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Candidates for Montezuma sheriff, Colorado House attend forum in Cortez

The San Juan Basin Farm Bureau held a candidate forum Tuesday in Cortez at the Montezuma County Annex. (Jim Mimiaga/The Journal)
San Juan Farm Bureau hosts event attended by 60 citizens

Candidates for Colorado House Districts 58 and 59, and Montezuma County Sheriff participated in a forum put on by the San Juan Basin Farm Bureau Tuesday in Cortez. About 60 people attended.

Candidates for District 58 are Republican incumbent Marc Catlin and Democrat challenger Kevin Kuns.

Marc Catlin and Kevin Kuns
Barbara McLachlan and Shelli Shaw
Montezuma County Sheriff Steven Nowlin and unafilliated challenger Odis Sikes

Candidates for District 59 are Democrat incumbent Barbara McLachlan and Republican challenger Shelli Shaw.

Candidates for Montezuma County sheriff are Republican incumbent Sheriff Steve Nowlin and unaffiliated challenger Odis Sikes.

Candidates gave three-minute introductions then took questions from the audience.

Kuns, a “Western Slope Democrat from Montrose” running for District 58, worked in restaurant management as an adult and on a family ranch as a child. He said his business experience and people skills make him a good candidate.

“I respect and understand what farmers and ranchers are going through,” he said. “When elected, I will harder than my opponent to make sure I do everything that I can for ag.”

He is challenging Catlin, who has a background in water management and agriculture, and is seeking a fourth term.

“I’m here to protect the Western Slope. Colorado should keep its water in the state, California needs to work on its own problems and not look to us,” Catlin said.

Shaw, running for the District 59 seat as a Republican, said running for office honors veterans who fought for the country.

She considered running for office after seeing problems in the area. “When no one is stepping up to run, then you know it is your time to step up,” she said.

Shaw has met with people from agriculture, education and law enforcement to learn about issues and challenges.

“It is time we have a representative who fights for our agriculture and land. If you want representation for Montezuma, I will be your voice in Denver,” Shaw said.

McLachlan, the Democrat incumbent in District 59, noted her district now includes the Mancos, Dolores and Ute Mountain Ute Tribe as a result of redistricting.

“I’m very excited to get to know the people, and include you,” she said. “It’s been fun to hear the new voices and new ideas.”

McLachlan said she grew up on a family farm and ranch, went to rodeos and worked at the stock show.

She said Democrats and Republicans on the Western Slope work together to protect water and agriculture.

Sheriff candidates

Unaffiliated candidate for Sheriff Odis Sikes said he does not have law enforcement experience, but would make a good sheriff because of his life experience.

He served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War, raises cattle, is a country musician, and has worked as an inspector in the oil and gas industry for decades.

“I don’t think like a cop, I think like you because I am one of you,” Sikes said. “I’m part of the community.”

Republican candidate Steve Nowlin has served nearly eight years as sheriff, and is seeking a third term.

He has 45 years of law enforcement experience working for the Cortez Police Department, Sheriff’s Office, and as a detective for the Colorado State Patrol.

“I changed the agency culture into a professional law enforcement agency that is well trained and well equipped,” Nowlin said. “I hire for quality and character first.”

Audience questions

On a question about threats to ranching, Shaw cited regulation and lack of water. Cities target farmers for their water, and more water storage is needed to prevent it from flowing out of state.

McLachlan agreed on more storage and added that research is needed on replacing water-intensive crops with crops that need less water but provide adequate revenue.

Kuns said climate change and warming means less water, and collaboration is needed between city and rural areas on fair water use.

“We need farmers, we do not survive without them, cities need water,” he said. “I hate the divisiveness of urban versus rural. We need to look at the big picture, work together, be innovative. If we succeed, you succeed. We are tied at the hip.”

Catlin said a big threat to agriculture is “buy and dry” where cities buy the farm, strip the water and leave in the river so it can be delivered to the growing urban areas of the Front Range. The result is fallowed farmland.

“This is a serious threat, we need more storage. That way, we have dominion over it,” he said. “Southern California is pushing hard (for water), and the Front Range is pushing just as bad. The urban-rural divide is not made up.”

Sheriff candidate questions

How will sheriff candidates defend our Constitution? asked an audience member.

Nowlin responded that he feels new Colorado gun laws have constitutional issues. House Bill 1106 requires guns to be stored in locked containers in certain situations, and Senate Bill 78 requires gun owners to report a lost or stolen firearm.

