There has been a considerable amount of discussion in political circles over the last few days regarding what constitutes a mandate for winners of electoral races.
According to Wikipedia, a mandate in politics is “the authority granted by a constituency to act as its representative. The concept of a government having a legitimate mandate to govern via the fair winning of a democratic election is a central idea of representative democracy.”
By that definition, any legitimate victory equates to a mandate. And by that same definition, Park County District 2 Commissioner Richard Elsner, who easily defeated challenger Richie Frangiosa by garnering almost two-thirds of the 10,718 votes cast, more or less received a mandate and-a-half on Election Day.
Elsner discussed his recent victory Nov. 9 in an interview with The Flume, and also discussed the challenges ahead for Park County as he enters his second four-year term.
“I haven’t been shy about how I feel about a lot of different issues, and I think voters know where I stand,” Elsner said. “So it was very gratifying to receive sixty-five percent of the vote.”
Issues that mattered to voters
When asked what issues he felt were the most critical to Park County voters and his recent re-election, Elsner said he believed his efforts in protecting Park County’s environment, and modifying the language of land use regulations to make them more understandable and flexible were pivotal factors in his victory.
Elsner asserted, as he did in a debate moderated by The Flume Oct. 6, that the use of recreational vehicles by those from urban areas on Park County’s public land has been detrimental, and that protecting Park County from the damage done by recreational vehicles is essential.
“In high-elevation areas, especially, it takes a long time to recover from the damage done by recreational vehicles,” Elsner noted. “I often hear Park County residents say they want fewer recreational vehicles up here, but rarely, if ever, do I hear them say they want more.”
More and more often, it seems, Park County commissioners are asked to render decisions on issues pitting recreational interests against wildlife and environmental interests. Elsner indicated that his focus will continue to be on the protection of Park County’s environment, wildlife species and natural resources, rather than the interests of recreational vehicle enthusiasts who generally hail from urban areas such as Denver and Colorado Springs.
Elsner mentioned that commissioners would be considering a proposal this week that would place cross-country skiers in bighorn sheep habitat, and that commissioners once again will be asked to make a decision weighing the interests of each.
One particular hot-button topic for Bailey-area voters was Colorado Department of Transportation’s proposal to remove the traffic light at the intersection of U.S. Highway 285 and Park County Road 43A. Elsner’s opponent insisted that the removal of the light would be detrimental to local businesses and vehemently opposed CDOT’s proposal.
Elsner, on the other hand, never directly stated opposition to the removal of the light during his campaign – much to the apparent chagrin of some voters.
“CDOT stated when they put the light in that location that it was temporary, and that it would eventually be removed,” Elsner said. “CDOT is going to do what CDOT is going to do, so I believe the goal should be to influence and work with them to improve the plan more to the liking of Park County residents and businesses.”
When asked whether he was absolutely opposed to the light’s removal, he said “probably not,” but went on to say that he believes access off Park County Road 72 should be much safer and easier after the light’s removal and pointed out that those entering U.S. Highway 285 from Park County Road 43A will no longer have to stop for the light under CDOT’s plan. Elsner also noted that CDOT has announced that it is planning an additional survey and a preliminary design for the construction of a road from Arcadia Road (in front of Dynamic Properties) to Park County Road 72.
“The focus should be on developing a partnership with CDOT to make the plan more optimal, and to make the situation better,” Elsner said. “Counties that simply oppose CDOT’s plans without offering alternatives or developing a good working relationship have not benefitted from that approach. The idea is to help CDOT develop a better plan, and to mitigate any adverse impact the plan might have.”
Finally, with regard to the removal of the existing traffic light, Elsner implied that he might feel differently if he thought businesses around Park County Road 43A would be negatively impacted in a significant way by CDOT’s proposal, but that ultimately he does not expect the impact of the light’s removal to be as detrimental as some have been led to believe.
According to Elsner, transforming U.S. Highway 285 into a four-lane thoroughfare from Richmond Hill Road in Conifer to Bailey – considered by many to be the only viable solution to problems plaguing U.S. Highway 285 – would carry a price tag of about $300 million.
Throughout the planning process, Elsner has been in constant contact with CDOT officials and has had numerous face-to-face meetings with them as a means of altering the plan more to the liking of local residents and business owners.
The challenges ahead
First and foremost, according to Elsner, the biggest challenge currently facing Park County is the survival of local businesses amid the ongoing COVID-19 public health crisis.
“Keeping our businesses open and surviving COVID-19 is our biggest challenge at the moment,” Elsner said. “Grant money through the CARES Act has helped, but it is really important that we help any way we can in getting our businesses back up and running so they have a chance to get through the winter season.”
The commissioner also identified the lack of affordable housing in Park County as another immediate challenge.
“Developing partnerships with entities such as Habitat for Humanity will be important, and they have recently provided a $40,000 grant to assist with adding more affordable housing,” Elsner said. “But much more needs to be done, and we need more teachers because they are having a hard time finding affordable housing here. So hopefully we can make more progress soon where that is concerned.”
Elsner believes land use topics will also be vitally important during the span of his second term, and again, the continued development of partnerships with entities outside of Park County will be a primary focus for him and his colleagues.
“People need to know that land use issues require much more than internal meetings between commissioners, and that working closely with state legislators, the Upper Arkansas Council of Governments and neighboring counties is all part of the bigger picture,” Elsner said. “If you don’t make yourself visible, and don’t become a part of the regional discussion, then you can get left behind.”