La Plata County has its first contested race for the Board of County Commissioners.
Charly Minkler, a longtime La Plata County resident who has also served on the county’s Planning Commission the past four years, announced he will run as an unaffiliated candidate for the District 3 seat in November 2020.
In May, Bayfield Mayor Matt Salka, a Democrat, announced his candidacy for the district seat, which includes the Bayfield, Ignacio and Vallecito areas, though elections are countywide.
The seat is currently held by Commissioner Julie Westendorff, a Democrat who was first elected in 2012 and again in 2016, but is term-limited.
Minkler, 63, grew up outside Denver and moved to La Plata County in 1982. He “married into ag,” he likes to say, after he met and married his wife more than 30 years ago. Since, he has run the Stone Peak Ranch east of Ignacio, raising hay and boarding horses commercially.
Minkler also started his own construction business, Stone Peak Construction. He is former president of the Homebuilders Association of Southwest Colorado, involved in La Plata Civil Dialogue and serves as president of the La Plata County Farm Bureau.
Minkler said after joining the Planning Commission more than four years ago, he became aware of the rural-urban divide in La Plata County. He said he wanted to run for the commission after being part of La Plata Civil Dialogue, which brings residents together to talk about their concerns and issues.
“You don’t always have to agree, but you can come to an understanding,” he said. “In the spirit of all that, I thought maybe it’s time to have someone on the county commission that is nonpartisan, so that’s why I’m running unaffiliated.”
Minkler said it will be hard running without a party, especially when fundraising for his campaign. But he said it sends a message to voters that he is not out to please a party line. Instead, he wants residents to know he is serving the community.
“I feel like it’s fairer to residents of the county to be nonpartisan and have their best interest at heart,” said Minkler, adding he leans conservative.
According to voting records with the Clerk & Recorder’s Office, Minkler was a registered Republican dating back to at least 2002. He switched his party affiliation in 2010 to the American Constitution Party, a minor party, before switching in 2018 to unaffiliated.
The county’s dwindling budget and land-use code overhaul stand as the most pressing issues, Minkler said. He supports revising the code to make it easier for businesses to come to La Plata County, and in turn, that might help alleviate a disappearing budget.
“We’re kind of an anomaly in La Plata County,” he said. “I think we need more money in our county to run the government better, but at the same time, the residents have continually turned down tax increases. So it’s a challenge.”
With the current county commissioners being all Democrats, Minkler said he hopes he appeals to the rural and agricultural side of the community that may feel unrepresented. But, he also said growing up outside Denver, he understands urban-suburban issues.
La Plata County Clerk & Recorder Tiffany Parker said an unaffiliated candidate has never been elected as a county commissioner.
“I think the time is right (for an unaffiliated candidate),” Minkler said. “I think people are tired of party politics.”
Salka, for his part, pointed to his ability to represent both town and rural residents as mayor of Bayfield. Salka was elected mayor in 2016 and his term is up in 2020. He owns an information technology and pest control business.
“I’m there for them, not for myself,” Salka said. “You look at things from all different angles, not just Republican or Democratic. I’m here for the people.”
Minkler said if elected, he would likely step back from his construction business and resign as president of the La Plata County Farm Bureau to meet the needs of a full-time county commissioner. He will hold an announcement event at 10 a.m. Saturday at the La Plata County Fairgrounds Extension Office, 2500 Main Ave..
As of Wednesday, District 3 was the only contested county race for November 2020.
Only Marsha Porter-Norton has announced a bid for the District 2 seat, which is currently held by Commissioner Gwen Lachelt, a Democrat, who is also term-limited.