Sheriff Terry Maketa's cakewalk to a third and final term might not be so certain, after all.
Unable to dominate political newcomer Jake Shirk at the El Paso County Republican County Assembly last Saturday, Maketa now faces a primary opponent for the first time in his political career.
Shirk, Monument's police chief for five years and 29-year veteran of the Aurora Police Department, sailed onto the Aug. 10 primary ballot with 44 percent of the vote from county delegates. Maketa, seeking a third term, got 56 percent after his campaign treasurer, former Undersheriff Teri Goodall, predicted he'd land at least 80 percent. The count was 674 to 537.
Shirk said just before the vote that he hoped to get the 10 percent needed to petition onto the ballot.
"I came out of obscurity two months ago and ended up with 44.3 percent of the delegates, so obviously our message and what we're doing is resonating with people out there," Shirk said in a post-assembly interview. "I was very humbled, very appreciative. This wasn't just about me. This was about the hard work all our volunteers had put in."
He says his strategy for the primary will be the same as before: Work hard, believe in the message, and talk to people.
While Maketa received a clear majority, the results still amounted to a slap, considering that he's part of the Republican Central Committee, and that the assembly should be populated with party faithful who normally rally around an established incumbent.
The first hint of tough going came during candidate speeches. Nominated by retired sheriff's Cmdr. Jim Grayson, Shirk was flanked by 20 or so supporters holding signs saying "Gun Owners for Chief Jake" and "Families for Shirk." He drew applause when he promised to increase patrols by 20 percent, publish expenditures online and never ask for a tax hike. When he finished, the crowd applauded with vigor, and 20 to 30 cheering people rose from their seats inside the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs events center.
Maketa, whose signs lined the public right-of-way along Austin Bluffs Parkway leading to the assembly, was nominated by El Paso County Commissioner Sallie Clark. His nomination was seconded by county coroner Bob Bux and Bureau Chief Paula Presley, Maketa's most frequent traveling companion in his eight years as sheriff. She has accompanied him on 10 trips — to Washington, D.C., Orlando and Tampa, Fla., Phoenix, Las Vegas and other cities for conferences, seminars and meetings.
The 60 or so supporters surrounding Maketa at the podium wore campaign T-shirts and hoisted signs, making a lot of racket during his speech. Many were people who work for him, which is not surprising: In election efforts, Maketa has depended a great deal on his employees, who have provided 43 percent of his campaign money since he first ran for sheriff eight years ago. Since 2006, their contributions have accounted for 99 percent of Maketa's total of $3,640, campaign finance reports show.
But the delegates as a whole were cool to Maketa. Perhaps they see him as a flip-flopper: In November, he said he'd run, but he backed out Jan. 20 saying he wanted to spend more time with his family and that his heart wasn't in the job anymore. Then he re-entered the race Feb. 2, responding to what he called an outpouring of community support.
Or, delegates might have seen "Star treatment," the Independent's March 11 cover story about Maketa's support of a detective charged with felonies stemming from a drunken, gun-waving episode in Douglas County; his awarding a promotion and an 85 percent pay raise within three years to a woman who didn't have the college degree requested for her first job; and his allowing a dispatcher to pose nude while off duty and promoting her after she misused the county's emergency radio system.
Patrick Davis, a Republican political consultant, says the outcome might not be related to Maketa's performance at all.
"This is a bad year to be an incumbent, whether you're running for Senate or sheriff," he says. "People feel we're headed in the wrong direction, and if you're an incumbent, you're seen as part of the problem."
At the assembly, Maketa outlined his accomplishments, such as securing an Immigration and Customs Enforcement jail contract. He also pledged "to be here for another four years," although he's previously said he couldn't commit to that.
During a March 9 interview, the Independent asked Maketa if he would promise to serve all four years. "That's a tough decision to make a promise when I don't know what the future holds," he said. "Would I make a promise? No, 'cause you never know what's over the horizon."
Goodall, with Maketa's campaign, didn't return an e-mail and phone call seeking comment. His most recent campaign finance report, filed Nov. 2, 2009, showed he had $9,673 on hand.
Grayson says Shirk's campaign has raised approximately $18,000 to $20,000 so far.
In other races, El Paso County Commissioner Wayne Williams took 60 percent in the clerk and recorder race, leaving Treasurer Sandra Damron, with about 21 percent, and scientist Chuck Corry, with about 19 percent. Corry says he won't petition on, while Damron is still considering it; 7,777 signatures are needed by May 27.
State Board of Education member Peggy Littleton swept the District 5 race, taking 73 percent. Her opponent, David Williams, got 24 percent, and he bowed out Monday, throwing his support to Littleton. A third candidate, William Guevara, got only a few votes, so he can't petition onto the ballot.