Uncontested DA races commonplace in rural Colorado
Steamboat Springs — The local District Attorney’s race was one of 15 district attorney races that was uncontested this election season, and Brett Barkey was elected to serve his last four-year term.
In Colorado, there were only seven contested races in the 22 judicial districts. In the 14th Judicial District encompassing Routt, Moffat and Grand counties, there has only been one contested election since 2000. With the political makeup of Grand and Moffat counties, Republicans have maintained the office.
“We did not find an attorney that was interested in running,” Routt County Democratic Party Chair Catherine Carson said. “It wasn’t a career path they were interested in.”
Once again this year, Carson said there were numerous reasons why the Democrats could not find a candidate.
While Democrat Tammy Stewart carried 59 percent of the vote in Routt County in 2008, she only got 33 percent of the vote in Moffat County and 39 percent in Grand County. Overall, she took 47 percent of the votes in the three counties.
“JD 14 is a tough district,” Carson said.
Steamboat attorney Kris Hammond said he has never considered running for district attorney.
“Obviously, there is a risk of going to the expense of running a campaign over three counties, and there is a risk that you will lose to an incumbent,” he said.
A Democrat attorney also risks potentially derailing their career and livelihood by running for office.
The minimum salary for a district attorney is set at $130,000, and a good attorney would make more than that through private practice, Carson said.
District attorney positions in metro areas are more competitive because they make more money, and the jobs can help them land more powerful positions higher up in the government ranks, Carson said.
District attorney races are often unopposed in rural areas, and Barkey said that is not surprising given there is a small population of attorneys.
“The legal community by its nature is going to be much smaller in rural areas,” Barkey said.
That presents another barrier for a population of attorneys who are considering running.
“If you have to run against your boss, it can be complicated,” Carson said. “It’s the same with the Sheriff’s Office.”
Barkey will be going into his second term as district attorney, which means he is term limited and cannot run again. To prepare for the future, Barkey said he will continue to mentor the attorneys that work in his office and prepare for the future.
“We tend to grow our own in the DA business,” Barkey said.
Toward the end of his term, Barkey said he would approach county commissioners and ask them to consider raising the district attorney’s salary from the minimum $130,000 to help attract strong candidates.
With no opponent, Barkey won 62 percent of the vote in the three counties. That means 38 percent of voters chose not to vote in the district attorney race, which is called the undervote.
In Routt County, the undervote was 46 percent. The undervote when Barkey ran for the first time unopposed in 2012 was 45 percent.
“In a county that leans Democrat, it doesn’t seem particularly surprising,” Barkey said. “My suspicions are a lot of people will follow the party ticket — vote down the ballot that way.”
That theory is supported by election results in other uncontested district attorney races.
In Archuleta County, 54 percent of voters chose not to vote for the only candidate, who was a Democrat. In the Senate race, 56 percent of those voters supported Republican Darryl Glenn.
In Moffat County, Barkey got 76 percent of the vote. Those voters also supported Glenn by 75 percent.
In the 40 counties where there were uncontested district attorney races, Routt had the sixth highest undervote.
In Routt, Barkey made some controversial decisions in the past four years, but he said he does not look at the election results as an approval rating.
“It would be more of a thumbs up or a thumbs down if it was contested,” Barkey said.
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