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Getting in the ring

Candidates throw verbal jabs at North Routt Forum

— If local political candidates were boxers, they would be taking off their warm-up jackets and tightening the straps on their gloves.

At a public forum Friday night in North Routt, campaign season in Routt County took a turn from individual speeches to contested debates, as candidates for offices including Routt County sheriff, Routt County commissioner, and state representative made pointed statements that often highlighted differences between opponents.

Gary Wall, a private investigator and Democratic candidate for sheriff, commented in his opening remarks on the employment history of the Republican candidate for sheriff, Steamboat Springs police officer and narcotics investigator Garrett Wiggins.



“My opponent has never been promoted to a supervisory position in law enforcement,” said Wall, citing his own experience as a Vail police chief in the 1970s. “There’s no comparison between managing people in the private sector and managing people in law enforcement.”

Wiggins said he has previously managed a staff of 70 during employment as a plant manager with tobacco company Swisher International, Inc.



Wiggins fired back at Wall later in the forum, addressing Wall’s work as a private investigator.

“I have never worked for the defense, and I have never defended criminals,” Wiggins said. “I have taken pride in pursuing criminals to the fullest extent of the law.”

The state representative race got spicier, as well.

After Grand County Democrat Andy Gold finished his opening remarks, in which he emphasized improvements to health care and education, incumbent Rep. Al White commented on his own six years of service in the state Legislature.

“I have already done, or am working to do, everything (Gold) is trying to accomplish,” said White, a Republican from Winter Park. White cited his work on the House Education Committee, affordable housing legislation, recent appointment to the Joint Budget Committee, and sponsorship of a bill creating a “no call list” for telemarketers as key points of his service in the state House.

Gold said if elected, he would introduce a bill in 2007 to create a statewide health insurance pool to support universal, single-payer health care in the state.

In the race for Routt County Commissioner, a question from North Routt resident Fred Wolf brought different responses from Democrat Diane Mitsch Bush and Republican Paul Strong.

Wolf slapped a copy of a 2005 county financial audit onto the table in front of him, and demanded to know why Routt County “collected $8 million more than it spent” in that year.

“That, to me, is fiscally irresponsible,” Wolf said. “That money should either be spent, or given back to taxpayers.”

Strong, a member of the Steamboat Springs City Council and a certified accountant, said that while keeping cash on hand and avoiding debt spending is a financially sound practice, he agreed with Wolf that the county should not have such a large amount of money in the bank.

“I think the county’s reserves are too high,” Strong said.

Mitsch Bush has served as vice-chair of the Routt County Planning Commission for the past nine years. She said in its 2006 budget, the county had $22 million in reserves and needed every penny of it.

“That entire amount is earmarked, in case we should see changes in real estate values,” Mitsch Bush said, explaining rules in the voter-approved, statewide Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, part of which limits the ability of counties to increase property tax revenues.

So far, that limitation has not hurt Routt County’s finances because of consistently rising real estate values, said Mitsch Bush.

“But bubbles sometimes burst,” she said, citing a need for substantial reserves. “I think that Routt County owes it to its taxpayers to be prudent.”

The next candidate forum is Oct. 10 at Steamboat Springs High School.


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