In some years, the Independent has had no problem with passing judgment on party primaries. OK, let's admit, that means Republican primaries. It's a simple matter of acknowledging that the GOP contest often decides who represents us at various levels of government.
At the same time, from our perspective, deciding how to weigh in on a primary can be like walking a tightrope. We realize that many Independent readers like to know our thoughts on contested races, no matter what their party affiliation. But for us, it just doesn't feel right to offer an endorsement for a primary when we might prefer a candidate from the other party in November.
This time, the best example has to be the District 3 county commissioner race to determine the successor to Sallie Clark. For this primary, Republicans are choosing between Stan VanderWerf, a retired Air Force officer and now defense contractor with many party leaders' backing, and Manitou businesswoman Karen Cullen, who has Clark's unabashed support as well as endorsements from other county elected officials.
Yet, we have positive feelings about Electra Johnson, an experienced urban planner and the Democratic candidate in District 3. So it seems wrong for us to take sides in the GOP primary — we know from past elections that candidates often will call it an endorsement, even if we label it as just as recommendation — when our true position could go either way in November. (Sallie Clark knows; the Indy endorsed her previously against Democratic opposition.)
Likewise, we won't make a choice in the U.S. Senate race to determine the GOP opponent against Sen. Michael Bennet, because we reserve the right to endorse Bennet this fall. So with that as a prelude, and with ballots already in the mail, here are our views on this primary:
• U.S. House, District 5: Each party has two candidates as Rep. Doug Lamborn seeks a sixth term. Our differences with Lamborn would fill pages, and we don't feel either Democrat (Misty Plowright or Donald Martinez) would have a chance in the fall. But after seeing how Calandra Vargas stunned Lamborn at the assembly level, then after her candid comments to the Indy, we feel the 32-year-old has a shot at the upset. Her outspoken willingness to work with both sides and her centrist stances on some issues stand out. Endorsement: Calandra Vargas.
• State Senate, District 12: With Sen. Bill Cadman term-limited, this race features two well-known Republicans with no Democrats running. Rep. Gordon Klingenschmitt tries to be a nice guy, but his outrageously homophobic views and comments cannot be ignored, and he has done little to represent Colorado Springs productively in his single House term. Former Rep. Bob Gardner, who earlier served eight years in the House (2007-2014), has deep knowledge of how the General Assembly works and has been a champion of causes such as people with disabilities. Endorsement: Bob Gardner.
• State House, District 16: It's another all-GOP contest with two familiar names. Incumbent Rep. Janak Joshi faces former Rep. Larry Liston, and though Joshi has been in the House six years, his credentials are weak and his website still shows endorsements from elections as far back as 2010, almost all from the Far Right. Liston, a savvy Republican during his previous eight years in Denver, knows how to fight for Springs interests. We also condemn Joshi's dirty tactics, as the Indy documented last month. Endorsement: Larry Liston.
• County Commissioner, District 2: Republican voters will decide who replaces Amy Lathen, and this winner likely will be appointed to step in when Lathen departs in July. With three longtime commissioners leaving, these races are crucial (the other two will be decided in November) and experience is paramount. Given that standard, to us, this is no contest. Tim Geitner, an analyst for City Council, was skittish about even a short, non-confrontational interview request from the Indy. Mark Waller, a well-proven former leader in the State House, brings that invaluable background plus strong legal skills as an attorney. Endorsement: Mark Waller.