Housing, immigration drive Eagle Co. voters | VailDaily.com

Housing, immigration drive Eagle Co. voters

Melanie Wong
Vail, CO Colorado

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado ” Ask some valley residents if they will attend Eagle County’s caucus meetings Tuesday, and you may get a lot of blank stares or grimaces.

“Uhh… I don’t think so. When are they?” someone responded with a doubtful look.

Indeed, the caucus system can be a bit confusing, said McCoy Republican Melinda Gorman, who will host one of the caucuses.

“It doesn’t seem to be something that is talked about very often,” she said.

But while some residents are confused about the caucus system, they have definite opinions on the important issues in Eagle County, she said.

Top political concerns for the valley included affordable housing, immigration and property taxes, said some local residents.

Vail resident Jon Katz said he thinks local government needs help create affordable housing.

“The county has been really proactive about it, and I think that’s good. I’d like to see Vail be more proactive in building housing outside of Vail,” he said.

Edwards resident Rick Chastain said affordable housing is a priority for him, too, along with better education in local schools.

He is a Republican, but those problems are concerns for the whole community, he said.

“These are issues that are important to everyone ” how you educate your kids and where you live. These are not party concerns,” he said.

Avon resident Heather Somerville said she is considering attending the Democratic caucus. One of the most important issues for her is health care.

“My mom is 53, and does not have health care,” she said. “And she is not in good health. She should have the opportunity to go to the doctor if she needs to, not wait it out at home for a few days.”

She also wants a better way to educate native-Spanish speakers in local schools. Teachers are too stretched out trying to teach Spanish speakers, and overall quality of education suffers because of it, she said.

Edwards resident Liz Spanel said she wants to see reform on illegal immigration policies. The government needs to find a way to let illegal immigrants who have been working in the country to stay, but allow people to enter legally, she said.

“We can either work with it or against it. It’s tricky,” she said. “Building a fence or punishing people who are trying to make a living is not right. It’s not about shutting the door.”

Affordable housing and taxes are some of Randy Milhoan’s top concerns. The issues are intertwined, said the chairman of the Eagle County Republicans.

“Escalating property taxes are a severe problem. It drives up the cost of housing, and those costs are passed on to the renters,” he said.

The way the area deals with growth ultimately also addresses the problems of rising taxes, lack of housing and increasing traffic, said New New Wallace, vice-chair of the Eagle County Democrats.

“We need to answer, how much bigger are we going to be? Do we want to build up? Who do we want to be? These are things we need to start planning for,” said Wallace. “Personally, I think quality of life suffers when we grow too much.”

Most of the political issues Eagle County residents are concerned about are concerns of both parties, she said.

Everyone is affected by assessed values of homes going up and increased property taxes, she said.

“When you have growth, somebody’s gotta pay for it. I think keeping the (mill levies) the same was a good thing,” she said.

For the first time, a presidential straw poll will be taken at the caucuses.

The poll will be exciting, with Republican Rudy Giuliani and Democrat John Edwards having dropped out of the race, and Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton facing off, local party leaders said.

Democrat John Wade said he plans to attend the caucuses for the first time, and he is interested to see which way Colorado will go in the straw poll.

“I believe in Clinton. Obama doesn’t have enough experience,” he said.

Spanel said she is also leaning toward Clinton right now.

“She has the experience, and I’d love to see a woman in the White House.”

On the other hand, Obama has a “fresher outlook” and seems like he might be more likely to get things done and “get past the red tape,” she said.

Chastain said he usually just votes in the general election, but wants to go to the Republican caucuses this year.

He wants John McCain to win, he said.

“I think there’s a lot at stake right now ” especially with the war and our Middle East policy,” he said.

Staff Writer Melanie Wong can be reached at 748-2928 or mwong@vaildaily.com.

Support Local Journalism