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La Plata County Democrats hold caucus and assembly on Saturday

6th Judicial District Attorney candidate Sean Murray beats competition for majority of delegates ahead of June primary
About 101 people showed up to participate in the Democratic Caucus on Saturday in the Exhibit Hall at the La Plata County Fairgrounds. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

La Plata County Democrats gathered on Saturday for their caucus and general assembly at the La Plata Fairgrounds, where active voters engaged candidates, discussed issues and selected delegates.

Climate change, abortion rights and access to affordable housing were common themes at the event.

Notable races included Colorado Senate District 6, Colorado House District 59, district attorney for the 6th Judicial District, La Plata County commissioners and the University of Colorado Regent at Large, the last of which party chairwoman Anne Markward said is the most important race of the day.

Although Adam Frisch was whipping up votes in other areas of the 3rd Congressional District, Karen Zink of Southwest Women’s Health spoke on his behalf.

Voters handily approved keeping La Plata County Commissioners Marsha Porter-Norton and Matt Salka on the commission.

Likewise, voters supported Katie Stewart, who is running for Barbara McLachlan’s seat in Colorado House District 59 now that McLachlan’s term is nearly finished. She spoke on Stewart’s behalf at the assembly.

Voters also gave their blessings to Vivian Smotherman, who is running for a seat in Colorado Senate District 6. Both Smotherman and Stewart are running uncontested by fellow Democrats.

Sean Murray, a candidate for 6th Judicial District Attorney, picked up 87 votes, or 20 delegates, while his opponent Jason Eley won over 16 votes, or four delegates.

Murray said he was hoping to pick up at least 90% of the delegates, which would have stopped any chance Eley has of getting onto the ballot. Murray was short by 3%, and even though Eley can get on the ballot by collecting 1,500 petition signatures, Murray feels good about his chances.

Voters tapped Elliot Hood for University of Colorado Regent at Large, giving him 15 delegates. CJ Johnson received eight delegates, while another nine delegates were uncommitted.

Anne Markward, chairwoman of La Plata County Democrats, leads the Democratic Caucus on Saturday in the Exhibit Hall at the La Plata County Fairgrounds. Voters heard from Democratic candidates, assigned delegates and voted for their preferred candidates for University of Colorado Regent at Large and 6th Judicial District Attorney. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)
Groups pursuing initiatives for November ballot

Advocates for two ballot initiatives were also present at the caucus and assembly to collect signatures to put their issues on the November ballot.

One group, Cats Aren’t Trophies, is a grassroots movement to stop trophy hunting of mountain lions, bobcats and lynxes.

Sean Jacobson, who was collecting signatures for Cats Aren’t Trophies, said the group wants to prevent unnecessary trophy hunting of big cats.

Since Jan. 1, 600 mountain lions and 3,000 bobcats have already been poached. Forty-six percent of the big cats killed were females, he said.

“If it’s a female at that time during the season, they’re actually either pregnant or have babies at home. And so when they kill one female, they’re possibly killing four mountain lions, because in the kittens get orphaned and never have a mama,” he said. “The numbers are dwindling and we feel like they shouldn’t be trophy hunting the big cats. They don’t eat them. You know, it’s just to stuff them and put them in their house, you know, to brag about.”

Jacobson said the ballot initiative proposes making trophy hunting big cats a misdemeanor, punishable by fine on the first offense, a bigger fine on second offense and the loss of hunting rights – probably across the board – on the third offense.

Another group was collecting signatures for Initiative 89. If passed, it would enshrine abortion rights in the Colorado Constitution.

Tamerin Horstman said Colorado currently has a statute to protect women’s reproductive rights, but statutes can be overridden and repealed. Constitutional amendments are much harder to reverse.

“It’s reproductive freedom, (it makes) reproductive rights for women more secure, a little more beefed up,” she said. “It also includes health care, so (abortions) could be covered by women’s health care.”

She said 24,000 signatures are needed for an initiative to be placed onto the ballot. But the group wants to gather many more signatures than necessary to ensure the ballot initiative makes the cut.

She said there are several places to sign the petition around town, including the Durango Community Recreation Center, the Smiley Building and several grocery stores.

Aaron Hackett, who Horstman said spearheaded signature collections in La Plata County, said he’s seen “overwhelming support” for Initiative 89 from students at Fort Lewis College.

Hearing from candidates

Smotherman, who is campaigning for a seat in Colorado Senate District 6, said Coloradans want abortion protections; schools to be fully funded and to be safe places free of hate, violence and discrimination; solutions to the housing crisis; and protection of water and resources for farms and ranches.

“None of that is possible without your financial support,” she said. “However, I’m doing everything I can to run an efficient campaign.”

McLachlan introduced Stewart to the stage with a ringing endorsement.

“(Stewart) knows this area like the back of her hand,” she said. “She is forceful, she is fierce. She is really smart. And she will listen to everybody and I can’t endorse her any more than this. I think Katie Stewart’s going to be absolutely fabulous for the district.”

Stewart, who also sits on the Durango School District 9-R Board of Education, said she is a fourth-generation resident of Southwest Colorado and a mother of five children.

“I love the possibility of what education can do,” she said. “I firmly believe that a robust innovative new quality of education is how you solve most of our current problems.”

She said Colorado has an “unfortunately” structured funding mechanism for public education, which is not adequately funded.

“I would like to change that,” she said. ”I also feel strongly that our families in this area of Colorado need better access to reproductive and mental health care.“

Agriculture is a fundamental part of Southwest Colorado’s identity, she said, and climate change threatens farmers’ and ranchers’ access to water.

She said she is in a Tier 1 competitive race Democrats need to win if they want to keep Colorado blue.


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