Press "Enter" to skip to content

The Last Word: Commissioner Hal?

By Hal Walter

The early morning phone call caught me by surprise. It was a longtime and well-respected friend and neighbor. As I was rushing about trying to get my son Harrison to the school bus, he quickly explained he was calling on behalf of some local citizens hoping to draft me to run for county commissioner. They felt I had a good chance of winning.

The entire proposition seemed out of context and my mind began racing. I told him I’d have to get past the first few chapters of this day, which included not only getting a neurodiverse kid to school but also a serious work deadline, before considering such an out-of-the-blue proposition.

The request was strange partly because of the current state of local politics. All three of our commissioners – Donna Hood, Bob Kattnig and Jay Printz – are facing recall this November. The board has been troubled by controversy since taking office earlier this year.

First, they voted to continue purchasing the county’s legal advertisements in the Sangre de Cristo Sentinel, a right-wing rag clearly backed by foreign interests (foreign to reality). The previous commissioners had raised a political dust storm when they switched the legals from the Wet Mountain Tribune to the Sentinel, and this was part of what had led voters to overturn that regime.

Secondly, our new board of commissioners led an ouster of the Colorado State University (CSU) county extension agent, something most of the community still does not seem to fully understand. This is because much of this process was conducted somewhat less than transparently. Obviously there was no malfeasance or incompetence on the agent’s part, as she was reassigned within the CSU system.

[InContentAdTwo] During this, the commissioners argued with support of the county attorney that a closed meeting with the president of CSU regarding the agent’s situation was okay because they were discussing personnel matters. However, the agent was an employee of CSU, not the county. I took journalism law at the University of Colorado from Sam Archibald who authored the Colorado Sunshine Law and also co-authored the Freedom of Information Act. Sam would have given me an “F” in Socratic dialogue if I’d tried to reason this meeting was somehow permissible.

This was followed by a flap in which the commissioners made deputy road and bridge boss Roger Squire – a 42-year veteran of the department and one of the most well-liked guys in the county – re-apply for his job. The commissioners assured the public it was all done according to procedure, but it’s safe to say this did not make them any new friends or help bolster public support.

Now, to be fair, between all this drama I’m certain the commissioners have done some good things for the county. For starters, they serve as reasonable placeholders for Tea Partiers that would likely be in their jobs. I also understand they oversee regular business doings and sit on various panels both locally and regionally.

Over the summer, the Sentinel spearheaded a recall effort, painting the new commissioners as liberals! This was laughable to me as all of these commissioners were elected on the Republican ticket according to the customs of our local one-party system. Nevertheless, the award-winning (in the Fart in a Whirlwind Sweepstakes) journalists at the Sentinel got enough names spelled correctly on their petitions to place recalls for all three commissioners on the ballot.

My feeling is they were able to co-op a few signatures from their lunatic fringe base with a block of voters who are dissatisfied with the way the commissioners handled some or all of these aforementioned public issues during their first few months in office.

The way the recall election works is voters have the choice to recall or to retain each commissioner, and then may select a replacement in the event of a recall. Of course the Sentinel bunch had already lined up their replacement Republicans.

So, with all of this as background, I was being drafted into this mess. Well known for my abilities taming wild jackasses and managing Harrison, I might even appear as a voice of reason in all this madness.

Meanwhile, the late summer haze was giving way to crisp fall days, and a big focus for me had been Harrison’s cross-country season. I volunteer as a parent coach at daily practices and also accompany Harrison and his team to all the meets.

So as I wrangled with an editing deadline and raced through my day trying to get to practice on time, I also made a few phone calls trying to determine my voter registration status. It turned out I had UN-registered to vote after the last election. To get on the ballot all I needed to do was register as unaffiliated and collect about 50 signatures.

I tossed and turned overnight and into the next day, and also consulted a couple of friends for input. I even considered that the annual salary of a county commissioner is five figures and begins with a six, knowing full well money is not a good or honorable reason to seek this job. I continued to struggle with the decision into the next morning amid more phone calls and emails urging me to run.

In all honesty, I was flattered to have been asked by my friends to run for office, but I had to fight my ego out of this reasoning process. The most difficult part about all of it was that I felt like I might actually be a good commissioner, and could bring some non-political common sense to the business of running the county. Was this my ego talking again?

I continued to go back and forth after my work deadline had passed, and on into the afternoon. A big part of this was simply not wanting to participate in the ugliness of politics. I realized there must have been some reason I had unregistered to vote after the last election. It was out of disgust for the entire system.

Also stewing in the back of my mind was the thought that the Sentinel contingent might have a field day with my candidacy. It would be all too easy to Google me, pull up my 250-plus columns archived on the Colorado Central website and find that I supported and voted for President Obama, back sensible gun control measures, approve of Dark Skies, am an environmentalist, am involved with the local land trust, support the arts, believe in equal rights for women and people of all races and religions, think we should get big money out of politics, among other far-left radical notions.

I was already leaning against running when the phone rang again, and this time it was my real campaign committee – the school. There had been a problem with Harrison. And right then I reached the moment of clarity, and sat down to write a nice letter to my friends.

As I drove away for cross-country practice that day the sky seemed more blue and I noticed some aspens starting to turn. The path I was on seemed even more purposeful and meaningful with this little detour in the rear-view mirror.

Hal’s books Full Tilt Boogie and Endurance are available from The Book Haven in Salida.