Good governance informs bill to change county election process

Keywords: Durango Herald,

I am working my bills through committees and the Senate floor now.

The final Senate vote on the bill allowing smaller-population counties to choose to elect their commissioners by district vote only passed unanimously with bipartisan cosponsors.

The reaction to that bill in my district was as varied as it can get. The editorial board of The Durango Herald strongly opposed the bill, calling it a “prescription for bad government and partisanship,” (Feb. 2) while the Montrose Daily Press supported it, finding it to be a common sense option expanding voter choice and power.

Constituent response has also registered the full range, with one individual asserting that I was pandering to right-wing extremists, while at the same time another constituent claimed I was giving away the store to a complete Democratic takeover.

My thought is this: When constituents from half of my counties independently ask for something that will encourage citizen engagement, I listen closely and determine whether they have a position that I can agree with. Given my bill sponsorship, clearly I feel that they do.

The stories I heard from many – across party lines – who live in the less populated areas of my rural counties, are compelling. A constituent with deep roots going back a century in one of the counties shared with me his bipartisan family’s sense that their concerns and voice do not matter in local elections. They’ve given up on voting because votes from the population center dictate the results of any election affecting the area. The name of that particular county is not nearly as important as the sense of disengagement that comes from the current county election method.

Similar accounts come from across my district, with some constituents uncomfortable with going public in their support of the bill because partisan reaction from neighbors can be fierce and unpleasant. That last part alone helps fuel my motivation to carry this bill as that’s not healthy in any form of government.

In the work that I have done in emerging democracies in Africa, I always stress the importance of citizens having the opportunity to access their elected representatives and to feel heard in a meaningful way. This bill offers county residents the opportunity to discuss and possibly vote on whether they want to change how they elect their commissioners. Given the population distribution numbers, those seeking the change will have their work cut out for them, but giving them that option seems to me only fair and good governance.

Hearing different opinions of legislative efforts, including my bills, is part of my job. I appreciate that input, even if I can’t satisfy everyone. That’s where using my judgment comes in to the equation and voters get to decide at election time how I’m doing in representing them and the district.

Finally, my thanks to Mark Esper of Silverton for alerting me to the serious economic challenges accompanying the Red Mountain Pass closure, and to Anne Klein, of Durango’s tourism office, for jumping in with both feet to help.

CDOT and its contractors deserve appreciation for the speedy, difficult, and risky work being done, leading to a partial re-opening of one lane, with further improvements to come as soon as possible. Don’t forget to enjoy Silverton and Ouray soon and please take your wallets with you!

Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, represents the 6th District, which includes Durango, in the Colorado Senate. Reach her at the Capitol by phone, (303) 866-2914 or by fax (303)-866-2218; at home by phone (970) 564-0999 or by fax (970) 564-9236; or by e-mail at eroberts@frontier.net.