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Editor's note: Westside Pioneer's Q/A with District 3 county commissioner candidates

       With term-limited Republican incumbent Sallie Clark stepping down as District 3 county commissioner after 12 years, Stan VanderWerf from her party hopes to succeed her in the Nov. 8 general election.
       The candidate for the Democrats is Electra Johnson.
       VanderWerf defeated Karen Cullen in the Republicans' June primary.
       Johnson was selected by her party to challenge the Republican hold on District 3, going back nearly half a century.
       Neither candidate has previous elected experience.
       District 3 covers western El Paso County, including the Westside, Manitou Springs, Green Mountain Falls and north to the Air Force Academy and south along Highway 115 (across from Fort Carson).
       The Westside Pioneer asked the candidates for basic personal information and to respond to the same three questions (150-word limit for each). The personal information pertained to age, family, years lived in their districts and career outside politics.
       The three questions were:
       1. Both of you are new to elected office. Why is county commissioner the office you are seeking?
       2. Should the county allow recreational marijuana?
       3. If elected, would you propose increasing county taxes to enhance services? Explain why an increase is or isn't necessary.

County Commissioner District 3 candidate:
Electra Johnson

Courtesy of Electra Johnson
       Party: Democrat
       Age: 42.
       Years in District 3: Nine.
       Type of career: Partner in an architectural and urban design firm; have practiced architecture, urban design, planning and construction management for 20 years.
       Family info: Married, one child.

       1. Why commissioner. We need leadership with vision on the County Commission. My many years of experience in urban design, architecture and project management with cities and communities helping to develop visioning and implementation for large infrastructure and social issues give me the experience to address key issues with fiscally responsible solutions to build community resiliency.
       The County Commission manages agencies and projects that affect every citizen of our county, through social services, transportation, emergency preparedness and response, infrastructure support, and economic development, and we need a representative voice. We must also have fresh and new ideas to attract innovation and good jobs into our economy to strengthen our middle class. To do all that, we need real conversations about real issues and regional solutions; we need leadership with practical experience with limited budgets and vision. I am that fresh voice for El Paso County.
       2. Recreational MJ. As an elected official, your duty is to represent the will of the people. Amendment 64 passed in El Paso County. It is a drug, like alcohol and tobacco, and it needs to be taxed and regulated to ensure that it is a safe product; it should not get into the hands of children, and products like gummies and cookies must be made in such a way as to protect children by not looking like candy.
       I don't personally use marijuana but from reading up on the issue there is substantial evidence that medical marijuana has helped many people. The recreational use of marijuana in shops has been a huge growth industry throughout our state. We have missed out on that in El Paso County. We need to eliminate the black market, and illegal grows, but the only way to do that is to have an honest conversation.
       3. Taxes. Our mill levy is the lowest in the state at 7.78 mills. The average rate for counties in Colorado is around 21 mills. We fund our infrastructure with our fluctuating sales tax instead of our static mills. This low rate, combined with the problems caused by the TABOR and Gallagher amendments, means that we don't have reserves to meet real emergencies. To work around TABOR, our County Commission must budget our revenues efficiently and creatively.
       I believe an open, comprehensive conversation about the state of our infrastructure and the monetary difficulties of our region is essential. Increasing taxes is not big government spending your money but an investment in our region, which will save long-term costs related to crumbling infrastructure and disaster preparedness while keeping the region competitive economically, not only for existing businesses but for businesses that look to relocate and grow in the Pikes Peak region.

(Posted 9/13/16; Politics: City/County)

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