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The race that matters to us

City Sage

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Lamborn vs. Blaha. Stephens vs. Looper. Liston vs Hill. Do any of the primary races matter? Just Republicans battling each other.

The only primary that really matters to Colorado Springs residents is in Pueblo. It's the Democratic contest between Jeff Chostner and Bill Thiebaut for Pueblo District Attorney.

Why should we care what the Pueblo DA does? Three letters: SDS.

Incumbent Thiebaut has been a remorseless and effective foe of the Southern Delivery System, the giant water project. After taking over as DA in 2005, he filed a lawsuit that would have killed SDS on environmental grounds. The suit was unsuccessful, but not for any lack of effort by Thiebaut, who pursued every avenue of appeal, spending more than $700,000.

In April 2011, Thiebaut filed yet another lawsuit in Pueblo District Court, seeking to rescind the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission's SDS certification. Last month, Pueblo Judge Victor Reyes sided with Thiebaut, ordering the commission to redo its certification.

Colorado Springs Utilities has joined the commission in appealing the order which, if upheld, could stop SDS construction for years, or kill the project.

Like Mike Tyson in his prime, Thiebaut has no stop. He'll keep going until he's utterly defeated, then he'll get off the mat and fight some more.

Thiebaut's dislike for SDS may be rooted in his experience as a state legislator. First elected to the House in 1986, he moved to the Senate in 1993, where he served until 2002. For all of those 16 years he was in the minority, scorned and ignored by the imperious Republicans who controlled the Legislature until 2004. Not coincidentally, many of those Republicans hailed from Colorado Springs.

Chostner differs from Thiebaut in almost every respect. Chostner, an ardent Democrat, is also a retired Air Force colonel who spent his military career as a JAG prosecutor. Chostner has served on Pueblo's City Council and the three-member Pueblo County Commission. He chaired the commission when it formally approved SDS, allowing construction to go forward.

But he's no pushover.

"He's a tough advocate for Pueblo," says former Springs Vice Mayor Larry Small, who was part of the long, oft-contentious approval process. "But he's smart and reasonable. He understood what the benefits and risks were, and he got a lot more than he gave up."

Chostner claims he entered the DA race because of Thiebaut's incompetence as a prosecutor. He has focused on the $700,000 that Thiebaut frittered away on "an environmental lawsuit that was thrown out of court twice!" Tellingly, Chostner's campaign website doesn't mention the suit's SDS link.

Together with Small and other elected officials from Colorado Springs and Pueblo, Chostner founded the Fountain Creek Watershed, Flood Control and Greenway District, which Small now oversees. It will be responsible for mitigating SDS' effects downstream.

If Chostner's elected, he'll negotiate, not litigate. Rather than trying to stop a project that creates jobs for hundreds of his constituents, he'll hold our feet to the fire in ways that make sense. In a recent letter to Mayor Steve Bach and City Council, Chostner and fellow commissioners demanded that Colorado Springs act immediately to fund stormwater infrastructure.

"We need to take corrective steps," Chostner said, noting that Colorado Springs has done nothing to replace funding since voters nixed the Stormwater Enterprise three years ago. "None of that absolves Colorado Springs of its responsibility on Fountain Creek. They have a lot of ground to make up. It seems we are always waiting for the next rainy season to see what happens."

Can Chostner beat Thiebaut and derail the Anti-SDS Express? They've both raised about $30,000 for their campaigns. But Chostner may have the momentum. Surprisingly, the fiercely anti-SDS Pueblo Chieftain has endorsed Chostner, as have most trade unions in Pueblo.

If it's all about jobs and competence, Chostner wins. But if it's all about standing up to the big, mean water-polluting Republican bully to the north, Thiebaut stays in office.

Too bad we can't vote ... but you'll be glad to know that 200 Pueblo Republicans have re-registered as Democrats in recent weeks.

hazlehurst@csindy.com

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