Primary Election races to watch in SLV

VALLEY — Many voters have already received ballots in the mail for the Primary Election, which includes several contested races at the county level in the San Luis Valley.

Ballots must be returned to each county’s respective county clerk’s office by 7 p.m. on Tuesday, June 26.

Also, new in this Primary Election (thanks to the passage of Proposition 108 in 2016) is the opportunity for unaffiliated or “independent” voters to vote in the Primary Election. All active unaffiliated voters who have not already declared a ballot preference will receive the Primary Election ballots for both the Democratic and Republican Parties in the mail. The voter may vote and return only one of the ballots. If both are marked and returned, neither will be counted.

Costilla County races

Costilla County has the most contested races with 15 candidates contending for five county offices. All of the races are on the Democratic ballot.

The most popular race, with four candidates, is the run for Costilla County sheriff, a post currently held by Amos Medina. Hoping to replace him in office are Democrats Danny R. Sanchez, Steven Vigil, Colleen C. Romero and Carlos C. DeLeon.

Each of the Costilla County commission seats up for election this year has a three-way race. Democratic candidates seeking the county commissioner post for District 2, currently held by Dolores Burns, are Michael “Mikey” V. Gallegos, Gilbert W. Martinez and Leroy Medina. Candidates for the District 3 commissioner post are incumbent Augustine “Roy” Esquibel and challengers Steven Romero and Fidel Rodriguez.

Vying for Costilla County treasurer, a post currently held by Annette Carino, are current Deputy Public Trustee Rebecca “Becky” Romero and current Deputy Treasurer Lorraine C. Medina as well as write-in candidate Gary Gurule.

Democratic candidates running for Costilla County assessor, a post currently held by Ronda Lobato, are Thomas Aragon and Lori Espinoza.

Alamosa County races

In Alamosa County, there are two contested races at the Primary Election level. Two Republicans are seeking the Alamosa County treasurer post being vacated by Lois Widhalm, who is retiring. Amy McKinley and Jerald Montoya are vying for the Republican candidacy, with the victor from the Primary Election race facing Democrat Donna Griego in November.

There are also two Republican candidates for County Commissioner District 2, currently held by Michael Yohn, who is seeking re-election. Republican Arlan VanRy is also seeking the District 2 seat. The winner of the Republican Primary Election will face Democrat Ed Vigil in November.

Conejos County race

In Conejos County, there is only one contested Primary Election race. Republican candidates for sheriff Garth Crowther and Marvin Thomas are seeking the sheriff’s post, which is currently held by Robert Gurule. (Undersheriff Christopher Crown is running for sheriff but not in Conejos County.) The winner of the Republicans’ Primary race will face Democrat Jacob Ortiz in November.

Rio Grande County races

In Rio Grande County, there are two contested Primary Election races. Republicans Christopher Crown and Donald G. McDonald are seeking the Rio Grande County sheriff post, and incumbent Rio Grande County Commissioner Karla Shriver faces fellow Republican John Noffsker in a Primary Election race for the Rio Grande County Commission District 2 seat. The winner of that Primary race will face Democratic candidate Joseph Schlabach in November.

Saguache County race

Saguache County has one contested Primary Election race. Democrats vying for Saguache County assessor are incumbent Peter Peterson and challenger Rhiannon Curry.

Mineral County race

In Mineral County, there is only one contested local race at the Primary Election level. Incumbent Mineral County Treasurer Patti Payne, an 18-year veteran of the office, is being challenged by Lauri Jordan in the Democratic Primary Election. The winner of that race will face Republican Michael Averette in this fall’s General Election.

Following is a closer look at some of the candidates for contested races, for which information was available:

Alamosa County

Treasurer candidates

Amy McKinley

Alamosa County Treasurer Republican Candidate Amy McKinley, a Valley native, has more than 20 years experience working for Alamosa County and recently began working for the City of Alamosa. McKinley was employed with Alamosa County from January 1993 to December 2015. She currently works for the City of Alamosa as the human resources/risk manager. She also previously served as payroll manager for Adams State University.

