Eagle County’s major political parties host first events of election season
It’s the start of a long road to Nov. 8
Last week, Eagle County’s Democratic and Republican parties hosted their first official election events of the year — the beginning of a long road to Nov. 8.
In Eagle County, registered voters will see a myriad of county, state and federal candidate elections as well as other ballot issues still being formulated in November.
For the local Republican Party, last week’s March 3 caucus was its precinct caucus, in which party members come together to elect precinct committee members, or captains. These precinct leaders will go on to serve as intermediaries between the party’s leadership and members on local party issues.
“We had more people than we’ve had in the last couple of years, which of course is down from the old days, but it’s still better than we’ve had in the last couple of years,” said Kaye Ferry, chair of the Eagle County Republicans. “I think people have a much greater interest in what’s going right now for a lot of the obvious reasons and so they came out. There was a bigger interest this year, so we’ll see how that plays out in the general election.”
According to Ferry, with just over 100 party members attending last week’s caucus, it was the party’s biggest turnout since Colorado changed its caucusing laws in 2016.
“Every county chair I’ve talked to all over the state has had bigger participation than we’ve had in the past and it’s all being fueled by the complete inadequacies of the Democratic Party right now in almost every level of government,” Ferry said.
On March 5, the the local Democratic Party virtually hosted both its precinct caucus and county assembly, meaning that in addition to selecting its precinct captains, it also selected which candidates will run for local county positions.
Jennifer Filipowski, chair of the Eagle County Democrats, said that while there was a lot to get done, the event ran smoothly, with participation up slightly from 2020, but in line with recent years.
County candidates, assemblies
In November, elections will be held for county surveyor, coroner, clerk and recorder, treasurer, assessor, sheriff as well as for commissioner in District 3.
Currently all of these county positions, with the exception of sheriff, are held by Democratic candidates. According to Filipowski, none of these Democratically-held seats were contested at the assembly, so the party voted to place all of the incumbent candidates on the primary ballot.
“I’m pretty confident that we will maintain the current incumbents in office,” Filipowski said. “I think all of our county-level administrators are well respected and have been doing a fantastic job for us, so we’ll just have to see who is running against them based on who the other party has gotten on the ballot.”
These incumbents include Mark Chapin as assessor, Regina O’Brien as clerk and recorder, Jeanne McQueeney as the District 3 commissioner, Kara Bettis as coroner, Kelly Miller as surveyor and Teak Simonton as treasurer.
The only other county-level seat that voters will see in November is for the office of Sheriff, which is currently held by Republican James van Beek. The Eagle County Democrats do not currently have a candidate for the Sheriff’s office, and according to Filipowski, this is “unlikely to change.”
“The requirements, especially in a small county, make it hard for someone to run for sheriff, especially if they’re currently in law enforcement because they’re potentially running against their boss. That puts their job in jeopardy and it’s not like they can just go to a neighboring agency and just get a job there,” Filipowski said.
According to TRACER, which is the Colorado Secretary of State’s site for tracking campaign finance, one unaffiliated candidate has registered to run for sheriff, Paul Agneberg.
Agneberg, in an email to the Vail Daily, identified that he decided to run for sheriff because he received a message “from Spirit that this is what I should do.”
“This is my purpose. This is my service to humanity,” he added.
Agneberg wrote that he has “been studying common law and constitutional law and “engaging the court system,” fighting primarily traffic offenses, both since 2016. He later added that he is an “herbalist who is a student of the law.”
“I am running for Eagle County Sheriff because I believe that the culture of enforcing the law is ready to change as we shift into this new age,” Agneberg wrote, adding that he has many ideas to “reform inmates and the criminal justice culture.”
The Eagle County Republicans will host their county assembly on March 24, during which time they will designate Republican candidates for these seven county-level offices. Currently, two Republican Party members are registered via TRACER for two of these seats. This includes van Beek for sheriff and Brian George Brandl for District 3 commissioner.
“We only have one person that stepped up for county commissioner and he’s got a really good chance, I think particularly since the county commissioners passed through this third term amendment on the ballot,” Ferry said. “Everyone is still angry about it. I’m certainly hoping that backfires on Ms. McQueeney and that gives us an advantage on that thing and I think it will.”
Brandl will still need to be nominated by the Republican Party at the county assembly to run in the June primary for the party.
Following the Republican county assembly, should either party want to fill a vacancy in a position — for example, should the Democrats want to put up someone for sheriff — they have until Thursday, April 21 to do so.
Eagle County has grown increasingly democratic in recent years, mirroring a statewide trend toward blue.
Of Eagle County’s 33,500 active registered voters, 6,717 are registered Republicans and 9,517 are registered Democrats. The largest number of registered voters in the county are registered as unaffiliated voters. This is according to data from the Colorado Secretary of State’s office as of March 1, 2022.
However, this year, Ferry feels good about the Republican Party’s chances this election season.
“I think we’re pretty much focused on trying to win as many seats as we can. I think we have a unique opportunity this year that we maybe haven’t had in the past couple elections, and we’re hoping we can capitalize on that,” she said.
“I think we’re in pretty good shape here,” Ferry said. “I don’t know how many more things the Democrats can do wrong and not have to pay for it. There’s gotta be some accountability when they keep coming up with the wrong answers to pretty much everything that’s going on right now.”
Filipowski said that for both major political parties, the biggest challenge in getting candidates elected is “these political mood swings that happen on a regular basis.”
“There’s always a challenge to make sure that your messaging resonates with the public and that they understand the values of your candidates,” she said.
