Noble: Vacancy committee process leads to resignation of post with Eagle County Dems (column)
Editor’s note: Find a cited version of this column at http://www.vaildaily.com.
I participated in the vacancy committee meeting to select a replacement for Diane Mitsch Bush, who stepped down one year into her term as state representative to challenge Rep. Scott Tipton for Congressional District 3 in 2018.
I intended to remain undecided until the day of selection that I might impartially review the candidates’ written statements and listen to their oral presentations. I met with both Jill Ryan and Dylan Roberts prior to the vacancy selection, and I read every email written to the vacancy committee members on their behalf. I assumed the other committee members would approach the selection with a similar open mind.
Eighteen people comprised the House District 26 vacancy committee. Two people recused themselves — Roberts and his girlfriend, Sarah Andrews. Mitsch Bush did not attend the meeting. That left 15 people to represent the approximately 53,989 people of Eagle County and the approximately 24,648 people of Routt County. Each committee member represented approximately 5,242 citizens.
Despite outnumbering Routt County in population nearly 2-to-1, Eagle County had nine of the votes on the vacancy committee and Routt County had six. I was told the numbers were based on voter turnout. However, Eagle County turnout among Democratic voters in 2016 was 80 percent and in Routt County it was 77 percent. Routt County’s representation seemed disproportionate, given its smaller population.
The superior experience of one candidate was obvious from the written statements. Even a cursory glance at Ryan’s statement versus Roberts’ revealed a depth and breadth of public service he can only hope to match decades from now. Where he listed ideas, she listed accomplishments. While Ryan has been running our county government, Roberts has been working on campaigns for other candidates. Ryan has lived in Eagle County for more than a decade. Roberts moved to Eagle County in 2016.
The most frequent descriptor used in communications to me on behalf of Roberts was “young.” Youth is not an achievement; it is simply something you are for a brief moment in your life. It is, at best, a benign characteristic, but a future competitor can just as easily make it a pejorative.
In an email forwarded to me in an attempt to sway my vote, Craig Hughes, a campaign consultant, wrote, “… We need a new generation. Jill isn’t exactly old, so it’s not like this is an extreme difference, but I do believe in mentoring and bringing along younger political talent …”
Hughes’ comments are a punch to the gut to anyone reaching middle age who has poured their time and energy into building their careers only to be passed over for a youth with a fraction of their experience and ability. Besides, House District 26 is not the Democratic Party’s politician training program — it is the person standing up for Eagle County in the state assembly.
In stark contrast, not one correspondence forwarded to me on behalf of Ryan mentioned her age. Instead, each one mentioned in precise detail her work and her accomplishments.
As the date for the vacancy committee meeting approached, rumors swirled that both candidates did not receive equal access to committee members in Routt County. Party leadership denied this claim.
During open discussion at the meeting, committee member Robert Rutledge representing Eagle County attempted to claim that Roberts, born and raised in Routt County, could more successfully mount a winning campaign in both counties. An assistant district attorney with little more than a year on the job cannot come close to the name recognition of a county commissioner with two solid electoral wins under her belt.
In Eagle County, Party Chair Joy Harrison not only lent her name to 11th-hour emails in support of Roberts, she publicly made her choice known at the vacancy meeting prior to voting in an attempt to add her imprimatur to Roberts’ candidacy.
Technically, this was all legal. But if Roberts were the superior candidate, then his credentials should have stood on their own without the full-court press.
In an 11-4 decision, the vacancy committee chose Dylan Roberts. Given the outsized influence of a few people, the voters of Eagle County were not accurately represented. A primary would rectify this. Let the voters decide who would better represent Eagle County: a seasoned professional or a promising newcomer.
I have resigned as a member of the executive board of the Eagle County Democrats, and I am joining the 43 percent of Americans who identify as Independent.
Claire Noble can be found online at clairenoble.org and “Claire Noble Writer” on Facebook.