“I feel with all of my 20+ years of service to the county (all of them including directly working with the treasurer’s office) I am the ideal candidate for the position of Alamosa County Treasurer,” McKinley said.

Jerald Montoya

Alamosa County Treasurer Republican Candidate Jerald Montoya of Alamosa is currently employed as the accountant for the Alamosa County Department of Human Services. 

Montoya earned a Bachelor of Science degree in business administration and accounting from Adams State University. He began his accounting career working as a bookkeeper for City Market, worked with Alta Fuels as an inventory accountant and currently serves as accountant for the Department of Human Services, overseeing a $15 million budget.

Recognizing the work Lois Widhalm has accomplished over the years, Montoya plans to build on her accomplishments providing the highest standard of service to our community.

Donna Griego

Alamosa County Treasurer Democratic Candidate Donna Griego, who will face the Republican Primary victor in November, was born and raised in Alamosa. She has a BS in administration and business and management and a master’s degree in administration and leadership in higher education. She currently serves as a trustee at Adams State University.

She has 30 years of dedicated public service for the state of Colorado. Her skills have included staff management, budget experience and bookkeeping at an executive level. She co-founded the nonprofit Blue Star Mothers of Alamosa and Lifeways.

She said she would ensure that the treasurer’s office continued to meet the demands and challenges required.

County commission candidates

Michael Yohn

Republican Alamosa County District 2 Commissioner Michael Yohn is currently serving his second term. He is a fourth generation Valley resident who was born and raised in Alamosa. He served in the U.S. Army from 1970-1972. He attended SCSC in Pueblo and in 1976 moved back to Alamosa where he was a business owner for many years, selling the business in 2008.

Giving back to the community is important to him, Yohn said, and he wants to continue to see the county prosper.

He said some of the accomplishments he has been a part of include the new county annex building, new airport terminal and runway, the current jail expansion and new courthouse, county roads being paved, solar projects, the completion of the Mosca sewer project, the budgetary increases for the sheriff and district attorney, closing out the Co-op landfill, cleaning up “devil’s playground,” implementing a blight ordinance and adding an environmental health staff position. The county has supported the methadone clinic and behavioral health and placed moratoriums on recreational and retail marijuana.

“I believe this is a very critical time for Alamosa County and I think we have to be very fiscally responsible for the projects that are going on,” said Yohn.

Arlan Van Ry

Republican Alamosa County Commissioner Candidate Arlan Van Ry is a 1986 Alamosa High School graduate who attended TSJC and served in the Army with the 3rd Ranger BN from 1988 through 1991.

He returned to Alamosa and has since worked with the family business Colorado Construction for 21 years. During that time, Van Ry started a drug and alcohol testing business and a few years later added a staffing company.

He is a member of the Alamosa Elks, American Legion, and lifetime member of the VFW.

Van Ry has served on the Alamosa school board since 2009. Van Ry has served on the Colorado Association of School Boards since 2015 with his service including the legislative resolutions committees at the state and federal levels.

“I believe that with my experience I would be a valued resource to Alamosa County,” Van Ry said. “I have spent most of my life serving my community from cub scouts to school board and other service clubs throughout the years. My roots are here in the Valley. I am proud to live here. I would like to ensure that the youth of our community have a reason to stay and earn a living wage here.”

Ed Vigil

Alamosa County Commissioner District 2 Democratic Candidate Ed Vigil, who will face the winner of the Republican Primary in November, is a graduate of Adams State.  He was elected in 2009 as state representative for House District-62 where he served for eight years until he was term limited in 2017. 

Prior to being elected as state representative, he was Costilla County Commissioner from 2000 to 2008. Prior to his 16 years serving the people in an elected capacity, Vigil worked in various service roles including social worker, substance abuse counselor, peace officer and special investigator for Alamosa’s District Attorney’s Office. 

He and his wife Evelyn moved to Alamosa in 1980 and established a business (Sangre de Cristo Laboratory, Inc.), which they owned and operated for 25 years.

