Progressives divided over county commissioner and sheriff races


You might have noticed that the Boulder County ballot for the Democratic primary has only two contested races. As I was trying to figure how I was going to vote, Boulder Weekly news editor Will Brendza suggested that I devote my column to the subject.

I watched many candidate forums on Zoom and contacted quite a few activist friends. Unfortunately, almost all of my friends wanted to be anonymous. There were no stark differences on the issues between candidates  in either race.

Commissioner Matt Jones has chosen not to run for a second term. Louisville Mayor and chemical engineer Ashley Stolzmann earned the support of Jones and was the first to announce that she was running.

Elaina Shively is supported by the other two commissioners, Marta Loachamin and Claire Levy. Shively is director for the Center for Prevention and Restorative Justice at the Boulder County District Attorney’s office. She leads the state’s first addiction and mental health diversion program for the office so that people can get treatment rather than an automatic jail sentence.

Sheriff Joe Pelle is term-limited. Pelle recruited retired Boulder Police Deputy Chief Curtis Johnson to the sheriff’s department last year, where he is currently division chief, and has endorsed Johnson as his successor. Louisville Police Chief David Hayes advocates a “culture shift” in the department. He notes that sheriff’s office jail staff used tasers on two people who were in restraints and secured in the jail, and that two former deputies are currently serving time in the state prison for manslaughter (for the death of a young CU Boulder student who was  in their custody). Johnson says he was at the Boulder Police Department when the student died and that there has been a “significant policy change” on tasering recently. However, Johnson says that after 20 years with the same leader, the sheriff’s department needs “it needs a little kick in the rear, some new energy.”

An old friend and progressive activist who has decades of experience in the county gave me some insight. She wanted to be anonymous. We agreed that progressives are divided. 

She said “environmentalists are leaning toward (Stolzmann), and social and  racial justice activists leaning toward (Shively) for county commissioner. There may be some who like the idea of a small town mayor like (Stolzmann) on the commission, and maybe others (like me) who like that (Shively) has a track record of working on progressive efforts within the county, and who possibly she has the ability to work well with a county staff that has had a lot of turnover.”

With regard to the sheriff’s race, she said, “I think that (Hayes) shot himself in the foot at the NAACP forum by uttering ‘all lives matter’ and resisting community ideas about policing. I see that (Johnson) publicly endorsed state legislation to require police communication to be unencrypted, and (Hayes) opposed it. When I met (Hayes), he seems to be sincerely interested in community-based mental health response, but (Johnson) also has clear ideas on how to improve mental health response. “

We face multiple crises that demand urgent attention. The battle for democracy is being waged at the Jan. 6 hearings, but it can seem abstract. The fights over criminal justice and police brutality can be ignored if you are white and well-off.

It wasn’t too long ago that the climate crisis was ignored, downplayed, denied. (Many right-wingers are still deniers.) Then suddenly it comes home with wild destructive floods, fire, drought. Last Dec. 30, the climate crisis hit Boulder County in the mouth.

In an interview in New York Magazine, climate scientist Daniel Swain said the Marshall Fire was something unique and horrifying. It was an “urban firestorm.” The most recent urban firestorms happened after the bombing of cities during World War II. In centuries past, cities with wooden buildings burned down frequently.

It wasn’t a wildfire. It wasn’t as bad as the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, in 2018, with 18,000 structures burned and 85 deaths. Swain says that fire “was in the  ‘wildland-urban’ interface—essentially, houses in the woods.”

The Marshall Fire was different. It was “subdivisions, tract homes, fire just tearing through suburban environments we’ve been taught to think of as safe in every way.”

 Both of the sheriff candidates lost their homes in the fire. As mayor of Louisville, Stoltzmann rapidly responded to save her community.

Of the multiple crises demanding our attention, climate change is “a civilizational wake-up call,” as Naomi Klein has said. But everything and every crisis is connected.

You need to hand in your ballot by 7 p.m. on Tuesday June 28. There are no Republicans running for Boulder County positions in this primary. I am still not sure how I will vote. 

This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly. 



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