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County commissioner candidates hold ‘historic’ drive-up canvassing event

Independent candidates partnered to try to earn spots on ballot
Jack Turner, an independent candidate for La Plata County commissioner in District 2, and Charly Minkler, an independent commissioner candidate in District 3, held a drive-up petition signing on Saturday at Durango High School. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the state of Colorado and San Juan Basin Public Health recommended the drive-thru event to reduce COVID-19 transmission.

Charly Minkler and Jack Turner, two independent candidates for the La Plata County Board of Commissioners, partnered to hold their first drive-up petition-gathering event – a new form of canvassing during the coronavirus pandemic.

The two seats up for grabs on the Board of Commissioners are occupied by Gwen Lachelt in District 2 (which includes much of Durango) and Julie Westendorff in District 3 (which includes much of eastern La Plata County).

Marsha Porter-Norton, a Democrat, is running against Turner, an unaffiliated candidate, for District 2. And former Bayfield Mayor Matt Salka, a Democrat, is facing off against Minkler, an unaffiliated candidate who also serves on the La Plata County Planning Commission, for District 3.

Jack Turner, right, an independent candidate for La Plata County commissioner in District 2, talks with resident Chris Sill on Saturday during a drive-up petition event at Durango High School. Registered voters of any affiliation, including Democrats and Republicans, can sign the petition to place Turner and Minkler on the ballot.

“This has never been done before,” Turner said. “The people that showed up today, as far as I’m concerned, they’re all making history.”

At the signature-gathering event, held in Bayfield at Lewis True Value Mercantile and in Durango at Durango High School, La Plata County residents could stop by Minkler’s tent then Turner’s tent to sign the candidate’s petition forms. The candidates even shared some of the event costs. Candidates and volunteers wore masks and gave residents, who stayed in their vehicles, single-use pens to sign the forms. The event was approved by San Juan Basin Public Health and the La Plata County Clerk and Recorder’s Office.

“We’re pleased that people are willing to come,” Minkler said. “This isn’t about voting yet, it’s just about having fairness and giving people more choices on the ballot.”

Minkler estimated he received well over 100 signatures; Turner estimated 200. Neither had a final count, in part because all signatures have to be verified by the Clerk and Recorder’s Office.

Unaffiliated candidates have until the end of July to gather at least 600 verified signatures to qualify for a spot on the ballot. Candidates affiliated with a major party automatically join the ballot. Those signatures also have to be gathered in face-to-face interactions – during a pandemic when people are required to limit group sizes and remain socially distant.

Minkler and Turner have tried different ways, primarily online, to adapt their campaigns in response to the crisis, but it has been challenging, they said.

“We were in limbo for so long,” Turner said. “On one hand ... you can’t go near people, and at the same time, you have to get petitions face to face. That’s when we came up with the idea of this drive-thru process.”

Charly Minkler, an independent La Plata County commissioner candidate in District 3, talks with resident Connie Rockelmann on Saturday during a drive-up petition-signing event at Durango High School. Minkler and Jack Turner, an independent commissioner candidate in District 2, partnered to host the event.

Of five residents interviewed by The Durango Herald, all five were interested in voting for the candidates. Three said they signed the petitions because they wanted to see more choice on the ballot.

“When I saw they were independent candidates, that’s what mattered to me,” said Bill Frederick, a resident near Three Springs. “I know how rigid the rules can be ... The more candidates the better.”

“We’re just doing our civic duty,” said Jackie Frederick.

Although the two candidates might disagree on the issues, they agree on at least one thing: Voters should have more choices, Turner said.

“We’re both kindred spirits in the idea that we both feel that there should be a choice other than the political parties,” he said.

Future events will be held:

June 13 in Ignacio at Porky’s Smokehouse and at Durango High School.June 20 at Breen Community Building and at Durango High School.The Ignacio and Breen events will be open from 8 to 10:30 a.m., and the Durango events will be open from noon to 4 p.m. Signatures will be counted from registered voters only, regardless of party affiliation.

smullane@durangoherald.com

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