“While I have experience in various areas of interest and education, I believe my greatest pleasure and strongest sense of accomplishment is in public service,” Vigil said. “My historical past speaks well for itself. I can work and multi-task effectively on a number of team projects, communicate clearly with others and mediate conflicts. I am a patient listener and believe that together as a unit, we work together to bring Alamosa County to the next level.”

Conejos County

Sheriff candidates

Two Republicans are facing off in the Primary Election for Conejos County Sheriff, with the winner facing Democrat Jacob Ortiz in November.

Marvin Thomas

Republican Conejos County Sheriff Candidate Marvin Thomas was born in Manassa and graduated from Centauri High School. Thomas began his law enforcement career in 1989 as a police officer with the Bartlesville Oklahoma Police Department where he was chosen as “Police Officer of the Year.” He served as president of the Fraternal Order of Police for two years. Promoted to sergeant in 1996, Thomas became the shift commander of 12 officers, two jailers, three dispatchers, as well as clerical and detective units on duty.

Sergeant Thomas served on a Special Operations Team (SWAT) as a sniper. This unit worked hand in hand with the District Attorney’s Multi-Jurisdictional Drug Task Force to eradicate the large movement of drugs into the area. Thomas served as the lead negotiator between the City of Bartlesville and the Bartlesville police officers for five years dealing with an annual budget of just over $3 million.

Sergeant Thomas is currently a certified instructor through the Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training (CLEET). He has taught at numerous police training seminars and academies.

Thomas’ major focus as sheriff would be apprehending drug manufacturers, distributors, and those possessing contraband, along with aggressively eradicating local burglaries and thefts including cattle rustling.

Thomas believes that a sheriff’s office must have an open door policy to the community, to serve with integrity and experience, and take a pro-active approach to law enforcement. He believes in aggressively attacking major crimes using modern police tactics. Thomas believes all law enforcement agencies need to cooperate for true success.

Thomas has worked with tight budgets in the past, and believes he has a workable solution on how to do more with less. He feels a strong sheriff’s office begins with a commitment to integrity and professionalism.

Garth Crowther

Republican candidate for Conejos County Sheriff Garth Crowther is a lifelong resident of Sanford and graduate of Sanford High School. He served two terms on the North Conejos Board of Education. Crowther wants to have deputies in each of the county’s schools and would use all available resources to fight the drug epidemic and ensure the safety of the county’s children.

Crowther chose law enforcement as a career and attended the Colorado Law Enforcement Training Academy (CLETA) in Golden in 1979, receiving his certification as a Colorado peace officer.

His career began with three years as Sanford Marshal and then working with the La Jara Police Department and attaining the rank of sergeant.

In 1989, Crowther attended the Colorado State Patrol (CSP) training and was assigned to the San Luis Valley, where he retired after 29 years. He served 19 years as a technician in the CSP Vehicular Crime Unit, investigating all fatal crashes in the southwest corner of the state. In addition, he has participated in the investigation of other crimes such as homicide, sexual assault, robbery and burglary, as well as other major crimes where entities such as the CBI request his expertise.

His professional ties are already established with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI), personnel of the local court system, judges, town and county law enforcement officers and numerous CSP troopers across the state.

All told, he has 39 years of law enforcement experience. He has trained many officers and plans to train the personnel of the Conejos County Sheriff’s Office to be more confident.

“We will work hard to solve all crimes. We want all citizens of Conejos County to feel safe, especially within the walls of their own homes.”

Jacob D. Ortiz

Democrat Conejos County Sheriff Candidate Jacob D. Ortiz, was born and raised in Conejos County, graduated from Centauri High School and has served the Manassa community as a firefighter for 16 years.

“I am not a certified police officer but if elected will get certified at my own cost and within the required time period,” Ortiz said. “I would be new to this. I am tired of seeing ‘certified’ officers get elected to sheriff.”

