November 8, 2006
Some residents of the El Jebel and Basalt areas of Eagle County are probably more alienated than ever after Tuesday’s election.The majority of voters in the Roaring Fork Valley part of the county supported a switch to a home-rule style of government, which would have given the Basalt and El Jebel areas their own county commissioner.Home rule won by a margin of 585-403, or 60 to 40 percent, in the Roaring Fork Valley sliver of the county, according to Eagle County Clerk Teak Simonton. She said that tally didn’t include people who voted by absentee ballot. Those votes weren’t broken out by precinct.In Eagle County overall, the home rule question lost by a healthy margin. There were 6,266 votes against and 5,446 in favor, including absentee ballots. That is a 53.5 to 46.5 percent margin.Jacque Whitsitt, a former Basalt councilwoman who campaigned in favor of home rule, said she wasn’t surprised it prevailed in the Roaring Fork Valley.”I think the voters over here have a greater appreciation of not having representation and they know they won’t get it without home rule,” Whitsitt said.One of the biggest changes proposed in home rule was an expansion of the board of county commissioners from three to five members. Carving the county into five districts would have given the Basalt and El Jebel areas their own district and commissioner. This area has slightly less than 20 percent of the county’s population.Proponents said direct representation was important because of the differences between the two valleys and because it is difficult for even a well-intentioned commissioner from the Eagle Valley to be aware of issues in the Roaring Fork Valley. The county seat in Eagle is 50 miles away from El Jebel.In addition, it’s been tough for candidates from the Roaring Fork Valley to win election to countywide offices in recent years. Whitsitt lost a close vote to Tom Stone of the Gypsum area in a county commissioner race in 1998. Basalt resident Michael Bair failed to win the Republican primary for county commissioner this year. Name recognition – specifically the lack of it in the Eagle Valley – hurts candidates from the Roaring Fork Valley.Sara Fisher of Gypsum won election Tuesday to the commissioner district that includes Basalt and El Jebel. Fisher, a Democrat, said she supported the switch to home rule, in part to give greater representation to Basalt and El Jebel. But Fisher also noted she tried to familiarize herself with the portion of the county in the Roaring Fork Valley so she could represent it effectively. She made numerous trips to El Jebel during the campaign.Whitsitt said she supported Fisher and believes she will try hard to represent the part of the county in the Roaring Fork Valley. Nevertheless, there are challenges, she said.”It’s very difficult to represent someone where you don’t live,” Whitsitt said.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.