Updated: June 1, 2012 at 12:00 am
Anger, animosity and distrust have permeated the Republican primary race for El Paso County Commissioner District 3 between incumbent Sallie Clark and political newcomer Karen Magistrelli.
Clark is seeking a third four-term — that itself is a hot-button issue — while Magistrelli joined the race after squaring off with Clark and other commissioners in a three-year battle about personal land-use rights. Magistrelli won that fight on Sept. 22, with Clark one of the dissenting votes in a 3-2 decision.
“Sallie tried to take away our land rights but was overruled,” Magistrelli said. “I will never forget that. I felt someone had to run against her and win.”
After Magistrelli stunned even herself by gaining 55 percent of the delegates’ votes at the county assembly March 24, this race got uglier. Clark and her supporters went on the attack, dredging up information about Magistrelli’s checkered past that includes state and county investigations that led to Magistrelli surrendering her foster care license nearly 17 years ago.
Clark supporters have criticized Magistrelli — both privately and at community functions Magistrelli attended — for having a convicted sex offender second her nomination at the assembly. Magistrelli defends that choice and her nonprofit enterprise that helps convicted felons reenter society.
“I’m running a race like I always run a race,” said Clark, who has served on Colorado Springs City Council and lost a race for mayor. “I’m working hard, rolling up my sleeves. I’m always accountable to voters, and to my constituents.”
Clark, who serves on a multitude of boards ranging from regional transportation to social services to the National Association of Counties, is in stark contrast to Magistrelli, an admitted novice in politics and government.
“It’s a very complicated job,” Magistrelli said of being commissioner. “I think I can be brought up to speed very quickly. I think we need new approaches and new energy.”
She said her win at the assembly suggests voters agree.
“The differences between us have to be pretty big for me to win at assembly,” Magistrelli said. “I had no money, no supporters, no experience. People see I want to represent the individual voter and I want to simplify government. We have too many regulations.”
Magistrelli claims Clark relies on too much matching state and federal money to help fund local programs and roads. Clark doesn’t see that as a negative.
“I take pride in getting things done,” Clark said. “My city council experience is beneficial in accomplishing things. I am good at building relationships and solving problems.”
Clark said she’s excited about the possibility of serving four more years.
“I’ve got a lot of projects in the queue that I want to finish,” she said. “There’s the Cimarron and I-25 interchange, the far westside improvements called No Man’s Land, Rainbow Falls, the conservation easement at Bear Creek Park. These issues are relevant to my neighborhood.”
An issue that Magistrelli has hammered is the 2010 ballot question that extended commissioner term limits from two to three. County officials used ballot language that passed in Weld County for the same issue, though many local voters later called the question confusing.
“We took an unusual step, rarely seen,” Clark said, “and put that issue on the ballot again in 2012.”
Magistrelli, in an e-mail, referred to Clark’s “hidden backroom shenanigans” and called it a “deceptive ballot initiative.”
“Integrity is huge,” Magistrelli said. “The ballot issue has not gone away. Many people I speak with have not forgotten and wish they had voted the other way. I’m hearing a lot of anger with our current commissioner.”
So the question is, will voters prefer Clark, who boasts experience and connections, or Magistrelli, who promises fresh ideas.
Contact Bob Stephens: 636-0276 Twitter @bobgstephens
Facebook Gazette Bob Stephens