Garfield County sheriff may face a challenger |

Garfield County sheriff may face a challenger

John Stroud
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
Doug Winters

RIFLE, Colo. – A would-be challenger to Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario for the Republican nomination to run for sheriff this November said his petition drive has so far been well-received.

“It’s pretty amazing, the support I’m receiving out there,” said Doug Winters, an Eagle County Sheriff’s detective who lives in Rifle.

Winters seeks to unseat the two-term incumbent sheriff by winning the party’s nomination in the Aug. 10 primary election, and then to run for the seat against Democrat Tom Dalessandri in the general election.

To get on the primary ballot, Winters needs just 69 signatures of qualified electors in Garfield County.

That number is based on 20 percent of the votes cast in Vallario’s primary four years ago, 344, in which Vallario was uncontested for the nomination. Winters has until May 27 to collect and turn in the requisite signatures.

Winters, 36, has worked with the Eagle County Sheriff’s Department for 13 1/2 years, and is a nine-year resident of Rifle, where he lives with his wife and two young sons.

“It’s been something I’ve been thinking about for a while, and talking about with people in the community,” he said.

“I’ve seen how things have been going with the sheriff’s office, and I believe it’s time for a change and for some fresh ideas,” Winters said.

In particular, a sheriff’s department budget that’s doubled in three years time to $18 million under Vallario’s leadership needs to be re-evaluated, he said.

“We need to get back to the basics and find out what’s truly benefiting the community,” Winters said. “With the economy today, we have to be cutting back on spending. We need to get back to a more community-oriented type of policing.”

Also of concern, Winters said, was Vallario’s recent policy to institute extensive background checks of search-and-rescue volunteers.

“I’m all for background investigations, but there doesn’t have to be that rigid of an application process,” he said. “You’re dealing with citizens in the community who are willing to give of their time, and we need to encourage them, not discourage them.”

Vallario declined to comment on the prospect of a primary challenge until Winters is officially on the ballot.

Winters said he did not make his decision to seek the party’s nomination until after the Garfield County Republican Party caucuses and assembly.

Typically, candidates seek their party’s support through the caucus and assembly process. The petition process is available for candidates who earn a certain percentage of the assembly vote but aren’t the top candidate. Or, it can be used by a candidate who chooses to bypass the formal process.

Winters made an unsuccessful run in September 2009 for Rifle City Council, which saw three incumbents and one newcomer elected to the board.

Vallario is seeking his third term in office. He had no challengers four years ago, but unseated former sheriff Dalessandri in the 2002 election.

A Carbondale Democrat, Dalessandri served as sheriff from 1994-2002.

No other Garfield County elected offices are expected to be contested in the August primary. Sunlight Mountain Resort General Manager Tom Jankovsky won the Republican nomination to run for county commissioner against incumbent Tresi Houpt, a Democrat.

County Assessor John Gorman, also a Democrat, is being challenged by Republican Jim Yellico.

Garfield County primaries will be by mail ballot only this year. Ballots can either be mailed back in, or be dropped off at town halls in Carbondale, Glenwood Springs, New Castle, Silt, Rifle and Parachute, or at the county clerks’ offices in Glenwood and Rifle.

Voters must be registered with a party to vote in that party’s primary, and have until July 12 to change their affiliation in time to participate in the primary. Unaffiliated voters can declare a party affiliation the day of the primary election, but only at the two county clerk’s office locations.