Economy on Jeffco candidates' agendas

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Jeffco Economic Development Corp. brings hopefuls together to talk business

By Vicky Gits

The economy and the climate for Jeffco businesses were discussed by 11 political hopefuls from across the county last Friday morning at a candidates forum sponsored by the Jefferson County Economic Development Corp.

The forum, at the Holiday Inn at Wadsworth Boulevard and U.S. 285, was attended by about 50 people.

As might be expected, the discussion focused largely on what the candidates have accomplished in the business world and how much they are committed to improving conditions in the business sector.

State House candidate Mary Parker of Littleton, a Democrat, has significant business credentials. Not only is she a working mom with four grown daughters, she is owner with her husband of a human-resources consulting firm. Before that she was a systems analyst with Hewlett-Packard for 21 years before moving to Colorado. "I know what happens when jobs are outsourced," Parker said.

In her self-introduction, Parker mentioned she also works as a court-appointed special advocate in Jefferson County with abused and neglected children.

Parker launched her first campaign for elected office in House District 22 this spring by challenging herself to knock on 20,000 doors. So far she has visited 14,000 homes, she said. She is a member of the planning and strategy committee for Jeffco Public Schools and is a former president of her HOA. One of her goals is to tone down the level of nastiness in politics. "I feel that politics have gotten too partisan," Parker said. "The atmosphere has become toxic."

Parker's opponent, Justin Everett, the longtime South Jeffco Republican figure and former president of COHOPE, did not make an appearance at the forum.

County commission race

John Odom, who is running for Jefferson County commissioner in District 2, was not able to attend, but he sent a stand-in, Ben Engen, who described himself as a friend who was also on the vacancy committee that interviewed Odom for the commissioner vacancy after Kevin McCasky resigned to become president of the EDC.

A Jefferson County native, Odom is a businessman who years ago opened a coffee shop in China and has high regard for personal property rights, his stand-in said. Odom believes that what sets America apart are its strong legal protections for property and contracts, he said. "Here's a man who says your property should be yours to develop as you see fit."

He described Odom as a business booster who once purchased airtime at a charity auction and used it to run an advertising campaign encouraging businesses to move to Jefferson County. "That's the kind of guy John is, always looking for creative ways to improve life in Jefferson County."

Odom's opponent in District 2, Democrat Casey Tighe, stressed his experience as director of the audit department at CDOT and as a law school graduate and commercial attorney for three years before that.

If elected, he promised to bring more efficiency and responsiveness to county government.

"I would like to find ways to streamline activities to make the county more efficient. It's important that the public views its interaction with government with a positive feeling. You have to constantly review your processes and provide good customer service," Tighe said.

State Senate District 22

The two contenders for state senator from District 22 both happen to have backgrounds in public service. Middle school teacher Andy Kerr, currently the state representative in House District 26, stressed the importance of maintaining a great school system.

"(In Jefferson County) we have great geography and a great school system,” Kerr said. “This is an atmosphere we should continue to build on, which is why I'm supporting 3A and 3B.”

Jeffco Public Schools is asking voters in the November election to approve a tax increase in ballot measures 3A and 3B.

Republican Ken Summers, executive director of an alcohol and drug treatment recovery program, said the focus needs to be on infrastructure and educational opportunities.

"Community colleges are the unsung heroes of our educational system," Summers said. "Strong communities have a strong business base. We need to encourage people that have entrepreneurial ideas and want to move into the state."

Summers is currently serving as the elected representative from House District 22.

In the question-and-answer session, Preston Gibson, former president of the Jeffco Economic Development Corp., challenged legislators to deal with education as a major factor in business relocation.

"Higher education keeps taking the hit,” Gibson said. “We are likely to see a continued decline, and Medicaid is going to expand. Do you continue to cut higher education, when we have already taken all we can out of it?"

Contact Vicky Gits at vicky@evergreenco.com or 303-933-2233, ext. 22.