Looks like a close race in Gunnison County

Article by Chris Dickey

1996 election – November 1996 – Colorado Central Magazine

All signs point to a close race in Gunnison County

by Chris Dickey

It’s not difficult to determine that there is a local political race in progress, with Gunnison yards, businesses and cars transformed into a sea of brightly colored billboards espousing one candidate or another. If an impromptu inventory of this signage has any merit, the races for two Gunnison County Commission seats could be close ones.

Incumbents Fred Field and Marlene Zanetell are each seeking another four-year go-round in the paid county commissioner’s post. Field, a Republican, is being challenged by Democrat Butch Clark. Republican Linda Helken Squirrell is challenging Zanetell, who is a Democrat.

Fortunately or unfortunately (I’ll leave this interpretation up to the reader), neither of these races is steeped in controversy or turmoil. No nasty accusations have been parleyed through the newspaper, just lots of ads (newspapers do love elections) and a trickle of endorsement letters.

Naturally, each candidate brings a unique background and list of qualifications to the plate. Field is a rancher who has been called effective for his ability to work with a broad base of constituents and moderate these wide ranging interests. Yes, even examples of ranchers and environmentalists working together in this county are available.

His opponent, Clark, has a mile-long list of education credentials while his work with the political organization, POWER (People Opposing Water Export Raids), and its long-standing battle against the Union Park water diversion project, has offered him the most public visibility.

Zanetell is a long-time resident and former school teacher who is known to openly voice her concern on items such as ski area expansions, paving the Gunnison County side of Cottonwood Pass, and numerous other actions which may threaten the proverbial quality of life.

Helken Squirrell was a member of the county planning commission for 10 years. She operates the inn at Arrowhead resort near Cimarron (between Gunnison and Montrose) and appears to have the support of the local real estate crowd plus Gunnison County’s only commissioner not up for re-election this November, Rikki Santarelli.

All four campaign messages have been relatively similar, however. Everyone is opposed to unchecked, unplanned growth. While we may not be able to stop growth, they say, each claims to have the appropriate (albeit hidden) tools to balance a healthy environment with a prosperous economy.

Protecting agricultural lands from the inexorable fate of subdividing has been high on the county’s agenda lately, with citizen groups working to bring in more than $500,000 in federal money to put toward ranching. A deal to spend $10 million of GO Colorado funds on permanent easements and other land conservation techniques in the Gunnison Valley is pending.

So it’s Field versus Clark, and Zanetell versus Helken Squirrell, all opposing unrestrained development.