registered Democrats living in Steamboat, the March 6 precinct caucuses will be held at Colorado Mountain College. Other locations will be forthcoming.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com

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