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County assemblies give parties chance to set their course for election year

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On the typical calendar of a Colorado election year, the Republican and Democratic county assemblies don't stand out to most voters who are waiting until August primaries, or even November, to express their preferences.

In reality, though, those assemblies can be pivotal. And in El Paso County, both major parties will be convening on Saturday, April 10 — Democrats at Palmer High School, Republicans at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs — to deal with contested races and to choose delegates for the upcoming state conventions.

Here's a closer look at what to expect.

Three GOP contests

Republicans are duking it out in three county races: sheriff, clerk and recorder, and commissioner District 5, which covers the core of Colorado Springs.

Sheriff Terry Maketa is seeking a third term after helping persuade voters in 2006 to give the sheriff three terms instead of limiting them to two, like most other county officials.

In January, Maketa said he wouldn't run but later changed his mind. He's come under fire since then for raising a female employee's pay by 85 percent in less than three years, condoning a dispatcher's nude modeling and allegedly protecting her against discipline, and keeping a detective on county payroll even after that detective was charged with two felonies. (See "Star treatment," cover story, March 11.)

Those activities aren't lost on Maketa's opponent, Monument Police Chief Jake Shirk, whose brochure states he has "no tolerance for unprofessional or tawdry behavior." Shirk pledges to adopt a new code of conduct, increase street patrols and never ask for a tax increase.

Whether that's enough to secure a spot on the primary ballot is anyone's guess. In his first two races, Maketa kept opponents off the primary ballot by winning handily at the assembly. Shirk needs at least 30 percent of the roughly 1,440 delegates attending Saturday's assembly to make the ballot. If he gets at least 10 percent, he could petition onto the ballot, which would require him to collect 7,904 signatures of registered voters by May 27.

"I can tell you I'm working hard, making lots of calls," says Shirk. "How it's going to turn out, I'm not going to wager a guess. I feel very optimistic."

Teri Goodall, Maketa's campaign spokeswoman and former undersheriff, predicts Maketa will capture at least 80 percent of the delegates, essentially securing victory if Shirk doesn't try to petition onto the ballot. No Democrat has filed to run.

"I think this very well could be it," she says. "We're pretty confident."

Squarely in Maketa's corner is term-limited Commissioner Wayne Williams, now running for clerk and recorder. Williams says Maketa has saved taxpayers money by building a detox facility and using civilians to supplement patrol deputies' work. He defends the sheriff against criticism that arose from the Independent's reports, saying, "The mere allegation of something is not proof of it."

Williams' GOP opponent for clerk and recorder is term-limited Treasurer Sandra Damron.

"We're fighting for top line," Williams says, referring to the assembly's biggest vote-getters being listed first on the primary ballot. Damron says top-line placement guarantees nothing; she notes her opponent had top line when she won her first primary race, in 2002.

"My expectation is that I'll get on the ballot, but I don't take anything for granted, which is why we're making phone calls," Damron says. "This year, people are paying attention to who's running and the qualifications."

A third candidate, Charles Corry, has also been attending Republican club meetings, sending e-mails and contacting delegates.

The commissioner District 5 nomination, observers predict, looks destined for state Board of Education member Peggy Littleton. She has party connections, they say, and has been highly visible. Her opponents include retiree William Guevara and former UCCS student-body president David Williams, who made headlines last year for opposing a gay campus group. Current UCCS student president Daniel Garcia and others are organizing an anti-Williams protest outside Saturday's assembly.

Glenn: It's in the bag

Darryl Glenn has been campaigning for months in county commission District 1, attending community meetings and building his list of supporters. And as of now, it appears unlikely that anyone will stop Glenn from victory. Democrat Steve Kjonaas is running for the seat, but Glenn has no GOP opponents, and District 1 (in northern El Paso County) is reliably conservative, with 12,704 registered Democrats compared to 44,984 registered Republicans and 24,074 unaffiliated.

Glenn is used to easy victories. He was the sole candidate for his District 2 Council seat when he ran in 2005 and again in 2009.

It may seem odd that a member of a widely unpopular Council doesn't have more competition, but UCCS political science professor Joshua Dunn says Glenn can overcome Council's bad rep: "Someone who's been on City Council might still be popular enough in their own part of the city to scare off potential opponents."

Glenn, an attorney known for his conservative views, says he's running on his record and the fact that he's been "very instrumental in what I consider the reshaping of the Republican party on a local level," toward fiscal conservatism.

"You go back and you look at Referendum C," he says of the 2005 ballot issue that unraveled some of the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights at the state level. "I was, I think, the only Council member who voted against Referendum C."

Dems' Senate battle

Though uncommitted delegates in the Democratic U.S. Senate race have endured pleading calls to make up their minds and pick a side, Rich Hemphill sees at least one upside to keeping an open mind.

"I've had some access," the retired firefighter says with a touch of guilty pleasure.

On March 29, Hemphill attended a local function for Michael Bennet, getting some one-on-one time to ask the appointed Senator why he's the right person to keep the seat in Democratic hands. Nearly a week later, it was Andrew Romanoff's turn to woo uncommitted delegates, and Hemphill got to ask the former Colorado House speaker why he's better.

Hemphill's still undecided. And in the long buildup to Colorado's Aug. 10 primary, swaying uncommitted delegates may be the biggest measure of success. Says party chair Pat Waak, "The name of the game is just getting on the ballot."

At local precinct caucuses March 16, Democratic results were opposite the statewide numbers, with Bennet leading Romanoff 51-41, and 8 percent undecided. That translated into 353 county delegates for Bennet, 307 for Romanoff and 60 uncommitted. (Another 135 alternates could be seated at the assembly.)

County party officials estimate that only 400 to 500 delegates will show up at Palmer, about one-quarter of the 2008 assembly. They also will pick delegates for the state convention May 22 in Broomfield.

One late twist is news that Bennet is also collecting signatures, a backup way to reach the ballot if his delegate support slips below 30 percent. To petition onto the ballot, he needs signatures from 1,500 Democrats in each of Colorado's seven congressional districts.

Trevor Kincaid, Bennet's campaign spokesman, says the petition effort is really about meeting voters, and that Bennet intends to make the ballot through the state convention.

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