If a gun is stolen and the owner reports it, “is it right to be charged with not having a firearm in locked cabinet? Doesn’t that go against the Fourth amendment? Discretion is important on how laws enforced,” Nowlin said.

The Extreme Risk Protection Order, also known as the red flag law, is controversial in many counties, and was opposed by the Montezuma County Commissioners. It provides a judicial process for guns to be seized in certain situations if it can be determined a person is deemed at risk to himself or others.

Nowlin said he objected to the law from the beginning, and noted it is a civil law. He has not initiated a red flag process, and there has been just one case in the county where it was used. The allegations were unfounded because the person never had a firearm.

Other laws allow the firearm to be transferred to family members to temporarily hold if a situation calls for it.

“I don’t want your guns. I want you to keep your guns,” Nowlin said.

Sikes said he took an oath when he went into the military to defend the U.S. Constitution.

“I swore to support and defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic,” he said.

In many ways, there are more domestic enemies, he said, and one is the government.

“They are passing laws against the U.S. Constitution. I will not support or enforce any law that goes against Constitution.”

During the pandemic, which Sikes called the “Scamdemic,” Sikes told people the government did not have the right to tell people to wear a mask or shut down their business.

It goes against Fifth Amendment language that states a person may not be deprived of life liberty or property without due process of law, Sikes said.

“Mandates from the governor are not due process of law,” he said.

A man asked Sikes about his previous comments in a Cortez forum regarding his ideas of law enforcement involvement in what is taught in schools.

Sikes said media reports that said he would put deputies in classroom to prevent teachers from teaching critical race theory are false.

“I did not say that,” Sikes said. “That never even crossed my mind, much less say it. That is unconstitutional. From the word ‘go’ that is crazy.’”

Sikes said he does think a deputy or sheriff should go to the schools to regularly teach classes on the Constitution.

“That is the main thing in our life, it protects our God-given rights,” he said. “My opinion is that the Constitution should be taught kindergarten to 12th grade.”

During the Aug. 12 forum, Sikes did suggest law enforcement input at school boards, but not specifically classrooms.

“I think law enforcement, not in a bully kind of way, but I think law enforcement ought to be involved in school boards like critical race theory,” Sikes stated at the meet-and-greet Aug. 12. “I think we ought to show up and say look that is junk we’re not going to teach this to our kids.”

An audience member asked the candidates how they would handle the department’s budget.

“I don’t know all those things, but I bet you I could find brains to help me out,” Sikes said.

Nowlin responded that he has “the knowledge, the experience and skills to know exactly how agency will function and its needs throughout a calendar year. That is how I build my budget.”

He manages the Sheriff’s Office, Montezuma County Detention Center and law enforcement authority budgets, which are posted online. He also manages grant funding, which reduces expenditures from the general fund and saves taxpayer money.

“It is all about is to provide the best training for the professional service is performing every day,” Nowlin said.

Farm labor bill

A farmer asked McLachlan why she voted for the farm labor bill that requires overtime pay for farmworkers. He said it doesn’t help because it adds to operation costs.

McLachlan said her first reaction was to oppose it, but after talking with the Farm Bureau, a proponent, she agreed to support it with amendments.

She said it was needed to prevent a few “bad players” from mistreating employees, and noted most farm and ranchers are not doing that.

Colorado's nearly 40,000 agricultural workers would begin receiving overtime in November 2022 under Senate Bill 87.

According to the Colorado Farm Bureau, from Nov. 1, 2022, through Dec. 31, 2023, all agricultural employers are required to pay their workers overtime after 60 hours. In 2024, that changes to 56 hours for highly seasonal employers, 54 hours for non-highly seasonal employers, and 56 hours for small employers. By 2025, most farmworkers would be entitled to overtime pay after 48 hours.

Catlin said he opposed the farm labor law bill, and said it would create the need for farm operators to have more crews that they can’t afford.

Affordable housing

Proposition 123 for affordable housing was discussed by candidates. The measure would require a portion of the state budget to be spent on affordable housing initiatives.

Kuns and McLachlan support it.

Catlin said he helped to pass an affordable housing bill that allow communities with lodgers taxes to decide where it can be spent on, including for affordable housing projects.

Shaw was against Proposition 123, and said available resources should be used to address the housing shortages. For example, she proposed turning the closed Manaugh School in Cortez into affordable, efficiency apartments for teachers.