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Community questions local candidates

Posted: Friday, Oct 19th, 2012

From left: State Representative candidate Tim Walters (R), Alamosa County Commissioner District 3 candidate Mariann(e) Dunne (D), Senate District 35 candidate Larry Crowder (R) and 12th Judicial District District Attorney David Mahonee (D) wait prepare for questions on Wednesday night .Courier photo by Lauren Krizansky

Courier staff writer

ALAMOSA — After each contender passed the five minutes granted to share introductions, intentions, and beliefs, the local 2012 candidates submitted to random questions from the public at the American Legion on Wednesday night.

A total of ten questions came in front of the panel and none were directed to all of the candidates.

A candidate’s opponent was permitted an opportunity to respond or, in some cases, defend oneself.

Alamosa County Commissioners

In response to a question about the cost of filling jail and detention center beds, Incumbent Alamosa County Commissioner District 1 Darius Allen (R) said the county would not be building any additional beds and that it is economically better to send prisoners outside of this system if there is no more room in the facilities.

“Alamosa County had an increase (in prisoners),” Allen said. “Is it because it is a hub? Building new beds is not feasible.”

Alamosa County Commissioner District 1 challenger, Erwin Young (I), chose not to discuss whether more beds is an issue, but rather working towards preventing the beds from being filled.

“Our society is giving to a drug culture,” Young said. “It is bad. We need to look at treatment centers. Ninty-five percent (of prisoners) were on drugs or drunk when they themselves said it (a crime) was stupid. We need to look at prevention.”

Later in the forum, the candidates elaborated on the county’s ability to support non-profits like La Puente and Tu Casa.

Alamosa County Commissioner District 3 candidate Mariann(e) Dunn (D), who due to a recent uterine cancer diagnosis has been unable to attend commissioner meetings regularly, was unaware of where the commissioners are in the annual funding decision process, but said that the budget needs to include the most vulnerable.

“The San Luis Valley is suffering,” Dunne said. “We have a lot of poor people here. The people coming to food banks have now more than doubled.”

Alamosa County Commissioner District 3 candidate George Wilkinson (R) simply said the government provides funding to such entities and was presently working on awards, and Young engaged the audience with stories about capable and quality people subject to the social services system.

“I want to talk about the need while this economy keeps spiraling downward,” Young said. “There are quality people at La Puente.”

As the final speaker on the subject, Allen explained such funding comes through resources like lottery funds and block grants and also said there was talk of proposing a mill levy for all six counties in 2013 to help fund non-profits.

“Communities need to say we support non-profits or we don’t,” Allen said.

The final questions of the night took each candidate to the podium: What is your proudest accomplishment while in office or what is a priority for you if elected?

Wilkinson answered, “I’ve tried to treat everyone fair and equal. I think that we have made a good Alamosa County Commissioners.”

He added the work with the new Alamosa County services complex has been a great success and addition to the community.

Dunne, said, “We need to bring as many people together in our county as possible. We are the same ecosystem in the Valley and we need to work as one. We need to listen to each other deeply.”

Focusing on unemployment rates and veteran services are also two top priorities, she said.

Allen, who first informed the crowd Alamosa County’s unemployment rate is 8.2 percent, relished in the solar farms that have come to fruition in the county under his guidance.

In addition to commenting on the economic benefits of using agriculture land withdrawn from production and the undesignated county fund in which each company contributes, Allen said, “We are known throughout the United States. We are a proven leader and we want to keep that. I think it is good for our county.”

Young piggybacked on Allen’s statements about the solar farms.

“Solar is big money, but not cost effective without a government subsidy,” Young said. “What we need is sustainable, long-term jobs.”

12th Judicial District Attorneys

Incumbent 12th Judicial District Attorney Dave Mahonee (D) was on the defense most of the evening, taking a question about how he runs the office and a pointed finger from his opponent, former 12th Judicial District Attorney Pete Comar (R).

In response to a question regarding how much he pays his wife to work in the office, he stated her annual salary, $33,000, and many of her duties including services in Conejos and Costilla County, grant writing and IT management.

