SD 6 GOP primary: A test of ‘True Grit’

Libertarian-leaning Republican Roberts vs. self-declared 'genuine conservative' Boehler

By Leslie Jorgensen

A ranching community, Ridgway is known as the “Gateway to the San Juans” and the film location for several western classics including “True Grit” that starred conservative American hero John Wayne. More recently, the town was the site of a duel between a lawmaker and a former lawman — state Rep. Ellen Roberts and Dean Boehler — gunning for the GOP nomination in state Senate District 6.

Neither candidate’s campaign was left for dead at the Republican Party’s district assembly on April 17, but Roberts might have suffered a flesh wound when Boehler seized top line on the primary ballot. Of the 110 delegate votes, Boehler won 66.4 percent and Roberts garnered 33.6 percent.

“I’m a guy who got fed up, stood up and I’m not going to shut up,” declared Boehler, who filed his candidacy affidavit 10 days before the party assembly.

“There were rumors that we had stacked the delegates, but half the county assemblies were held before I entered the race,” he said.

Libertarian-leaning state Rep. Ellen Roberts, R- Durango, campaigns for the Republican nomination for a state senate seat against self-declared “genuine conservative” Dean Boehler, who received twice as much delegate support at the SD 6 assembly in May. The winner of this intra-party battle will square off in November against Democratic incum- bent Sen. Bruce Whitehead.

Roberts, of Durango, admitted that she was surprised when Boehler, of Norwood, emerged as an SD 6 candidate.

“My opponent was going to run for sheriff of San Miguel County. It’s widely known that his supporters said you can’t win — pick another race,” asserted Roberts.

Boehler promotes his candidacy as “the genuine conservative” — questioning Roberts’ conservative credentials. Both candidates are fiscal conservatives, but Boehler asserts that he’s pro-life and she’s not.

“People tell me they want a genuine conservative who says the same thing in Denver that they say out here,” said Boehler. “They want less government intrusion.”

Less government is a view shared by Roberts.

“I’ve got a Libertarian streak of my own. When I say I believe in limited government, I mean limited government,” countered Roberts, who added that she opposes government intrusion in private lives and decisions.

“I do not support abortion, but I don’t think government should decide this,” said Roberts, who supported parental notification for minors seeking abortion.

The winner of this shooting match will face Democratic incumbent state Sen. Bruce Whitehead, who was appointed last year to fill the boots of former state Sen. Jim Isgar, who was appointed Colorado director of the Office of Rural Development under the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The state Senate district includes Archuleta, Dolores, La Plata, Montezuma, Montrose, Ouray, San Juan and San Miguel counties. Of an estimated 102,000 registered voters, 77,462 are deemed active according to the Colorado Secretary of State’s office. Roughly 39 percent are Republicans, 29 percent Democrats, 30 percent unaffiliated and 2 percent are affiliated with lesser-known political parties.

Roberts might have felt ambushed by newcomer Boehler at the assembly, but she has an edge in the primary battle — buoyed by more than $41,000 in her campaign saddlebag and a high name ID in half of the SD 6 territory.

She was elected in 2006 and re-elected in 2008 to represent state House District 59 that includes Archuleta, La Plata and portions of Montezuma and San Juan counties.

Roberts also has been endorsed by Republican state Reps. Tom Massey, of Poncha Springs, Jim Kerr, of Littleton, Spencer Swalm, of Centennial and Bob Gardner, of Colorado Springs.

“As a fiscal conservative, she has fought to keep your dollars in your pockets. In areas of the environment, she has held those policies accountable without being extreme,” said Kerr.

“As ranking member of the (House) Health and Human Services Committee, Representative Roberts has fought for the Western Slope and rural communities. She has passed legislation that provides merit based solutions for health care (and) has a proven track record of supporting the people and values of Southwest Colorado” he concluded.

Boehler said he’s struggled to raise campaign funds. According to his financial report in May, the campaign was $5,494 in the red. The candidate said that he’s putting his own money into the campaign and courting votes at events all over the district.

He hasn’t garnered endorsements from high profile political leaders, but Boehler said that he’s running a word-of-mouth grassroots campaign that includes Republican activists and members of “Tea Party” and “9-12 Project” groups.

“I like that Dean is of the people and he’s not a career politician, said Kellie Carey, a Montrose Republican who has been active in the party for the past six years.

“I haven’t received a call or mailer from Ellen Roberts. But, I did get a robo call from (Republican state Senators) Greg Brophy and Josh Penry promoting her,” said Carey.

Boehler said that Republican voters like Carey want to cut the state budget, return government to local control, reduce regulations on businesses to create more jobs, and protect water resources from being siphoned by other states and parts of Colorado. The latter, he admitted, is a complex issue because of water rights and water compacts.