However, Filipowski said she feels encouraged by the work — and strides made — by legislators at the state level.
“I think definitely at the state level, we have made some tremendous strides in past legislation that is extremely popular and helpful to the general public,” she said, calling particular attention to Rep. Dylan Roberts’ and Sen. Kerry Donovan’s efforts on providing aid to volunteer wildfire agencies and their efforts on increasing affordable health care options.
Keeping and getting democrats in office comes down to “making sure that people are aware of all that great work that our legislatures have been doing from the county level, all the way up through the governor’s office,” Filipowski said
While Ferry feels encouraged not only by the increased participation of local party members and the caliber of this year’s candidates — for both county seats and house/senate seats — she also believes the new district lines will help the party, particularly for House District 26. With redistricting, this district now includes Rio Blanco and Moffat counties.
“They’re a little more conservative leaning, so they’ve got a really good chance there,” Ferry said.
Filipowski also spoke to the impacts of redistricting, noting that there were both good and bad results from the way the new districts sit.
“Eagle has been a punching bag of sorts for multiple redistricting cycles because of our location in the middle of the state and along the I-70 corridor,” she said. “And since we’re on the border of three congressional districts, our increasingly Dem-leaning voting base makes us an attractive place to chop up to balance the competitive rankings of our neighboring counties and districts.”
Filipowski added that she feels all mountain resort communities are “underserved in representation at all levels.”
She said the new boundaries for Colorado’s 2nd Congressional District, which encompasses nearly all of Eagle County, bring better representation to mountain communities as a whole, but the new State Senate District 8 combines counties with “diametrically opposed political agendas.
“Eagle, Summit, Clear Creek, Grand Jackson, and Routt counties have economies with a strong reliance on agriculture, outdoor recreation, and tourism, which are dependent on addressing wildfires, the climate crisis, healthcare and housing costs, and infrastructure,” she said. “Meanwhile, Moffatt and Rio Blanco have economies with a strong dependence on mining and extraction, which contribute heavily to greenhouse gas emissions.”
The seat for House District 26 is currently held by Roberts, who is giving up his seat to run for Colorado Senate in District 8. Two other individuals have announced their intent to run for the District 8 seat — Eagle resident and Republican Party member Matt Solomon as well as Fraser resident and Republic Party member Richard Cimino.
For House District 26, two Republican Party members, Eagle resident Glenn Lowe and Oak Creek resident Savannah Wolfson, and Democratic Party member Meghan Lukens of Steamboat Springs, have announced their bids.
Eagle County residents will also vote on a U.S. Senate seat (currently held by Sen. Michael Bennet), Congressional Districts 2 and 3, state Senate District 5 — which now only includes the Roaring Fork Valley portion of Eagle County — and state House District 57. Thus far, only one Eagle County resident has announced a bid for one of these seats. Democrat Alex Walker, an Avon resident, will run against Republican incumbent Lauren Boebert in Congressional District 3. This seat is also being challenged by state Sen. Don Coram.
At their respective district and state assemblies in April, both major political parties will select which candidates will represent their party for these congressional, senate and house districts as well as for other state offices in the June 28 primary election. These assemblies will take place in early April.
The state offices up for election in November include governor, secretary of state, treasurer, attorney general, CU regent and the state board of education
“I still don’t know how the state elections are going to place,” Ferry said. “There’s always a problem when you’ve got an incumbent at the top of the ticket that can write as many zeroes after the number that he needs to win so for the state offices I think it’s more of a challenge.”
Party politics, changes
A recent development in local politics has been the emergence of a grassroots movement of local conservatives, called Eagle County Grassroots Conservatives. Pamela Chapman, a spokesperson for the group, wrote in an email to the Vail Daily that the Grassroots Conservatives are “a movement ‘of the people, by the people, and for the people.’”
“The effort is comprised of moms, dads, grandparents, Democrat, unaffiliated, and republican voters. We are from all walks of life, ethnicities, creeds, and ages. We were brought together because of common values: our children, our economy and public safety,” Chapman wrote.
She later added that the Grassroots group “unites us for the common causes mentioned above.”
“It’s not about a Party. It’s about what’s best for the individual or what is the most important unit in society: family,” she wrote.
The group now has over 600 members, according to Chapman, and believes the group should work alongside Eagle County Republicans.
“We believe we should work together for one cause, with one vision and direction,” she wrote. “It’s not about a Party. It’s about what’s best for the individual or what is the most important unit in society: family.”
Members of this group did participate in last week’s Republican caucus.
Ferry noted that this group has created “a little bit of confusion for the people in the community as to who’s doing what and why they aren’t all doing it together.”
However, she added that “we all have a role to play and they are different.”
“We can run into some problems if we are critical of each other, I have never been critical of what the grassroots group is doing and I would hope that’s the kind of atmosphere we could create going forward because if we don’t, we will damage each other,” Ferry said. “They perform a function, we perform a different function, but we still, at the end of the day, have to have the same goal and are rowing in the same direction.”
The Eagle County Democrats have begun to forge a new path forward with some “relatively significant changes in leadership last year,” Filipowski said.
She added that the current executive committee are really committed volunteers, have a better grasp and understanding on the power of technology to share the party’s messages as well as opening up meetings and encouraging participation and community between the party’s members.
“Especially now that COVID is curtailing, we’re excited to get back out there,” Filipowski said.
To register to vote, or to view/change your voter registration, visit: GoVoteColorado.gov
Reporter Ali Longwell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.