Sheriff contest

An opportunity to hash out good ideas

Keywords: Durango Herald,

In Montezuma County, local elections almost always are decided in the Republican primary – one reason party registration may no longer be an entirely accurate indicator of voters opinions, especially on social issues like marijuana or same-sex marriage.

In candidate races, the general election is just a formality. This year’s sheriff race is so far still an all-GOP contest between three candidates with strong law-enforcement experience.

Incumbent Sheriff Dennis Spruell can claim experience in the position. Even Spruell’s supporters acknowledge that his tenure has been rocky. Personnel problems – from inappropriate Facebook posts to the arrest of the former undersheriff – have plagued his department, and three deaths at the detention center is three too many (not to mention three more than much larger facilities experience over the same time period). It’s safe to say he could have been paying closer attention.

Fox and Nowlin are less flashy candidates, probably less likely to expound on political issues and more likely to focus their attention on the details of their job. Whether the sheriff should be, first and foremost, a politician, is a fair question to ask. Those who agree with the viewpoints of the current office holder may think so. Those who don’t share the same set of priorities may feel poorly represented, especially when basic responsibilities are poorly handled.

In her time as a school resource officer for the Cortez Police Department, Diane Fox has seen tears in the social fabric in one of the first places they become visible: among our youth.

Is Montezuma County ready to elect a female sheriff? Possibly not, although what a thing to have to say in 2014. Voters should assess Fox’s ability, experience and philosophy, and listen to what she has to say.

And Steve Nowlin, retired from the Colorado State Patrol, has the benefit of broader law-enforcement experience.

But that advantage – his long and successful career with the state patrol – may be held against him. Voters aren’t always particularly willing to consider ideas from outside the county’s borders. That prejudice ought to be a thing of the past. Nowlin’s quiet voice deserves careful attention. There’s no doubt he could do the job well.

An election should not be a personality contest, nor should it involve long months of fear-mongering. It should involve thoughtful discussions of real issues, fleshed out with facts, figures and concrete ideas for improvement. This year, the county would benefit from having the three candidates all spend some time in the contest.

That’s not likely to happen, because in order to earn a slot on the primary ballot, a candidate must win 30 percent of the votes at the precinct delegates. It’s possible that these three could command 33, 33 and 34 percent, respectively.

It’s also possible that one candidate could take 71 percent of the caucus delegates and shut the other two out of the primary ballot. More probable is that after the March 21 County Assembly, where the precinct delegates vote, the race will have two primary candidates and an also-ran who could still petition onto the ballot.

That also could push a decision clear to the November election, leaving room for someone not registered as a Republican to win office, as Larry Don Suckla did in the last county commission contest.

Contested races are always a good thing, and a race with three strong candidates is a rare luxury. Let’s not waste the opportunity to hear their best ideas. Attend the March 4 precinct caucuses, and go from there. Don’t make the decision without letting the candidates have their season.