Ortiz added, “I think the good ‘ole boy routine should not be an option. Each case should be followed through thoroughly. In my opinion, the sheriff’s office has been run second rate for some time, not returning calls or not following through on reports in a timely manner.”

Ortiz said not much has changed in the sheriff’s office since he won the primary four years ago and lost in the general election.

“At that time we were told outside assistance and an open door policy were not needed, and obviously it is needed,” Ortiz said.

He said drugs and thefts are a big concern and need to be dealt with immediately.

“The sheriff’s office should make the safety and well being of our youth and communities a priority.”

Ortiz said he understands it is not an easy task covering 1,290 square miles but it needs to be done. He said in spite of a low budget, “We are responsible to do a job.”

Ortiz said he also does not believe in nepotism and would not have family working for him.

“I don’t like to use the word ‘change,’” he said. “There will be a difference.”

He concluded that if elected, “the sheriff’s office will know it is a true duty to protect and a real heartfelt honor to serve.”

Rio Grande County

Commission candidates

Karla Shriver

Rio Grande County District 2 Commissioner Karla Shriver, a Republican, is seeking a third term “to build upon key initiatives and provide steady leadership for the time ahead.”

Shriver has served on numerous boards and commissions at the local, state, and national levels. She is a leader for the SLV Great Outdoors initiative, serves on the boards of the SLV Development Resources Group, the Rio Grande Watershed Emergency Action Team (RWEACT), the SLV Water Conservancy District, the SLV Federal Bank, the El Pomar SLV Regional Council, TSJC Advisory Council, and the Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project.  She also served for 10 years on the Ski Hi Stampede Committee.

On a state level, she served on the Board of the Colorado Great Outdoors (GOCO) and is presently serving on the National Association of Counties Telecommunication and Technology Committee, on the leadership team at Colorado Counties Inc. (CCI) and on the board of County Technical Services (CTSI) for the County Health Pool.

A few of her successful efforts include: the pavilion building at Ski-Hi Park Complex; San Luis Valley Great Outdoors Master Plan; shade pavilion and interpretive signs at Summitville; county hydrology study; county OHV ordinance; and county “shop local” project. 

Some of the initiatives Shriver would like to pursue are moving the Summitville project forward, developing senior and affordable housing and addressing opioid and other drug addiction issues.

Shriver also operates her family farm east of Monte Vista.

John Noffsker

Republican candidate for Rio Grande County Commissioner District 2 John Noffsker has been a rancher on Rock Creek for 23 years. He is the pastor at the First Presbyterian Church in Monte Vista and past president of the Rio Grande County Farm Bureau.

After graduating from the University of Colorado with a Bachelor of Science degree in Finance and Real Estate, he enlisted in the Air Force. After eight years of active military service, he flew for Northwest Airlines, retiring after 27 years. In 2003, he was awarded the Air Force Aerial Achievement Medal for flying in support of Iraqi Freedom as a pilot in the Civil Reserve Air Fleet.

Noffsker served as the mayor of Marcus in Washington.

Noffsker stated, “As commissioner, my first priority would be restoring the relationship between the Board of Commissioners and law enforcement by providing the sheriff’s department the support and resources needed to deal with our growing drug and related property crime problem. The drug problem cannot be solved by enhanced law enforcement alone. We need to develop a path to recovery which will allow those trapped by addiction to be welcomed back as functioning members of our community. This will require an investment by not only the government but also businesses, service organizations, the faith community, and most importantly, all of us as citizens.

“Secondly, I have a strong commitment to addressing impending county budget challenges along with creative, realistic economic development strategies.”

Joe Schlabach

Rio Grande County Commissioner District 2 candidate Joe Schlabach will face the Republican Primary Election winner in November. He is a councilman for the City of Monte Vista.

Schlabach is from Ohio and served in the Marines from 2007 to 2011, stationed in Japan and deployed to Iraq. He enrolled at Adams State University, pursuing a degree in business administration and economics. After completing a year, he started his own construction business based in Monte Vista. It became very profitable, but his health forced him in a different direction, and he went back to school.

