Vail Daily editorial: Where are the elephants?

the Vail Daily Editorial Board

The above headline is a trick question, of course. Real-live pachyderms wouldn’t do well during Vail Valley winters. The real question regards the whereabouts of the local Republican Party, and the dearth of candidates for local offices this year.

Town councils throughout the county are nonpartisan, but it wasn’t that long ago that Eagle County leaned more red than blue. That’s changed over the past 15 years or so, and Eagle County is now pretty firmly in the blue camp, including our representatives in the Colorado Legislature.

Longtime valley resident Michael Cacioppo, a Republican, is challenging Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush, but the lack of challengers for countywide jobs is worrisome.

There are nine countywide elective offices: three commissioners, the sheriff, clerk and recorder, assessor, treasurer, coroner and surveyor. As of today, there are two elected Republicans in that group — Eagle County Sheriff James van Beek and Eagle County Surveyor Ted Archibeque. Mari Renzelman, the current Eagle County treasurer, is a Republican, but she was appointed to the position after the retirement last year of former treasurer and fellow Republican Karen Sheaffer.

There are three countywide offices up for election this year: two commissioner seats — currently held by Democrats Jill Ryan and Kathy Chandler-Henry — and the treasurer’s position.

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At this writing, only the treasurer’s job is being contested. Renzelman is running, as is current Eagle County Clerk and Recorder Teak Simonton, a Democrat.

Challenging a sitting office-holder of any party is a tough job. Our electoral system favors incumbents. Absent malfeasance in office, that advantage becomes almost prohibitive.

The current group of commissioners hasn’t tackled any wildly controversial issues in a while, which means any challengers for the commissioners’ jobs would face a daunting task unseating the incumbents. A campaign will be hard work and will require in the neighborhood of five figures to finance.

Still, a couple of people should step forward. No office-holder should run unopposed. That’s the sort of thing that breeds complacency. And while it would be a major surprise to learn of it from these commissioners, unchallenged incumbency can also lead to corruption.

The back-and-forth of campaigns forces candidates to sharpen their thinking and, in the case of incumbents, can require vigorous, thoughtful defense of past votes and positions.

That’s why we’re hoping at least two people step forward at the Republicans’ March 19 county assembly in Eagle. Our local politics will be the better for it.

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