Photo by Sylvia Lobato
From left, Larry Crowder, Pam Bricker, Marty Asplin, Gene Glover, Doug Davie and Tim Walters listen to preliminary remarks at the Monte Vista Chamber of Commerce, city of Monte Vista Meet the Candidates Night at the Monte Vista Information Center Thursday,
Incumbents, hopefuls share thoughts about Valley
MONTE VISTA — The Monte Vista Chamber of Commerce Meet the Candidates event Thursday drew a small, but involved, crowd.
Both candidates for District Attorney were present, along with four candidates for the Rio Grande County Board of Commissioners, one candidate for State Senate and one for State House of Representatives.
Moderated by Gerald Vigil, the forum was orderly and efficient, despite testy exchanges by the men seeking the Valley’s highest law enforcement post, as district attorney.
Statements made by incumbent Democrat 12th Judicial District Attorney David Mahonee and Republican Peter Comar, who served two terms in the office before being term-limited in 2008, showed a vast difference in philosophy.
An assistant district attorney between 1985 and 1996, Comar was elected DA in 2000 and served eight years.
He said he was — and will continue to be, if elected — a working DA, handling cases and the court docket while prosecuting major crimes.
Comar said the District Attorney can’t sit in his office all day, but must be visible, out in the community, gaining a perspective of the people he serves and generating respect for the office.
“People want to see — and expect to see — the DA in the courtroom,” Comar added. “That’s how a DA adds transparency to his office. That’s how he justifies getting a paycheck.”
He alleged that his opponent, Mahonee, hasn’t generated respect and hasn’t maintained staff continuity.
“My opponent lost 13 (deputy) attorneys in three years,” Comar said. “That’s lack of continuity, lack of consistency and lack of respect.”
Comar noted that the DA’s office appeared to have become a training ground for young attorneys, who stay for a while, gain experience and then leave.
He pointed out that Mahonee also has brought in an outside agency to handle major cases during his tenure.
“I only had an outside agency once, when I was seeking the death penalty in a case,” Comar said.
While his opponent has done things differently in the office, Comar said a common sense approach was needed, rather than novel ideas.
“I do not believe having four more years of the current DA will change things.”
Answering an audience question about cases or rape and his office’s record with these types of cases, Comar said he treats all homicides, rapes and sexual assault cases seriously.
He said he handled rape cases himself and has more than 200 trials under his belt from when he was prosecutor, but he doesn’t know if his opponent handled any.
Regarding prosecution in general, Comar said, “I couldn’t find that many people in law enforcement unhappy with us.”
Asked for a one-minute statement as to why he should be elected, Comar said he plans to bring respect back to the DA’s office and to hire experienced attorneys. Two of the men who were on his staff, Michael Gonzales and Patrick Hayes, went on to become judges.
Coming out on the attack, Mahonee said, “Four years ago, I took over an office that was utter chaos. The word, ‘attorney,’ was misspelled on the office door; there were no computers, no laptops for the attorneys. I have turned it into a state-of-the-art office.”
He said it’s a place he is proud to have the public visit.
While his opponent may have been out of the office, Mahonee charged, “He paid himself to drive to court in other parts of the Valley.”
“I go to Community Corrections meetings and get an ovation for showing up,” he said, alleging that Comar was unknown at the state level.
Mahonee said he wouldn’t apologize for getting a special prosecutor in the (John) Caudle double homicide case. “I got one of the best prosecutors in the state for free.”
“In 92 trials over four years, I was involved in all at some level.”
Addressing the turn over among deputies, Mahonee said it is hard to get qualified, competent, young people to stay in the Valley, though he has two currently on staff that do not want to leave.
Answering an audience question about cases or rape and his office’s record with these types of cases, Mahonee said he has a sexual assault response team, and is the only District Attorney’s office ever to have two sexual assault trials going on at the same time and to get guilty verdicts in both.
“We are prosecuting more than ever,” he said, adding the deputy Christa Maestas is one of the top sex assault attorneys in the state.
“People don’t recover from this,” he said of the crime. “As DA, I owe it to them to achieve justice.”
Asked about a Driving Under the Influence of alcohol or drugs (DUI) case that was dismissed because his office attempted to take it to trial in the wrong county, Mahonee said the deputy involved didn’t read the arrest report thoroughly and didn’t determine where the offense occurred. “We learn our greatest lessons from our mistakes.”
In his one-minute statement regarding his re-election, Mahonee said “We have the best law office in town.” He pointed out that things have changed since Comar was in office, with four judges and six public defenders to deal with.
The big Rio Grande County race in November will be among independents Pam Bricker, Marty Asplin and Republican Gene Glover, who are all seeking the Board of County Commissioners seat in District 3, while veteran Republican commissioner Doug Davie is running unopposed for the seat in District 1.
A retired educator and longtime member of the county planning and zoning commission, Bricker is concerned about potential oil and gas development in the county and supports the adoption of new regulations to govern it.