At Adams State, Schlabach helped build the veterans group and to bring a doctor to the Department of Veterans Affairs clinic in Alamosa.

Upon graduation, Schlabach served on the Planning and Zoning Commission and the Urban Renewal Authority in Monte Vista. He was appointed to the council in May of 2015 and elected in November of 2015. He has helped to foster steady economic growth and a balanced budget and to address crime in Monte Vista.

Schlabach said, “It is time for someone to step up and make the right decisions for the right reasons. We have a lack of transparency on how our money is being spent. The budget is not posted on the internet. The sheriff’s office is not being provided with the funds they need to adequately protect and serve. And there appears to be no commitment to economic development at the county level.”

Sheriff candidates

Republicans Christopher Crown and Donald G. McDonald are seeking the Rio Grande County sheriff post.

Christopher Crown

Christopher Crown, current undersheriff for Conejos County, is a lifetime resident of Rio Grande County. Crown said “I am dedicated to my local community and I am fully committed to the core values of the office of sheriff.  I am confident in my leadership abilities, the law enforcement training I have received, and my continuing commitment to serve, will benefit the citizens of Rio Grande County for many years to come.” 

Crown has served the San Luis Valley as a law enforcement officer for 17 years, specializing in major crime investigations, evidence management, administration, and supervision of patrol and jail staff. He has been employed with Conejos County since 2005 and has served as undersheriff for the last five years. Crown also has created a good working relationship with the Conejos County Commissioners, presenting the sheriff’s office needs, and assisting in overseeing the sheriff’s annual budget.  Crown has also been successful at finding grants and training opportunities for the sheriff’s office.  He looks forward to doing the same for Rio Grande County. Crown would work toward better communication with local citizens using social and local media to deliver information. Crown said he would focus on recruiting and retaining staff, work with all valley law enforcement agencies to solve crimes that cross county lines, work hand in hand with the district attorney’s office to make sure people are held accountable for their actions, and to diligently serve the citizens of Rio Grande County.

Don McDonald

South Fork Police Chief Don McDonald said, “I am going to do what I have done here in South Fork and that is go to the people. We need their trust and we need them to be our eyes and ears out there.”

McDonald and his wife visited the South Fork area after he retired from the Fountain police force. At the time, McDonald was still in active service with the U.S. Army. McDonald was honorably discharged after 21 years in the military and spent his retirement years as an officer in Fountain.

When the couple came to South Fork, McDonald accepted a part-time position on the South Fork police force, which in turn drove him to the chief position.

McDonald opened up to the community of South Fork, stepped out into the community introducing himself and began the task of building a foundation of trust with the local and visiting residents.

McDonald also planned to create a firm line of communication with local business owners.

McDonald also established a friendly and efficient working relationship with neighboring agencies. The Mineral County Sheriff’s office, Rio Grande Sheriff’s office and the Colorado State Patrol are welcome to use the South Fork office as a substation.

McDonald has been successful in his goals in South Fork and stated that he plans to do the same in Rio Grande County—reach out to the public for help and form trust within the communities in the county.

Paperwork glitch in HD 62

VALLEY — As San Luis Valley Republicans receive their Primary Election ballots this month, there is one name they won’t see on it. Through a paperwork snafu, House District 62 Republican candidate Scott Honeycutt did not make the Primary Election, but he is moving forward with the expectation his name will appear on the General Election ballot in November.

There are no other Republicans running for the state house seat.

Incumbent Donald Valdez, a Democrat, also has no opposition in the Primary Election. Both Valdez and Honeycutt are San Luis Valley residents wishing to represent House District 62, which encompasses all of the San Luis Valley’s six counties plus Huerfano County and a portion of Pueblo County.

As far as his candidacy, Honeycutt said there was a mix up on his paperwork, with the person who was supposed to submit it to the state not getting it submitted in time. He said he wants to make sure everything is completed in the proper way and is working through that process now.

Lynn Bartels, communications director for Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams’ office, said on Thursday, “He’s not on the ballot at this point.”