IGNACIO – Two of the four renewable-energy candidates won election Saturday to the La Plata Electric Association board of the directors, ousting a 21-year incumbent, Herb Brodsky, and Bobby Lieb, who also serves as a La Plata County commissioner.
Voter participation nearly doubled from last year as 8,139 votes were cast in a heated race in which challengers said the cooperative was overdue for a shake-up.
Lieb lost by the largest margin of the four races. His challenger, Britt Bassett, a solar engineer, got nearly 67 percent of the vote for District 3, which is the city of Durango.
Bassett declined to make a victory comment after results were announced during the LPEA’s annual meeting at the Sky Ute Casino and Resort in Ignacio.
The race for District 4 – northern and eastern La Plata County – was a squeaker as the green challenger, Heather Erb, a Realtor, got nearly 43 percent of the votes compared with 40 percent for the incumbent Brodsky. Ann McCoy Harold, a former publisher of the Pine River Times in Bayfield, got 17 percent.
“We got two new voices on (the board),” said Bruce Baizel, a renewable-energy challenger who lost District 2 – southern and western La Plata County. “Durango obviously spoke the most clearly in their results. I think it will open up the board more, and that’s a good thing.”
Baizel lost to incumbent Jerry McCaw, the board president, who got 55 percent of the vote in a race with 2,197 votes cast.
“I had the most conservative district in La Plata,” said Baizel, who lives on a ranch near Breen. “We had the largest turnout. So there was obviously a lot of interest.”
But McCaw did not think the election results sent any kind of political message.
“I don’t think it sent anything,” he said. “Every district has different people running, and (they) represent different values. I don’t think it represented a direction to the board or anything else, as far as I’m concerned.”
But Kirsten Skeehan, who lost by less than 3 percent to incumbent Bob Formwalt in District 1, Archuleta County, where 1,900 votes were cast, believes the election “certainly has changed the conversation.
“I don’t think that all the incumbents would have been talking about renewables and discussing the rates if there had not been pressure from all four districts,” she said.
“I know my running had an impact. We’ve never had that kind of turnout – almost 2,000 votes in District 1, where it’s normally 1,000 people voting. Having 2,000 votes showed people really cared. That speaks a lot to Bob (Formwalt), and he’s got to keep that in mind.”
But Skeehan said the incumbents have not always listened to association members.
“I know the message is ‘Let’s get creative, let’s use dependable renewable energy,’ but I don’t know what the message heard (by the incumbents) is,” she said.
The newly elected directors will be sworn in to three-year terms at LPEA’s regular meeting Wednesday, when the 12-member board also will elect its leadership.
Jeff Berman, an incumbent LPEA director and outspoken advocate of renewable energy with a personal blog called “Energy Critic,” said, “There are some fundamental disagreements on the board about what we are doing now and what we should be doing moving forward. Maybe there will be a more open discussion about that.”