Scott Turner, one of two Republican candidates for El Paso County Board of County Commissioners District 4, on the southeast side of the county, is what you might call a traditional candidate. His primary opponent, Longinos Gonzalez Jr., does not share that background.
Turner, 57, has lived in the area for 40 years, he's president of a local bank, he's served for years on various community and government boards — including the county's Citizen Budget Oversight Committee, the Pikes Peak Regional Transportation Authority Citizens Advisory Committee and the county's Highway Advisory Commission. He's even the longtime MC at the annual Western Street Breakfast and the Pikes Peak Soap Box Derby. His achievements include working with the county budget committee to save millions and buy new snow-clearing equipment, as well as working with local business and community leaders to build the Fountain Valley Veterans Day Memorial. His father, who served in the Air Force, is honored at the memorial alongside vets of every stripe from the area.
Asked why he's running, Turner says he had reached a point where he was spending so much time on boards that he needed to choose between his professional and civic life. He says he followed his heart.
"Sometimes, your passion finds you, and sometimes you find your passion," he says, "and sometimes both of those things come together and that's where I am."
He notes that given his service on boards, and his regular appearance at county meetings, he's developed expertise in the main issues that a county commissioner must tackle.
"There is not much else that a county commissioner is slated to do other than land use, public safety and the budget; that's what we do," he says. "Learning that is much like going to school to be a professional; it's not the type of thing that you can pick up in six months."
While Turner says his decades of commitment and residence qualify him, Gonzalez, 46, says his life experiences — mostly outside the area — make him a good pick.
The son of California farm workers, Gonzalez grew up in a small town. Hard work led to an Air Force Academy appointment in 1992, which introduced him to the area. He spent 20 years fighting the drug wars in the Middle East and Latin America, including Colombia, and even helped free American hostages from the FARC (a guerrilla movement also known as The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) in 2008.
In the military, Gonzalez worked with multi-million-dollar budgets. But he always wanted to come back to El Paso County, and in 2012, after retiring as a lieutenant colonel, he did. In 2014, he became a science teacher in the economically challenged Harrison School District 2. Gonzalez says he's also owned and managed rental properties for years, which has helped him understand running a small business.
In 2015, he ran unsuccessfully for Colorado Springs City Council. He's remained involved, showing up regularly to comment at county and other meetings including those of smaller cities in the county, and he pushed for the Springs not to dip into reserves to balance the 2016 budget. City leaders apparently agreed; the final budget does not use any reserve funds.
"I saved Colorado Springs $1.35 million this year, and I was the only one who brought that up," he says. "I had gone through a 600-page budget, found the issue, brought it up and that's why I actually have a lot of faith in our government is that good private citizens can bring up good ideas and if they do it in a reasonable, logical way, you can actually change minds and get things done."
He doesn't have Turner's history and connections, but Gonzalez says his experiences give him an understanding of District 4's constituents — in small towns, on farms, at Fort Carson, and in urban areas where families often struggle on limited incomes.
Gonzalez says he's worn out a pair of shoes going door-to-door to talk to constituents.
"The dedication people have seen right now, they're going to see [from me] as a county commissioner," he says.
Gonzalez wants to get back to basics, putting more of the county budget toward public safety and roads. He supports regionalization and wants the area's disaster responders trained together, not only to save money but to ensure responders work well together. Gonzalez thinks stormwater projects can be planned regionally, and he says all the area's local governments should work together on a plan.
Given his background, Gonzalez could be seen as a major opponent to legal marijuana, but he says he's "an enforce-the-laws guy," and will only ask law enforcement to target illegal drug activity.
Turner describes himself as a realist. He wants to control the county budget, but notes that two-thirds of the funds are restricted and the remaining third is largely eaten up with salaries and overhead. He does think the county should consider selling off some property, but he says the main budget priority is ensuring money goes where voters approved it to go, which builds trust. He also hopes to make county meetings more accessible and interactive online, if affordable, to increase participation and transparency.
Also a fan of regionalization, Turner says one of the most important things is to ensure fire and police respond to situations, regardless of their jurisdictions. He says one main focus will be creating job training programs to increase employment and keep people off the streets, particularly those exiting the military. He opposed the Next Era Wind Farm because he didn't approve of subsidies it received or the changes made to the original plan, including the above-ground transmission lines (which were originally to be buried).
He says the county will not be able to effectively deal with its stormwater problem until the federal government steps in to simplify Colorado's baffling water rights laws. He is for renewing the sheriff's Public Safety Sales Tax and says he'd like to make part of the tax permanent.
The GOP primary winner will face Democrat Elizabeth Rosenbaum in November for the District 4 seat, which pays over $113,000 a year. The office is currently held by the term-limited Dennis Hisey, who has endorsed Turner.
But the two candidates, who both made the ballot through the county's GOP assembly, have split important endorsements. Turner has County Commissioner and U.S. Senate candidate Darryl Glenn's support, as well as the backing of former Commissioner Jim Bensberg, Sheriff Bill Elder, Colorado Springs Forward, and the Housing and Building Association of Colorado Springs. Gonzalez got the support of county treasurer Mark Lowderman, county assessor Steve Schleiker, Fountain Mayor Gabriel Ortega, former Colorado Springs Mayor Lionel Rivera, the Gazette and Springs City Councilors Merv Bennett, Andres Pico, Larry Bagley and Tom Strand.
Turner is the clear fundraising winner. As of June 2, he had raised $21,522.76 and loaned himself $7,500. Gonzalez had raised $1,082 in the same time, and given himself $15,500 in loans. Asked about that, Gonzalez says he has not focused on fundraising, that many supporters can't afford to give much and some have helped in other ways, such as going door-to-door or building handmade signs. Turner says he hasn't asked for donations much either, but adds his many connections have stepped up and given to his campaign.
Both men say they would give up their current jobs if elected, though Gonzalez would still manage the properties he owns, and hopes to continue working as a substitute teacher in Harrison once a month.
Turner, who lives in Widefield, is married. Gonzalez, who lives near the Colorado Springs airport, has never married. Neither man has children.
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