Also asked about how grant money has been spent, Mahonee said grants have come in over the years he has been in office. One grant worth $35,000 went to upgrading office equipment and subsequent grants went to converting to an electronic filing system and reducing storage space, and hiring an additional deputy.

“We did it so we could keep pace with the crime rate in the Valley,” Mahonee said. “I make no apologizes. I am proud.”

Comar responded, “Grants don’t last forever. We ran the office with fewer attorneys than now. It is the same number of cases.”

Mahonee mentioned one of the office upgrades was restoring its damaged sign and Comar, quick to address the accusation, blamed drunks and their beer bottles for continually destroying the sign, leaving the repairs to the incoming D.A.

“This went on for years,” Comar said. “When I knew I wasn’t going to be the D.A., I’d let the new D.A. put the sign he wants in.”

The final question brought before the attorneys brought forth differing opinions on the current youth justice system.

Comar explained that when he was in office, a juvenile diversion program was in place. He said he spoke with Center for Restorative Justice and probation, and they had confidence they could develop a program today.

Mahonee, however, said an outside of the office grant already enabled the program to return to the Valley.

“We have a diversion program and we have worked it out with restorative justice,” he said. “I don’t know what he is talking about. It is implemented. We have it.”

Senate District 35

A popular phrase during the forum was “cross the aisle,” and it was delivered in a question from former state representative Al Gagliandi to Senate District 35 candidate Larry Crowder (R). He asked in written form, “We have met before in a political meeting you sponsored. I then found out that as a Republican you lean strongly to the right wing. With this attitude, how do you plan to accomplish anything being unable to ‘cross’ the aisle?”

Crowder told the audience he was not sure what right wing means.

“I did not know who was a Republican or a Democrat with the people I served.” Crowder said. “So I don’t know. I very much dispute the right wing. I am a conservative. Make no mistake about it.”

He added, “It is not to create a situation or aura of right wing or left wing. I am not a professional politician. My record is a good one. It is not right wing or left wing or anything.”

Senate District 35 candidate Crestina Martinez (D) assured the crowd the seat “is not about a personal agenda or a political party, but about the people in southern Colorado.”

She added, “We are family and friends. We thrive together or we don’t. It is about a community service approach and going across the aisle.”

The next senate question addressed Martinez and her primary loss in Costilla County where she serves as a county commissioner.

She said she was proud of her overall primary win and was looking only to honestly represent southern Colorado at the state level despite Crowder’s attacks.

“I don’t think that you or me or any resident of Colorado benefits from untruths and lies,” Martinez said. “We need to focus on what we can bring to the table.”

Coincidently, the next question fueled Crowder’s response to the attack accusation. It specifically asked the reasons for the “negative and toxic campaign” towards Martinez.

The candidate first referenced waste spending, implying Costilla County’s biodiesel plant was simply that.

“The government should not be business,” Crowder said. “I feel that I have done a favor for Costilla County.”

He added Martinez wants to take away the right to bear arms because she accepted campaign dollars from pro-gun control New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

“There is a conflict,” Crowder said. “”What I do not hear is any denial of what I am saying. If you are going to take money from an individual, you are usually aligned with them.”

He concluded, “I make no apologizes for the commercials. You need to vet your candidate and vote your conscience. This is not a game.”

In her defense, Martinez took the floor and responded, “I believe in transparency, but I also believe in honesty. I respectfully dispute the claims you make.”

She said that in no way would she meddle with second amendment rights.

“I support second amendment rights,” Martinez said. “I wouldn’t do anything that would jeopardize or take away our constitutional rights.”

She added the biodiesel plant created jobs and purchases local crops from farmers and ranchers.

“It is huge for a small community like ours,” Martinez continued. “And, I was not sitting at that table when it started.”

In addition to Crowder and Martinez, State representative district 52 candidate Tim Walters (R), whose opponent, incumbent Ed Vigil (D, was not available to join the forum, was included on one question regarding women’s health care rights. Martinez and Walters said they believe a woman has a right to choose; Crowder disagreed.

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