Eagle County Commmissioner McQueeney wins one for the team
EAGLE — While it was her name on the ballot, Eagle County Commissioner Jeanne McQueeney believes voters weren’t just supporting her candidacy on Election Day.
McQueeney held a sizeable lead throughout the evening on Tuesday with the latest unofficial count putting her re-election tally at 12,176 votes — a 63 percent to 37 percent divide over challenger Republican Jacqueline Cartier.
While it was gratifying to see such solid support, McQueeney said that the numbers likely are less about her personal popularity and more a reflection of voters’ overall satisfaction with the way the county is being run — from land use to spending to dozens of other decisions the three-member board has made over the past couple of years.
As she knocked on doors throughout her campaign, McQueeney didn’t hear anything about an issue that was bandied around two years ago when fellow commissioners Kathy Chandler-Henry and Jill Ryan were elected to form the first all-women board of commissioners in the county’s history.
McQueeney said that issue has become a non-starter. She quoted the late Carol Onderdonk, a stalwart Eagle County Democrat. “Carol said ‘We have had three men year after year and no one ever made a comment about that.’”
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Voters may not be focusing on the gender of the three county commissioners, but their party affiliation does garner attention. All three of the current commissioners are Democrats, as are five of the six other elected county officials.
“We do recognize we have some similarity of thought,” said McQueeney. “On one hand, that helps us get stuff done. But we are always looking for more information and finding ways to engage more stakeholders, knowing we could be looking through only one vantage point.”
McQueeney noted that Cartier cited the Democrat dominance on the board as a part of her platform. But the voters must not have been too concerned about it, McQueeney noted.
“We don’t get along as well as everyone thinks we do,” she added. “We work hard to come to the consensus we do.”
McQueeney said the divide between Democrats and Republicans isn’t felt as keenly at the county level as it is at the state or national level. County commissioners don’t really work in the realm of divisive issues such as reproductive rights or gun control. Instead, the commissioners’ primary focus goes to land use decisions and spending priorities. In those areas, the issues cut across party lines.
As she noted throughout her campaign, affordable housing is the top concern for Eagle County residents.
“We need housing so I think we look at it from a point of view of how do we get the best housing we can,” said McQueeney. “You can’t just say no to development.”
The commissioners have also focused efforts on open space acquisitions and mental health services, she said. At the ballot box, voters have signaled those are also their priorities.
In the fall of 2017, county voters solidly passed a measure to impose sales and excise taxes on retail marijuana transactions and cultivation. The money raised from those taxes is earmarked for county mental health services.
On Tuesday, a ballot question to extend the county’s open space property tax passed with 80 percent support. When that tax was first instituted in 2002, it passed by fewer than 50 votes.
“We listened to the public about what they wanted to do with open space and it has evolved,” said McQueeney. “People are happy with our program.”
“Everything we have put forward has passed with overwhelming majorities — both mental health and open space,” McQueeney continued. “Clearly the things we are working on are the things people want us to be working on.”
Commissioner Ryan concurred.
“The three of use are a strong team in working on what residents want, like health care that everyone can access, affordable housing projects, a new local mental health system, walkable communities and trails and robust environmental policies,” said Ryan. “Another part of our success is that the county is very healthy financially and staff are extremely competent, as evidence by the successful response to the county’s first major wildfire.
“People want their local government to be friendly, responsive and efficient,” said Ryan. “We are intentional about all three.”