November 29, 2022

Barton Glasser/The Daily Sentinel
David Stahlke, Democratic candidate for State Senate District 7, debates Janice Rich in September. The Redlands Rotary Club sponsored the event.

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Barton Glasser/The Daily Sentinel
David Stahlke, Democratic candidate for State Senate District 7, debates Janice Rich in September. The Redlands Rotary Club sponsored the event.
The three candidates running to replace embattled Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters agree on many things, most of all in restoring voters’ trust not only in that office, but in elections in general.
That, at least, according to their statements to a survey by Restore the Balance, a local group of Republican, Democratic and unaffiliated voters that seeks to support candidates who would fight against extremism in politics, and educate voters about them.
The three, Republican Bobbie Gross, Democrat Jeffrey Waldon and Libertarian Robert Ballard, all said leadership, or a lack thereof, has plagued the office for far too long.
“They need someone who will be accountable, responsible and knows the implications of their decisions,” Ballard wrote.
“I will share facts about how elections are conducted and the checks and balances in place to help combat voter fraud,” wrote Gross.
“On the facts, everyone is entitled to their own opinion,” Waldon wrote. “No one is entitled to their own facts. Alternative facts are lies.”
That race became an open seat when Peters opted not to run for a second term, preferring instead to seek the GOP nomination for Colorado secretary of state, a race she lost in June.
Gross, who has worked briefly in the office under Peters and for years before under the previous county clerk, now county Treasurer Sheila Reiner, won the group’s endorsement primarily because she has more experience conducting elections.
She worked in the office for more than a decade, including as its manager of the Division of Motor Vehicles and later as a co-director of elections.
“As a nationally certified election administrator she says she has seen nothing that would call into question the results of the 2020 presidential election in Colorado,” the group wrote. “Her plans to reduce staff turnover, implement the county’s strategic plan through cross-training staff, and expanding service in the motor vehicle office show both a keen grasp of the issues and practical vision for needed improvements in the office.”
Since Peters took office in 2018, it has been plagued with staff turnover. Both she and her deputy, Belinda Knisley, have been removed with any oversight of the office. Knisley is on unpaid administrative leave, in part, after several complaints were lodged by clerk workers that she had created a hostile work environment.
“I have particular confidence in Mesa County’s elections as the two women running the office (Director of Elections Brandi Bantz and Elections Manager Stephanie Wenholz) just received the 2022 Excellence in Elections Award from the Colorado County Clerk and Recorder’s Association,” Waldon wrote.
“Under my previous leadership in the office, we maintained experienced staff by maintaining a less than 1% turnover rate,” Gross added. “I strongly believe in supporting staff and provide them the support they need to be successful.”
State Rep. Janice Rich, the Republican candidate for the Colorado Senate, neither endorses nor opposes what Restore the Balance is trying to do.
Instead, the two-term member of the Colorado House who is looking to replace term-limited GOP Sen. Ray Scott respects what “any special interest group” does that have “the passion to assert your positions.”
Her Democratic opponent, David Stahlke, however, does support the group’s efforts against extremism, saying he’s personally experienced it while working as an election judge.
“And then there’s Lauren Boebert, Tina Peters, Stand for the Constitution, and so on,” he wrote in a questionnaire from the group. “There is nothing to be accomplished by listening to or trying to understand Lauren Boebert, or any of the other wannabe fascists and election deniers she hangs out with.”
Rich, a former county treasurer and clerk, questioned what actually defines what extremism is.
“At what point is freedom of speech defined as extremism and creating a threat,” she asked. “There are policies any elected official may disagree with their chosen affiliated party from time to time. For me, it is for each individual to choose the affiliation that most aligns with their core values or to choose not to affiliate if that is most aligned with their core values.”
Both candidates in this race, which is to replace Rich, wrote that extremism isn’t just a problem in Western Colorado, but nationally and across the globe.
“As a society we seem, at times, to have lost our ability to listen and have empathy for one another, to respect and honor differing points of view and be willing to find common ground,” wrote Republican Rick Taggart.
“Tina Peters and her supporters have promoted extremism, and have even attacked members of their own political party for not embracing her outlandish notions,” added Democrat Damon Davis. “If both Democrats and staunchly conservative Republicans say the election was fair, we can be sure it was fair. I applaud most of Mesa County’s Republican officials for standing up to her.”
To view all candidates complete responses, go to restorethebalance.org.
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