Five candidates for two Jefferson County commissioner seats say even though they don’t live in the foothills, they feel they can represent the area’s interests.
The candidates agreed that issues in the foothills — specifically with development — are different than down the hill, and they are willing to listen and learn before making decisions.
They also say that finances and public health are the two most pressing issues for the county.
Two of the three county commissioner seats in Jefferson County are up for election on Nov. 3. Current commissioner Libby Szabo is running for a final four-year term in District 1, along with a pair of challengers — Tracy Kraft-Tharp and Hans Romer. Commissioner Casey Tighe is term-limited, so Joni Inman and Andy Kerr are squaring off for the District 2 seat.
While commissioner candidates must reside in a specific district to run for an open seat, all Jefferson County voters select them.
Representing the foothills
All of the candidates said that representing the foothills on the county commission takes a lot of listening and learning about the issues important to residents here.
Inman lived in Conifer and was a reporter at the High Timber Times before moving down the hill, so she believes she has a good idea of what foothills issues are. She talked about how taxed fire departments are as they must be prepared for both urban-like fires and wildland fires, issues with water, especially for developments on wells, and how rezoning cases impact neighbors, wildlife and traffic.
Kraft-Tharp commented: “One of my strengths and what I’m really known for and valued for is that I’m good at listening, learning and being a policy maker that represents people, not one who represents my own beliefs,” adding that she would use those skills in making decisions about the foothills.
Szabo said Jefferson County is made up of urban, suburban, rural and mountainous areas, and part of a commissioner’s job is to understand different areas’ issues to better serve each area’s needs.
Kerr added that the commissioners should find solutions to wildfire prevention, the overuse of parks and more, adding “At the end of the day, people want to go to their jobs, come home and not worry about all of these issues knowing that they have good leadership focused on things that they don’t have to spend 24 hours a day worrying about.”
Top issues facing the county
The candidates focused on two issues they felt were the most pressing for Jefferson County: finances and public health, especially in light of COVID-19.
Romer and Inman talked about county finances and finding ways to trim the budget.
Romer said if elected, he would want Jeffco to take a hard look at every county department to find redundancies and cost savings, noting that government is antiquated with no competition, so it doesn’t need to be efficient. He had no specifics on where county departments could be cut.
Inman said the commissioners’ No. 1 job was to prioritize taxpayer dollars to reflect the values of the community, and to do that, “we have to look at what serves the greatest good in how we distribute and allocate funding. It’s a tough job, but (being a county commissioner) is actually a management position, and we have to elect people who understand that.”
Kraft-Tharp, Szabo and Kerr agreed that balancing public health with economic recovery through the pandemic was essential.
Kraft-Tharp explained that the county must convince residents that following public-health mandates was important and that it wouldn’t be forever, but it also needed to find ways for businesses to be sustainable with an eye to increasing consumer confidence that they will remain healthy while going out.
Szabo added that the loss of jobs thanks to the pandemic has increased the number of residents in poverty, adding: “We must make sure we are looking at that and finding clear-cut solutions to keep businesses open in a safe and health way because that’s imperative to our community.”
Kerr added that adhering to public health mandates now will help the county in the long run.
Kraft-Tharp said she doesn’t play party politics; rather she pulls people together to get things done.
Inman emphasized that she values the mountain communities, noting they have not always had a large voice in the county.
Kerr said, while he originally got involved in politics to represent educators’ interests in government, he’s best known for being open and able to listen to everyone, and he pledged to represent everyone in the county.
Romer said increasing taxes to fund county programs needs to stop, and he wants to put more money into people’s pockets by making county government more efficient.
Szabo said: “Every one of our communities is so important to the tapestry of Jefferson County, which is what makes us so special. I am proud to serve the people here every single day.”
Contact Deb Hurley Brobst at firstname.lastname@example.org or 303-350-1041.
Career: Director of adolescent services and the battered women’s shelter at Family Tree, a Wheat Ridge-based nonprofit organization
Other political offices: represented House District 29 for eight years in the state legislature.
Career: worked in the mortgage lending business.
Political office: has run for numerous positions in the last 15 years including county commissioner and the state legislature.
Career: owned a family business for four decades, was in the mortgage business.
Political office: running for reelection for county commissioner; served three terms in the state legislature for House District 27.
Resides: Unincorporated Jeffco
Political office: first time running for election
Career: former newspaper reporter, was the public information officer for the city of Lakewood, vice president of public affairs for St. Anthony Hospital and owns a government affairs consulting practice.
Career: middle school social studies teacher in Jeffco Public Schools.
Political office: spent 12 years in the state House and Senate.