GarCo phone survey kicks off another contentious gas patch election

Automated phone polls, anonymous mailers, big-bucks campaigning by shadowy outside interest groups – not the typical tactics of a local county commissioner race. But when it’s the top natural gas-producing county in the state, rules bend and get chucked out the window.

Monday night in Garfield County nearly 600 people got an automated phone call conducting a survey for Denver-based Magellan Strategies, a Republican polling firm. GOP commissioner candidate Tom Jankovsky Tuesday told the Colorado Independent his campaign paid for the private poll and won’t release the results.

“We did an internal poll just to kind of see where we were. It was not [paid for with] oil and gas [money]; it came out of our campaign fund,” Jankovsky said. “We’re very optimistic after seeing the results of the poll. Right now, there’s a lot of undecideds, and it looks like we’re about neck-and-neck.”

Jankovsky, the general manager of Sunlight Mountain Resort ski area just outside of Glenwood Springs, is running on a pro-business, pro-drilling platform, trying to take down Democrat Trési Houpt, who also sits on the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission [COGCC] and is popular locally for protecting the environment and public health.

“She’s a very liberal voice on that [county commission]; I just bring a more balanced approach,” Jankovsky said of his bid to join two fellow Republicans on the three-member board.

The 2008 Garfield County commissioner race was a notorious magnet for outside money, especially from the oil and gas industry, which supported the campaigns of incumbent Republicans John Martin and Mike Samson over a pair of Democratic challengers.

Some of that oil and gas money paid for inaccurate mailers that were never traced. Some of it was above board and came from Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott McInnis and the CEO of Antero Resources – a major oil and gas operator in Garfield County. Other groups failed to register and were fined by the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office.

“This particular election has some statewide implications, and so more than likely there will be outside dollars coming in,” Jankovsky said. “I know that Sierra Club and some of those dollars were out there last election for the Democrats and there were some oil and gas dollars out there for the Republicans. I just hope that we can keep to the issues and at least not have things out there that aren’t true.”

In the race this year, Houpt knows she’s carrying a double target on her back as the lone Democrat on the board and frequent voice for environmental and social concerns, as well as a COGCC board member who fought hard for the tougher oil and gas drilling regulations that some Republicans blame for a prolonged drilling slowdown. She was appointed by Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter.

“Tom and I have been friends for years, so I think he’s being sincere when he says that,” Houpt said of Jankovsky’s desire for a clean election. “If we get to the point where we always have to worry about the potential for a dirty race, we’re going to lose good people. People won’t be willing to put their families on the line like that anymore. It will be a disservice to everyone if that’s the direction that this country proceeds in.”

David Flaherty, CEO of Magellan Strategies, told the Independent that his firm also conducted private phone surveys for Republicans in the 2008 Garfield County races.

“This one’s a little different,” he said. “There’s only one race rather than two. Trési Houpt’s been around for a while now. It’s just an interesting change in environment, though, where in ’08 everything was booming, property prices were going up. There’s kind of a little bit more of a different feeling.”

But the players are still the same, Flaherty admits.

“Because it is Garfield, a lot of the folks who had an interest two years ago obviously still again have an interest. Garfield County commissioner elections are very interesting – a lot of little dynamics going on.”

According to sources who received the phone survey call Monday, here’s a paraphrased transcript:

Are you registered as a Republican, Democrat, Independent (age, sex)?

How likely are you to vote in the upcoming elections for House, Senate and Garfield County commissioner (extremely, probably, probably not)?

What county issue is most important to you: jobs, lower property taxes, economic development, the environment, unsure?

How do you view Trési Houpt or Tom Jankovsky: favorably, unfavorably, unsure?

Would you be more likely to vote for a candidate who supports the Hidden Gems Wilderness proposal, or for a candidate who opposes the Hidden Gems proposal?

Would you be more likely to vote for a candidate who will work with the oil and gas industry to create jobs and economic opportunity, or for a candidate who will work against the oil and gas industry?

What kind of candidate would you be most likely to vote for: someone who pledges to work with oil and gas, or one who is an environmental leader, or a business leader, or is it important to have both political parties represented on the board?

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