Two women Dems looking to break political curse in county commissioner races 

Against the odds

The two Democrats running for El Paso County Board of County Commissioners in District 3 and 4 say they won't be written off.

But there's no doubt that Electra Johnson and Liz Rosenbaum face tough odds.

District 3, located in central and western El Paso County, has been represented since 2004 by term-limited Republican Sallie Clark. District 4 encompasses southern El Paso County, with term-limited Republican Dennis Hisey exiting that seat.

While the offices are technically up for grabs, District 3 has just 20,673 Democrats, 32,235 Republicans and 28,096 unaffiliated voters. District 4 is a little friendlier with 13,414 Democrats, 18,410 Republicans and 19,991 unaffiliated voters.

Thus, it's not surprising that Rosenbaum and Johnson have been out-fundraised by their Republican rivals. Johnson, 42, reported $9,457.64 in contributions through June 19, while the Republican candidate in District 3, Stan VanderWerf, raised $50,456.83 in the same period, plus $4,399.35 in non-monetary contributions. Rosenbaum, 40, raised $850 as of July 23. Her Republican opponent in District 4, Longinos Gonzalez, had raised $1,142 in contributions as of June 19, but loans to his campaign raise the total to $16,300.

Then there's this little nugget: No Democrat has been elected to the Board of County Commissioners since 1970.

click to enlarge Electra Johnson want to break the Dems' curse. - COURTESY ELECTRA JOHNSON
  • Courtesy Electra Johnson
  • Electra Johnson want to break the Dems' curse.

Undeterred, Johnson and Rosenbaum say this is exactly why voters should support them in November. As Rosenbaum puts it, if you're unhappy with the way the county has been run, you can't keep voting for the same kind of candidates.

"That's the definition of insanity: doing the same thing and expecting a different result," Rosenbaum says. "At least try something different."

Johnson points out that a divergent voice could make all the difference in certain situations. For instance, she says, alarms were raised by the Independent about former Sheriff Terry Maketa in 2010, but he wasn't examined for abuses of power until 2014 when he was preparing to leave office. She theorizes that had a lot to do with Maketa being a popular Republican with significant power over other conservatives who needed (or at least desired) his endorsement in their campaigns.

"If you know what's at stake and you also know that you are expected to toe the line, of course you're not going to say anything," Johnson says. "And that's what happens when you have one party controlling a commission for over 40 years. It starts to create incredible power structures and I'm sorry, but that doesn't serve the people at all."

Both Democrats say they continue to seek donations, but their strength has been attracting volunteers willing to go door-to-door. They say that's not because they are Democrats, but because of their solid backgrounds and innovative ideas.

Johnson, a partner at SALT Workshop, an urban and architectural design firm, says she has focused on both small-scale (interior design) and large-scale (transit systems) design, or as she puts it, everything "from doorknobs to cities." She has master's degrees in urban design and architecture, and bachelor's degrees in construction management and interior design. A Colorado native, she moved to the Springs about nine years ago, when she met her now-husband, Scott Johnson, a Colorado College art professor. The two have a 4-year-old son and live in Cheyenne Cañon.

Johnson says her work experience gives her a unique ability to transform the county. She notes that her understanding of how to effectively build communities, and her knowledge of how systems interact, will be valuable. She wants the county to take a more holistic approach to problems like water, fire and forests, which all impact each other. And she says she would have thought twice about approving the NextEra wind farm in Calhan, because inserting a major industry in a residential area has long-term impacts.

"There is a division of uses for a very specific reason, and that is to protect the health, wellness and safety of citizens, which is the entire point of government in the first place," she says. "And if you're not doing that, you end up with situations like the situation in Fountain where our water is compromised. You end up with the situation where you're putting a windmill that's producing energy in a place where you're not considering the other uses around, because you're completely pandering to energy."

Johnson says as a mom, she wants to work to end child abuse and improve transit systems (one of her specialties) to better serve families. She wants to ensure that county spending is based on long-term costs rather than just short-term solutions. It's far more expensive to mitigate an acre of forest after it burns than while it's pristine, she notes, and it's more expensive to leave a person homeless (because of police and medical bills) than to house them. It's also more expensive to replace infrastructure than to simply maintain it.

On that last point, she compares the county to a home falling apart: "We bought a house 40 years ago and we haven't done a damn thing."

click to enlarge Liz Rosenbaum want to break the Dems' curse. - COURTESY LIZ ROSENBAUM
  • Courtesy Liz Rosenbaum
  • Liz Rosenbaum want to break the Dems' curse.

Rosenbaum, a former history teacher and volunteer, owns Her Story Café inside Library 21c on Chapel Hills Drive. Married to Dan Rosenbaum, the owner of Voltaire Engineering, they have a 20-year-old daughter and a 15-year-old son. The couple came to Colorado in 2000 when Dan was in the Army, and make their home in Widefield.

Rosenbaum opened her business six years ago, starting as a food truck and expanding to her current location, which she set up in a matter of weeks after winning the 21c contract. She says she struggled with opening the restaurant, in part because many banks declined to loan her money without her husband co-signing, despite her near-perfect credit score. She's now looking to franchise her café, hoping to help more women become small business owners.

Despite her dedication to her business, Rosenbaum says she has a transition plan so she can be a full-time commissioner. She will, however, carry some of the passion she has from her current job. She wants to create more public spaces for people to meet and get to know each other, like parks and community centers.

She also wants to host monthly community meetings to stay in touch with constituents and fully explain complex issues. For instance, if a tax increase is needed for stormwater infrastructure, she would explain to residents how an oft-flooded intersection near their home will be fixed, and how much it will cost.

"Security and Widefield, we don't have a mayor or a city council, so we're missing out on some major voting issues and representation," Rosenbaum says. "My job as county commissioner would help to fill that gap."

That's especially important in District 4, which has struggled to deal with water contamination, most recently from perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs), though she says past problems, including one involving a dry cleaner dumping chemicals down the drain, have also caused havoc. If elected, she hopes to ensure water problems are dealt with swiftly and the public is kept informed every step of the way — something she says hasn't always happened in outlying areas like Security.

"We're just not informed on things," Rosenbaum says. "It's not that it was done intentionally to not inform us, it's just that we don't have anyone looking out for us, and I will be able to do that."

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