“Jobs are the big issue out here,” said Boehler. “The burdensome and stringent regulations have hurt the oil, natural gas and mineral industry and that costs jobs.”

Boehler said voters also want a solution to problems caused by illegal immigrants.

“The problems include everything from criminal activity to continuing to drain our local budgets because of benefits paid to illegals,” he said. “I’ve been told that it’s easier to get benefits if you’re illegal than if you’re a citizen because less documentation is required.”

The benefits, he said, are medical care, social programs and breakfast and lunches served to elementary school children.

“It is a real problem,” agreed Roberts.

Illegal immigration, she said, cost state taxpayers $220 million in 2006 for services, including health care, K-12 education and prison incarceration.

Boehler and his supporters view Roberts as a moderate because the legislator voted to approve the $20 billion state budget. Roberts contends that she only voted to send the bill to the state Senate that is empowered to approve the state budget.

Another point of contention for Boehler is that Roberts was a prime co-sponsor of House Bill 10-1365, the Clean Air-Clean Jobs Act.

Like the federal health care plan, Boehler said, HB 10-1365 interferes with the free marketplace because it determines what products can be used. The measure, he contended, will eliminate roughly 500 jobs in the coal industry on the Western Slope and that will hurt other businesses.

The bill, sponsored by Reps. Judy Solano, D-Brighton, and Roberts and Sens. Whitehead, D-Hesperus, and Penry, R-Grand Junction, aims to reduce air pollution, stimulate jobs and utilize cleaner energy sources.

Republican candidate Dean Boehler, center, talks with local residents about his campaign to capture the SD 6 seat.

The Act requires Xcel Energy to decrease pollutants by retiring, retrofitting or repowering coal-fired power plants on the Front Range by the end of 2017, and utilizing natural gas and other lower- or non-emitting energy sources.

“House Bill 1365 has everything to do with state’s rights,” declared Roberts, who said it will lower harmful emissions in the Denver metro area to meet clean air standards set by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

Boehler bristled, “I don’t see in the Constitution where EPA has the right to set those standards. It’s unconstitutional!”

Roberts, however, said that the Act also protects jobs in the natural gas industry, a major economic driver in SD 6, and creates new jobs in the uranium mill industry because it opens the door to low-emitting energy sources. Uranium is used to fuel nuclear power.

She said there are an estimated 2,400 clean coal industry jobs compared to nearly 31,000 jobs in the natural gas industry. None of those jobs, she added, are impacted by HB 10-1365.

“The bill doesn’t prohibit using clean coal,” said Roberts. “It only affects Xcel… and it’s very limited in scope and application. The market for clean coal is not going to go away. About 70 percent of the coal is shipped out of the state — and it will continue to be produced and shipped.”

“My opponent needs to read the bill and get the facts,” declared Roberts.

“I’m proud of my legislative record — 33 bills were passed in the past four years and their basis came from constituents,” said Roberts. “I’ve been advocate for my district — and it’s very diverse.”

On the campaign trail, Roberts said that constituents are concerned about the economy, growing too many government jobs and too few private sector jobs, illegal immigration and protecting water, a vital resource in this region of agriculture.

“I voted against the ‘dirty dozen’ tax increase bills,” declared Roberts of measures that included the elimination of tax exemptions and credits. Like most Republicans, she said the “tax increases” hurt businesses and thwarted their ability to create and maintain jobs.

“My legislative experience and knowledge of the district and its people are the biggest assets in my campaign,” said Roberts.

“My opponent does not have those assets,” she said. “I know who to call for background on issues — he doesn’t. Without that knowledge, you can’t represent this district.”

Roberts earned a Bachelor of Science degree at Cornell University, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and later graduated from University of Colorado School of Law in Boulder. Her career spans from working as a seasonal park ranger in Rocky Mountain National Park to practicing law as a partner in the Durango-based Roberts & Steelman firm. She currently is not practicing law.

Boehler received a Bachelor of Science degree from California State University at Bakersfield. He has operated a construction company and worked in law enforcement as a San Miguel County deputy sheriff, Telluride deputy marshal and Norwood chief marshal.

The Norwood Town Board of Trustees terminated Boehler in 2008, after he refused to fire a deputy who allegedly had made inappropriate remarks to underage girls. The deputy was also dismissed. While some may view this as a career blemish, Boehler’s supporters laud the candidate for standing up for what he believed to be right — even if it cost him.

Boehler also spent more than two years working with orphanages in the Moscow Department of Education.

“I’ve seen unabated socialism and it gets bigger and bigger until the government controls everything,” he said. “We don’t need that, here.”

Boehler listed these experiences as assets in his campaign — but topping them might be not having held elected office or being a politician.

Republican voters will have a clear choice in this primary shootout.