Immigration creeps into candidate forum – VIDEOS OF CANDIDATES |

Immigration creeps into candidate forum – VIDEOS OF CANDIDATES

Scott N. Miller
Preston Utley/Daily file photoOpen space was among the issues discussed by candidates for Eagle County Commissioner at a forum last week.

EDWARDS Melinda Gormans first up-close look at the candidates for Eagle County Commissioner didnt help her make up her mind.Gorman, of McCoy, said she wished the candidates had talked more about illegal immigration.

None of them mentioned it until it was forced on them at the end, Gorman said.Gorman was among a small handful of voters who came to Gracious Savior Lutheran Church Wednesday evening for a forum that put all six candidates in the same room for the first time.On the immigration question, all the candidates said the problem is primarily the job of state and federal government. One candidate, Mike Lederhause, said the county needs to be sure any companies it signs contracts with are hiring employees who are legally in this country.Gary White of Edwards said the forum was helpful as he considers who to vote for this fall. But, like Gorman, he said there were a couple of topics he wished the candidates had fielded questions about.I think they needed to talk about electric rail to Denver, White said. They also needed to talk about a regional planning agency, with representatives from all the different governments.While there were topics White wanted to hear discussed, he said he appreciated the chance to see the candidates in person.I was interested in listening to them handle questions, he said. Some were a little slower than others. I think this kind of forum is important.Glenn Miller of the Eagle area said thats why he came out, even though he already has an idea whom hell support.I just wanted to get everyones opinion on things, Miller said.Here are some of those opinions, candidate, by candidate:

Bair, trying to become the first county commissioner from Basalt since his grandfather held the seat in the early 1980s, talked early and often about his Eagle County heritage.He also focused on his experience as president of the Roaring Fork School Board, as well as on the Eagle County Open Space Advisory Committee and the Eagle County Home Rule Charter Commission.This is the right time for me to give back, Bair said. Its a critical time to be involved, so our children have a place here.Bair said hes eager to look at ways to accommodate the countys projected growth, through both transit and housing. He also said he wants to help the county keep its middle class, so the children of families here now can keep living in Eagle County if they choose to.Theres good and bad parts to growth, Bair said. For instance, Interstate 70 made it easier for county residents to travel to Denver or Grand Junction. The bad news is that easy access helped spur the countys rapid growth. The best thing we can do is move forward in a positive manner, he said.

Benson, owner of a print shop in Gypsum, hammered on a couple of key issues: Keeping partisan politics in the county charter and quickly building an assisted-living center for local seniors.Benson is the only candidate for commissioner who opposes the proposed home rule charter, which would add two commissioners to the current three-member board and take party politics out of county elections.Theres a reason the D and the R are on these cards, he said, waving the name card at the table. It takes away an intelligent tool for choosing a candidate.In addition to advocating building an assisted-living center quickly, Benson said hes determined to protect private property rights in the county.

A renowned documentary filmmaker, Brown has lived in the county since 1962, the year Vail Mountain opened.The countys been good to me, and I want to help guide it to a prosperous, sustainable future, he said.That guidance, in Browns view, depends largely on helping Eagle County move away from fossil fuels to more alternative energy sources. Brown walks the alternative energy talk. His home up Gypsum Creek was built in the late 1970s to use solar energy for virtually all its heating needs.Brown said the growth of the last 40-plus years has brought pollution, crime and congestion to the valley. But, he added, he believes the county in the next 20 years will depend more on service-type jobs than the construction work that now dominates. The people in the valley then will depend much more on mass transit than they do now, he said, because energy will continue to get more expensive.

Edwards, a retired architect, is now a member of the Gypsum Town Council. Hes also a member of several county and area volunteer boards, including the Open Space Advisory Committee and the Home Rule Charter Committee. Edwards is also a past board member of the Eagle Valley Chamber of Commerce.It would be great if the valley in 20 years looked like it did 20 years ago, but thats not going to happen, Edwards said. I want to see open space preserved, especially in the upper valleys.Edwards said while a lot of people talk about county government cooperating with towns, that doesnt happen often or well, in his view. Getting real cooperation between the county and its towns is going to be crucial, he said.Asked whether the county spends too much money in Edwards, he broke ranks with the other candidates and said he thinks Edwards gets proportionately more money than other areas.Im not against spending money in Edwards, but I am for sharing money throughout Eagle County, he said. We raised taxes in Gypsum to pay for recreation, and Im paying for it here, too.

Much of Fishers campaign focuses on her 10 years as the Eagle County clerk and recorder. That experience, she said, makes her uniquely qualified for the commissioners job.Looking ahead, Fisher said the future could be bright.But we need to do long-term planning to get a handle on what the futures going to be, Fisher said. That means working with the towns and the state to form a vision of where we want to go.The countys most pressing future problem, Fisher said, comes from a state study that indicates that the county could have 80,000 people and a workforce of 100,000 by 2025.Fisher said the county has long depended on immigrant labor, and needs to remain a place that welcomes them.We need to be careful, she said. Just because someone has an accent doesnt mean theyre illegal.

Aside from Bair, none of the candidates county roots are sunk deeper than those of Lederhause, who first came to the county in 1959.A retired Colorado State Patrol officer, Lederhause said his experience enforcing the law, and building cases based on evidence will help him as commissioner.Lederhause is a strong advocate of slowing down the countys growth. We need to do something before its all gone, he said.Lederhause also favors county action to provide housing for county employees in order to lure back those currently living outside the county.Along with Benson, Lederhause believes the countys airport needs work, both for commercial passengers and those who fly small planes from there.Its probably time to look at an expansion there, Lederhause said. He also said hes worried about building both east and west of the airports runway.Staff Writer Scott N. Miller can be reached at 748-2930, or Daily, Vail Colorado

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