She cited her ability to work with all kinds of people as a strong point, along with the fact that she raised her children in Rio Grande County and her grandchildren are growing up there.
Citing her many years of teaching, as well as her career as an administrator at the Byron Syring DELTA Center as basis, Bricker said she has learned communication and negotiation skills that will serve her well as a commissioner.
“Being a county commissioner means being a problem solver,” she said, “and that’s what I’m committed to.”
She is also committed to education, the environment and a creative climate that encourages business development. Bricker adds that she is also “committed to restoring true, local self-government” in Rio Grande County.
During audience questioning, all four commissioner candidates were asked for two ideas she has for attracting new business to Rio Grande County, she said agricultural tourism shows great promise, along with capitalizing on the area’s outdoor attributes and creating educational partnerships between tourism and agri-business. Another idea was to attract downtown businesses based on technology.
Asked about her support for the Monte Vista Kids Connection, Bricker said that, as a long-time educator, she has spent most of her career working with children and is a supporter of after school programs.
Responding to another audience question about her position on oil and gas exploration on San Francisco Creek in Rio Grande County, and where will the water come from for the drilling, Bricker said five million gallons of water is needed to drill one hole and “once it’s used, it’s gone.”
In addition, she said 1,200 trucks would drive past Del Norte High School in one week. “They said they would get water from Del Norte and Pagosa Springs.”
Asked for a one-minute statement as to why she should be elected, Bricker said, “I care about the San Luis Valley. I have grandkids here. I care about relationships, and it’s time for local control.”
Also running as an independent, eight-year county resident Asplin cites his service on many boards and commissions as qualifications for election as Commissioner in District 3.
As a member of the Rio Grande Hospital Board of Trustees, he said, he has worked with many different kinds of people, getting as many un- and under-insured individuals treated as possible.
As mayor pro-tem of Del Norte, Asplin is the town’s representative to the newly reconstituted San Luis Valley Council of Governments (COG), which involved all six counties and is trying to get their governments together to work on common projects. The COG has been successful in the past and Asplin said he hopes that success can be repeated.
Another project Asplin is working on is a recreational trail that will connect all of the San Luis Valley. He has been instrumental in organizing the Del Norte Trails System organized and noted that there has been great progress in that area.
A custom woodworker, he is also deeply involved with the Windsor Hotel restoration project.
Asplin’s ideas for attracting business included the area’s recreational attributes. He said they needed to be marketed, however, so they’re not exploited or degraded. The area needs to help generate things for business to be attracted to, Asplin noted.
Unfamiliar with the Monte Vista Kids Connection, Asplin said Head Start is good for kids, and he feels what is happening at Monte Vista is good for them, as well.
Regarding exploration along San Francisco Creek, Asplin said it’s federal land, so he doesn’t know if the people around it can control it; however, county regulations can control the water issue and how water will be supplied to well drillers.
As mayor pro tem of Del Norte, he said, “I don’t know if we have the water rights.” He said no application has been submitted and that issue is yet to be decided by the town.
Asked for a one-minute statement as to why he should be elected, Glover said he has worked with the county commissioners for the past six years as a town trustee and he is comfortable working with people. He said he is familiar with water rights and trying to work out solutions.
With family roots more than 100 years deep in the Valley, Glover lived in Cortez for a number of years and returned to the Valley several years ago to establish Gateway Motors in Del Norte.
Glover said he was politically active in Cortez and brought that desire back with him to Rio Grande County.
He said he would like to see the county — and Del Norte — grow again, bringing in 300-400 jobs at a time. Glover is not reluctant to state that he feels much of this can come from oil and gas drilling.
His children and grandchildren live outside the Valley and Glover said he couldn’t advise them to return without jobs to come home to.
As a Republican candidate for District 3, he wants to use his experience to bring growth and economic development to the area.
To attract business, he agreed that recreation will attract tourism, and the area needs things that will drive jobs and expand. He said he had observed gas and oil development at Cortez, and saw how it works. Glovers sees it as a viable business for the Valley.
“You can only bring so many people trough to visit dude ranches and ride horses,” He said, noting that the area needs to create jobs so people will stay.
Regarding the kids connection, Glover said he is a firm believer in clubs for children.
Answering the question about oil and gas exploration near Del Norte, Glover said he appreciates the Rio Grande County Commissioners getting involved in the water situation. He said he wants something that will help Rio Grande County, no matter what it might be.
Asked for a one-minute statement on behalf of himself, Glover said, “I know how important relationships with regular people are.”
A Valley native, Davie went to high school in Monte Vista, and earned a degree from Adams State College, now Adams State University.
Farming and ranching most of his life, he appreciates the Valley’s water and works to protect it.
He told his audience that being a county commissioner wasn’t just attending meetings weekly or even monthly, but is a full-time job including many issues and problems to solve.
