Boulder County commissioner and sheriff candidates demonstrated just how different they are at a League of Women Voters forum in Lafayette on Thursday night.
Though the forum covered issues ranging from affordable housing and transportation to living wages and the #MeToo movement, the issue that shone the brightest light on commissioner candidates’ disparate views was fracking.
Gary Cooper, the Republican candidate who makes his living as a real estate broker and entrepreneur, said the issue of fracking can be boiled down to property rights.
“When people demand that the government stop people from realizing the value of their property, that’s a theft,” he told the room of about 50 voters. “So if you don’t want it to happen, buy the mineral rights.”
He went on to argue that fracking has no negative health impacts, using the latest Colorado Health Report as evidence. The report was produced by , which is a part of Energy In Depth, a research, education and public outreach campaign of the Independent Petroleum Association of America.
According to that report, though oil production in Weld County increased by a factor of 12, natural gas production tripled and the number of wells doubled, rates of death for cancer, respiratory illness and heart disease decreased by 1.9 percent, 9.1 percent and 21.4 percent, respectively, despite the number of elderly persons doubling.
Cliff Wilmeng, the Green Party candidate who works as a registered nurse and serves as vice president of the UFCW Local 7 union, couldn’t have disagreed anymore with Cooper.
As a co-author of the Lafayette Community Bill of Rights that sought to prohibit all fossil fuel extraction in that community, he said he believes the county can and should enforce a ban on all oil and gas extraction.
“Most people at that point say the Supreme Court was quite clear that you just can’t ban fracking at a municipal level,” he said. “But the fact of the matter is that the law that the Supreme Court was ruling on, the Colorado Oil and Gas Act, has never been challenged on a constitutional basis.”
He said he believes oil and gas corporations have the state Legislature in their pockets and that the fight to ban fracking must begin with the Boulder County commission, which is a big reason why he’s running.
Matt Jones, the Democratic candidate, and a lifelong government employee took a more moderate approach. Though he clearly voiced his opposition to fracking, he said a complete ban by way of a community bill of rights is simply unrealistic.
“I fight fracking everywhere I go, I’ve been doing that since I got elected (to the state Senate) in 2010,” he said. “If people want to pursue a community bill of rights that fine, but every environmental lawyer I’ve talked to about that said it would be swiftly struck down by the courts.”
Instead, he pointed to the recent news that the Colorado Oil and Gas Commission postponed a decision on the large-scale drilling proposal brought forth by Crestone Peak Resources thanks to a lawsuit filed by Boulder County questioning the legitimacy of Crestone’s mineral leases.
“That’s the kind of thing we need to do, fight them at every turn,” he said. “We need to beat out the oil and gas commission, which I’m already doing and we need to be working with the state Legislature to change those laws.”
While the differences between the two candidates for sheriff were far less obvious, agreeing on issues of school safety, disaster preparedness, training police officers as immigration agents and county Ballot Issue 1A, which would slightly raise the sales and use tax for a new jail and alternative sentencing facility, the main difference was their backgrounds.
Where Sheriff Joe Pelle has 16 years of experience and touted his record as well as his relationship and knowledge of the community, John Bedrick, the head of a privacy protection company, pushed his experience in cybersecurity.
“While I think the sheriff’s department is doing an outstanding job, I think that the future threats that we’re going to be seeing are going to be hitting us a lot more from a technology standpoint,” he said. “I think we’re going to be faced with not only continued assault by cybercriminals, but also foreign nations.”
Pelle, on the other hand, focused much of his attention on mental illness, natural disasters, and a rising number of calls of service compared to the number of officers.
Despite the stark differences that shown through Thursday night, all of the candidates concluded the night with a cordial handshake and reminded everyone to get out to vote on Nov. 6.