Eagle County Democrats, Republicans kick off election year on caucus night | VailDaily.com

Eagle County Democrats, Republicans kick off election year on caucus night

Precinct 20 of the Eagle County Democratic Party participates in a straw poll between presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton at the caucus in Edwards on Tuesday. Precincts were also charged with electing delegates to the County Assembly, which is scheduled for March 19 from 3 to 5 p.m. at Battle Mountain High School.

This story has been corrected to reflect that Eagle County Treasurer Teak Simonton is also running for re-election in 2018.

EAGLE COUNTY — It's an election year, so we'll all soon enough face an onslaught of campaign speeches and advertising. But election years begin on a much more quiet note: county caucus meetings.

Caucus meetings are relatively rare these days — they survive in only 16 states. But for almost as long as there have been political parties, those parties started election-year organizing the same way: with neighborhood get-togethers among party members. At those meetings, party members talk about the pros and cons of various candidates for office, and nominate delegates to county assemblies.

At those meetings, candidates are chosen for county-level elections. Delegates are also chosen for legislative district assemblies, as well as the state party conventions.

Both Democrats and Republicans follow the same caucus/assembly format. But there are differences, too.

In Eagle County, the local Democratic Party still holds several simultaneous meetings. The Republicans have consolidated its precinct meetings into just two locations: Battle Mountain High School for the Eagle River Valley and St. Peter's of the Valley Episcopal Church in Basalt.

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The difference is a matter of philosophy.

Joy Harrison is chairwoman of the county's Democratic Party. Harrison said party officials want to maintain a neighborhood feel to caucus night.

"Eagle County is big," Harrison said. "If it's in (voters') neighborhood, they're more likely to go."

Eagle County Republican Party chairwoman Kaye Ferry said consolidated meetings seem to work better for those party members.

"It's a way better experience," Ferry said. "People are excited to be the same room together.

However the parties meet, there's a lot of work to do before the Nov. 6 general election, even in a year without a presidential vote.

The governor's seat is open, since current Gov. John Hickenlooper is ineligible to run again due to the state's term-limits law.

That open seat has drawn plenty of interest from both parties.

That means candidates are lining up to run.

As of Feb. 25, seven Republicans and five Democrats are seeking the job.

The final field for November will be set during the June 26 primary election.

Congressional representatives aren't term-limited, but the governor's race will have an effect on one of Eagle County's two congressional districts.

Jared Polis, the Boulder-area Democrat who serves the 2nd Congressional District — which includes roughly the eastern third of the county — is running for governor.

That seat is now open.

Democratic caucus participants will no doubt voice support for their party's incumbents in county offices: Commissioner Jeanne McQueeney, Clerk & Recorder Regina O'Brien, Assessor Mark Chapin, Coroner Kara Bettis and Treasurer Teak Simonton.

On the Republican side, Sheriff James van Beek is running again. Surveyor Ted Archibeque's term expires this year as well.

Ferry said the party intends to have challengers for the commissioner's seat, and is working on challengers for other seats, too. That includes Mitsch Bush's former seat in House District 26, now held by appointed incumbent Dylan Roberts, as well as state Senate District 5, held by first-term incumbent Kerry Donovan, of Eagle County.

Aside from information about candidates, the caucuses are also a place to talk about issues and prospective ballot measures.

Harrison said one function of the caucuses is to put forth resolutions to be discussed at the county assembly and, perhaps, the state convention. There, there could be momentum for future legislation or ballot issues.

It's all a lot of work, but both Harrison and Ferry said the evenings can be valuable for those interested in the very basics of party politics.

"It's democracy at its most grassroots level," Ferry said.

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, smiller@vaildaily.com or @scottnmiller.

Where are they?

The Eagle County caucus meetings on Tuesday, March 6 will be held at several different spots.

Republicans on the Eagle River side of the county will all meet at Battle Mountain High School.

Local Democrats have a number of meeting spots. Your caucus depends on what voting precinct you’re in. If you don’t know, the best way to learn is by calling the Eagle County Clerk & Recorder’s Office, 970-328-8715, or going to the county party’s website.