Among the big accomplishments cited by Davie are a new roof for the county jail and improvements to the Del Norte airport, making it possible for air ambulance service to be used by the Rio Grande Hospital, thus greatly cutting response time for critically ill or injured persons.
He is also proud of improvements coming to the McMullen Building at Ski Hi Park. The building will become a livestock pavilion for 4-H members and others to use when showing their animals during the Rio Grande County Fair, along with multiple uses complementing those of the Ski Hi Complex.
Davie serves on the Colorado Counties Inc. (CCI) agricultural committee, which he has chaired, and he is on the public lands committee, the state All-Hazards Committee, has chaired the San Luis Valley County Commissioners Association and serves on the landfill board and fire board. A Republican, he cites his experience as a reason for him continuing to serve on the BOCC.
To attract new business to the Valley, Davie said education is already a big draw with Colorado State University agriculture, Adams State University and Trinidad State Junior College. Tourism is also a big draw for businesses, he said.
While oil and gas drilling would bring people and money in, he pointed out that the county must be very, very careful with it and be sure it won’t contaminate its surroundings, especially the water agriculture needs to exist.
Pointing to the fact that the Boys & Girls Clubs of the San Luis Valley pulled out of Monte Vista and the community kept it going, Davie said he feels it is really important for Monte Vista and he supports clubs in both that community and Del Norte.
Regarding oil and gas exploration, he said the county’s hands are kind of tied regarding the land, but “to get water, they have to apply for permits.”
“We need to figure out where we are before we okay anything,” Davie said. “This will affect every County in the Valley.”
His one-minute statement as to why he should be elected was short. “Experience. We need to become more visible.”
With incumbent Democrat State Rep. Ed Vigil, House District 62, a no-show, Republican Tim Walters had the floor.
He said he grew up in Pueblo, and then moved to the San Luis Valley, where he will spend the rest of his life. With the newly redrawn district, he’s home and home again.
A veteran property appraiser, Walters has been elected to the Adams State College, now University, for 13 years and has served as chairman for six of those years.
He said the trustees have kept the institution growing despite state budget cuts.
Now, it’s Adams State University, a four-year institution and, with all its programs, is truly a university.
He said it wouldn’t exist without agriculture and he is concerned about major issues with water, which is one of the major problems facing ASU.
With the newly drawn district boundaries, Walters said, part of the Pueblo metro area is included and he would need to deal with the issue of keeping the metropolitan areas dictating to the rural areas.
Being on the Adams State Board of Trustees, Walters said, he has had to lobby for money every year and learned to work with all sorts of people, somehow make the area work as needed, and that is what he will do with the new house district, if elected.
Responding to an audience question about whether he reports drilling or green energy, and why, he said Colorado needs to get control away from the federal government, back to the state level.
Recalling the local young people who have given their lives in the Middle East, fighting for oil, the United States needs to develop its own energy and bring people back home, Walters said.
As for a one-minute statement as to why he should be elected, Walters said the district he seeks to serve is an “eclectic district,” and he understands that. ”Denver has looked down their noses at Pueblo and the San Luis Valley.”
He plans to change that image.
With Democrat Crestina Martinez a no-show, Republican Larry Crowder was the lone candidate to address needs in newly created Senate District 35.
First, he asked all the veterans in the audience to stand, and then thanked them for their service.
A veteran himself, Crowder serves as Veteran Service Officer for Rio Grande County, with offices at Homelake.
He said he was in his second year of college when the Tet Offensive began in Vietnam and he quit college to go into the service.
Areas of concern cited by Crowder were jobs, the economy, economic development, private property rights and education.
He said he resigned his positions on area boards and commissions when he decided to run, in order to avoid conflicts of interest.
One of the most crucial issues to SD 35 is water, Crowder said, noting that it’s an issue across the state.
“I’m well versed about water,” he said. “I have been a farmer and rancher many years.”
The main issue in SD 35 is unemployment, Crowder said. “We’re a working community. We need jobs.”
Answering an audience question about bills he would carry, if elected, he said the situation with the veterans’ cemetery at Home Like is something lawmakers need to work on.
“The groundwork is laid and I would like to see the cemetery expansion pushed through — there are three burial plots left.”
He would also like to see the proposed veterans cemetery in Custer County come into being.
Noting that the Colorado Constitution is easily changed, Crowder said he would like to see the initiative process more difficult in regards to getting items on the ballot, making it more difficult for dangerous initiatives to bet onto the ballot, for example two items killed by the voters a couple of years ago that would have helped water investors ship the precious commodity out of the Valley.
Asked about support for drilling or green energy, Crowder said he supports all types of energy and is for oil exploration where it’s feasible.
The Rio Grande Roundtable is going in the right direction, he said, seeking a conclusive idea of the effects of drilling on the water supply and the general area.
Asked for a one-minute statement about why he should be elected, Crowder said, “jobs, the economy, economic development, private property rights and education — and I’m not interested in raising taxes.”