Rightsell Named New Democratic Chair, Barker, Robinson Elected Vice-Chairs
Long a minority organization in terms of registered numbers, Hinsdale County’s venerable Democratic Party has experienced a recent spike in membership, the number of registered Democrats in the county expanding from just 119 the final week of January, to a total of 124 who are reported registered by Hinsdale County Clerk Joan Roberts as of Tuesday this week.
That infusion of new vitality was also evident at Monday evening’s biennial reorganization meeting which was attended by a record 19 individuals, a number of whom proudly announced they are newly registered Democrats. Newcomers to the county party include former Lake City Town Administrator Michelle Pierce, who urged the party to adopt an action-oriented plan at the local, regional and national levels “aimed at restoring and protecting our civil liberties, our public lands, our access to health care, and our environment.” Pierce was joined in the audience by other, long-term county Democrats, including Gretchen Barker who told the vitalized crowd, “I am energized and never readier to fight.”
Among those in the audience during the election of a new party chairperson and officers was Lake City resident Mary Nettleton who quietly sat in the front row busily knitting a pink power hat. From her seat, Nettleton said “my mind is racing” envisioning a pro-active non-partisan voter register drive which will occur in coming months. The drive will be coordinated with other community events and could potentially include collaboration with the local Republican Party and a school component in terms of a civic lesson-like event.
The business portion of Monday’s reorganization meeting consisted of the unanimous election of a new county party chairperson, political newcomer Jennifer Rightsell, replacing Bill Broadhead, who became chair with the resignation of Gudron Durmon over a year ago.
Rightsell, a Wisconsin native, first became acquainted with Lake City while attending Western State College in Gunnison. She received a degree in English/Journalism in 1996 and first lived in Lake City 1997 through 2000. She and her husband, Donny Rightsell, later moved to Colorado Springs but returned to Lake City with their three children, Monique, Shayla, and Riley, in 2015. She works as Office Manager and Production Coordinator for SILVER WORLD.
Following nomination and unanimous election on Monday, Rightsell observed, “This is a position that needed to be filled, and I felt I needed to do something… I couldn’t just keep sitting around feeling bleak about what’s happening in our country.”
In addition to Rightsell, other new Hinsdale County Democratic officers are Lake City residents Carol Robinson, who was elected party first vice-chairperson replacing Crystal Brown, and Gretchen Barker, the party’s second vice-chairperson.
Rightsell, Robinson and Barker join Grant Houston and Lorie Stewart who were respectively re-elected party secretary and treasurer. In her report, Treasurer Stewart stated $55.56 in the party’s coffers, depleted last year by $400 which was contributed by the local party to the Colorado Democratic Party and local Democratic candidates.
Monday’s reorganization meeting was chaired by past County Democratic Chairman Henry Woods who opened the 6 p.m. meeting with an exclamation. “Wow!,” Woods exclaimed, “this is more people than I’ve ever witnessed at a Hinsdale County Democratic Party meeting.” The crowd was energized by a letter read by Woods, written by Dave Sabados, candidate for the first Vice Chair for the Colorado Democratic Party.
Prior to accepting nominations and election of officers, Woods opened the floor to audience comments, among them Pierce, a long-time unaffiliated voter in Hinsdale County who said she had made the decision to register as a Democrat earlier in the day.
In addition to nearly 28 years work for Town of Lake City, Pierce’s credentials include ongoing local membership on the Gunnison Basin Water Round Table. In her statement, Pierce cited degradation of environmental regulations which is already occurring and particularly mentioned U.S. Senator Scott Tipton, Republican incumbent, who she said should be replaced with a progressive Democrat when up for re-election in 2018.
Closing her remarks with the statement, “We want to help and we are willing to work,” Pierce noted that her goal, along with like-mined local residents, is formation of a Democratic platform which “promotes and protects equality in all its forms and aggressively addresses the serious, almost out of control threats to our environment. This includes those that cause climate change, that promotes health care for all our citizens as a right, that promotes public education for all of our citizens as a right, and that embraces and supports our working class citizens in an effective and meaningful way.”
Others making a passionate address at the Democratic meeting included Jodi Linsey who urged an inclusive approach to expand impacts of the local Democratic Party. She specifically mentioned inclusion of “people who have not been welcomed in the Democratic Party in the past, “among these, pro-life advocates and evangelicals. “We need everyone in this effort to rebuild the Democratic Party,” she said, referencing the outcome of the recent national election and stating “the party broke down from the top and we need to fix it from the bottom.”
Linsey recalled that she and another audience member, Cindy Nelson, had recently taken part in the Denver Women’s March and found it exceptionally empowering. She noted that some of the most effective Women’s Marches last month were in extremely small places such as Lake City where “women found their voice.”
Linsey, Nelson, Pierce and others at the Democratic meeting said they have been informally meeting in recent weeks with other like-minded friends to voice their concerns.
A direct outcome of Monday evening’s reorganization was a consensus among attendees that the pressing political situation requires more than occasional Hinsdale County Democratic Party meetings. In the past, the minimally-attended meetings have only been scheduled once or twice a year, including Democratic Caucus and Assembly which are held every other year at the start of the national, state, and local election cycles.
Monthly meetings are now envisioned with discussion already on the table for a party platform and Democratic candidates for the 2018 election. The first monthly meeting is already tenatively scheduled for Monday, March 6, location to be announced.
The 1-1/2-hour meeting concluded on a high note shortly after 7:30 p.m. Monday, new party vice chairman Gretchen Barker noting with elation, “I feel much better, we have the power… we just need to know how to use it.”
“We may be small,” she concluded, “but we’re mighty.”
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