It’s a 3-way contest for Custer County commissioner

Article by Jim Little

1996 election – November 1996 – Colorado Central Magazine

3-way race for a parking place at the Custer County Courthouse

by Jim Little

In spite of the problems our quiet Valley is having with National Guard zoomies in our skies, a soft cattle market on our ranches, and a whole slew of newcomers fighting over who can pay the most for the remaining 40-acre ranchettes, we now have our diversions turned to the most popular contact sport of the season, a three-way county commissioner race.

And what a race it is. First, the one-term incumbent, David Rumph, a retired airline pilot who moved here a few years ago, was not-so-politely ousted in the Republican county assembly. Actually, he was a rather effective commissioner, serving on the board heretofore had predominantly been made up of good-old-boy ranchers. But his brash style, coupled with a padded contingency of county assembly delegates from the loyal opposition, led to his decline. It didn’t help matters that he was no bedfellow with the local GOP powers that be, who still control things in a manner that even Mayor Daly would be proud of.

As the dust settled from the slaughter at the county assembly, a trio of odd ducks lined up for the job which pays a rather paltry eighteen grand a year, but which guarantees a parking space at the courthouse as well as invitations to the most chic soirees here in the Wet Mountain Valley, if such things exist.

The Republican contender, Larry Handy, is a professional cattle showman who happens to be married to a member of one of the Valley’s oldest and best respected ranching bloodlines. His first success was the surprising conquest at the county assembly where he stacked the deck by rustled-up friends and relatives, some of whom hadn’t ever been involved in grass-roots politics.

Carrying the Democrat banner is Peggy McIntosh, a California expatriate and the current — and justly effective head of the county zoning office, which answers directly to the commissioners. Thus far she has waged a quiet campaign but has many supporters working behind the scenes.

Also in line for the job is a Republican-turned- Independent, Bill Adler. He, too, is a newcomer; a semi-retired successful pharmaceutical sales rep who since his arrival has dived into local issues head first. He was an effective member of the county planning commission, until he was chided one day by a county commissioner and quit in disgust; he is chairman of the hospital district which oversees our small but immensely successful community clinic; and he heads a committee to bring a long-term health care facility to our Valley to serve the growing population here.

Small-town newspaper people, by definition, are supposed to have a firm grasp on the community’s pulse, but in this race it’s much too early to predict a victor, and here at the Wet Mountain Tribune, we’ve yet to set odds on the race. A well-attended public debate on Oct. 10 probably didn’t help nor hinder any of the candidates, because like Clinton and Dole and Gore and Kemp, all were well-behaved, civil, and proffered all the politically correct responses.

A few years ago, the candidate with the ranching connection would have been the sure bet. But nowadays, with as many Range Rovers as old pick-ups parked in front of Jennings Market, that demographic mold has been shattered.

The female candidate would naturally be expected to pick up votes from her own kind. But that potential asset could be outweighed by the fact that she’s a Democrat in a county where Republicans claim more than 1,300 of the county’s 2,200 registered voters.

And while the Independent candidate has plenty of friends and supporters, he has earned himself some enemies in his ascent up the political ladder.

So far though, this three-way race has been a model of civility, and maybe it’s because all three candidates have strong assets, a fact they all know about one another.

In addition to the commissioner’s run-off, a single local ballot question will appear on the ballot, clear at the bottom of the dozen statewide amendments and referendums facing voters.

“Custer County Referendum 1A” will ask voters to appeal term limits for the county assessor, clerk, coroner, sheriff, surveyor and treasurer. Posed by the commissioners — who in their attempt to be fair-to-a-fault excluded themselves from the measure — the proposal would do away with the limitation of two four-year terms for the elected bureaucrats.

The whole concept of term limits seems absurd anyway. First off, we get to throw the bums out every four years if we so choose. Besides, it usually takes the better part of a term for the politicians to find their way to the coffee room.