Grand County voters elected to retain incumbent James Newberry as Grand County commissioner for a fifth four-year term in the county office.
Newberry defeated challenger Chas McConnell, who throughout election tallies kept within a few hundred votes of Newberry.
The race between Newberry and McConnell of the Fraser Valley district was at times heated, with McConnell calling for commissioner term limits to prevent candidates like Newberry from securing a seat for as long as he has. During debate moments, the two sparred on several topics, such as economic development, water, and the role of the county's attorney.
A high school sports coach besides his career as commissioner, Newberry won the election in spite of McConnell's campaign spending about 15 times more than Newberry's.
Newberry has built a reputation as being an ambassador for the county's water resources. Newberry highlighted the county's progress on water issues, its response to the landfill landslide, and its ability to "run a tight efficient government" as possible reasons why the election tipped in his favor. His long record, he said, "speaks for itself."
"At the end of the day, I had people who believed in me and supported me, and I had to put up a fight for that," Newberry said of the hard-run campaign. "What was disturbing about this election was how negative and polarized it got," he said, adding it was the most difficult campaign season of his long-standing political career.
He spent election evening in Denver at a coach's meeting in preparation for the upcoming basketball season, and said on Wednesday he was grateful he was at the meeting doing something "constructive" rather than nervously watching the numbers change.
"I enjoy this job, because it feels like you can get something done," he said. "Local government is the most efficient and effective form of government. I enjoy people calling me up and saying I got an issue here, and what can we do to get it worked out, and I enjoy getting it worked out."
Will this be the final term for Newberry? He didn't say, but did hint the possibility of someday running for a state office.
During the candidate debate in October, Newberry had closed out the event with a statement of gratitude for the community he has served over the past 16 years, touching on the subject of the sudden loss of his college-aged son Alex less than a decade ago.
"You don't really understand what Grand County brings to the table until you've experienced a loss in your family and how this community comes together and bats for you," the veteran commissioner said. "I will forever repay this county for the blessings they have given to me and my family."
The final unofficial count at around 2 a.m. Wednesday was 4,038 votes to 3,690 votes, with 313 more voters who cast ballots but did not vote that race.
It wasn't the first time McConnell had thrown in his hat. He was defeated in 2008 as a write-in candidate for the same commissioner's office.
This time around, he ran an enthusiastic 11-month campaign in an effort to bring change to District 1. The challenger spent his Election Day evening at Maverick's Grille in Granby with Republican supporters, but did not learn about the race's outcome until about 4 a.m. after he'd been asleep at home.
"Obviously I'm disappointed," McConnell said much later on Wednesday morning. "I'd like to thank everybody who supported me. I'm proud of our positive campaign and the fact so many important issues have been brought to the forefront as a result of this campaign. I urge this new board of county commissioners to find the appropriate results to best address our economy, our water, our landfill situation and our transportation needs," he said. "Now is the time for strong leadership."
McConnell focused on the positives of a democratic process in spite of his loss: "The election process was fantastic, I loved it," he said.
"I learned a lot and I met people I would have never met before. I've driven thousands of miles around Grand County and literally met thousands of people through the process. I thoroughly enjoyed it."
And will he try for the seat again someday? McConnell stated neither yes nor no, but that he needed "some time to digest what happened and how it happened," and that for now, he plans to continuing running his McConnell Printing business in Winter Park and spend much-needed time with his wife Ann and their two children.
At about 11 p.m. Election Day night, it became clear the race between Merrit Linke and Robb Rankin in District 2 would go to Linke, with an estimated 500 or so ballots still outstanding, but the margin too wide for Rankin to close the gap.
A Grand County native, Middle Park High School graduate, former teacher and a local business owner, Linke ran a straight-forward campaign touting "It's no bull."
"I'd like to thank all the people who supported me, especially the Grand County conservatives and Republicans, all the people who helped me with the whole process," Linke said when reached Wednesday morning. Like McConnell, Linke had spent part of Election Day evening at Maverick's Bar and Grille in Granby at an event hosted by the Republican Party. He learned of his victory much later in the night while at home with wife Teri.
"Now the work begins," Linke said. "I'm going to try to do the best I can in supporting the people of Grand County the way they supported me." He listed water, the county landfill and the economy as top three Grand County issues concerning his constituents.
About the county's estimated $21 million in reserves, the county's newest commissioner had said in a candidate debate he would not encourage any capital projects, saying he would be conservative with reserves to be prepared for lower assessed values and less revenue to the county. He also talked of the need for government to help facilitate "resource-based businesses," or products made here in Grand County and exported.
Upon his win, he pledged to analyze situations "objectively and make the best decisions possible as I come forward."
Linke commended Rankin for a cordial District 2 race. "I do appreciate my opponent who ran a very professional race; each of us became better candidates because of the competition."
Linke fills the seat of two-term commissioner Nancy Stuart, who was defeated in the Republican primary.
Linke's challenger Rankin had spent the evening of Election Day at home with wife Molly. "I congratulate Merrit," he said at around 11:30 p.m. "We at least showed that politics don't have to be nasty. I'm glad we had an election here in Grand County other than a Republican primary," he continued. "He'll be a better commissioner because of it, and I learned a lot in the process."
Rankin, former superintendent of schools at East Grand School District, said he likely will continue working for the Boulder Valley School District in helping out in its human resources department. "I'll play retiree," he said, "ski some and still keep busy working with them."
The final unofficial vote count for District 2 was 4,515 votes for Linke to 3,073 votes for Rankin, with 451 more voters who cast ballots, but did not vote that race.
A total 8,077 voters cast ballots in Grand County's 2012 election, with slightly more than 200 provisional ballots yet to be counted on Nov. 15. It seemed the voter turnout was "very impressive," according to Grand County Clerk and Recorder Sara Rosene, but she plans to check past numbers to verify.
Linke and Newberry start their new terms in the early part of January.
- Tonya Bina can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19603