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Grand Junction Mayor Anna Stout doesn’t get angry when people paint her Western Slope Colorado city as a hotbed of conspiracy theorists, election deniers and Jan. 6 insurrectionists.
“It saddens me for my community, because this is the perception, not just across the state, and not even just across the country,” Stout told the Colorado Times Recorder in a phone interview. “I’ve had friends from other countries send me article links and say, ‘Hey, this is what’s happening in your community. These are your representatives.’”
Stout, a 39-year-old Democrat who grew up in Grand Junction, is a business owner, nonprofit founder and interpreter who has served as mayor since 2019. She’s seeking the Democratic nomination in 2024 to challenge Republican U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert – a notorious 2020 election denier. Stout has full faith in Colorado’s election systems and most of the county clerks who seamlessly execute the state’s national gold standard in free and fair elections.
But how about indicted former Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters, who’s accused of tampering with voting machines in a failed and possibly illegal bid to prove nonexistent 2020 election fraud?
“She’s certainly an exception, yes, and I think that it has been really frustrating to watch my community, my county be part of these election deniers that are undermining our entire democratic system,” Stout said of Peters, who faces a state trial in February. “It saddens me because that’s not painting the right picture of Grand Junction or kind of the greater Grand Junction area. I guess you may turn around and say, ‘Well, look at the votes.’”
Peters’ misguided, Mike Lindell-backed election-fraud efforts came in a county where Boebert beat Democrat Diane Mitsch Bush by nearly 28 percentage points in 2020, catapulting the Republican gun-rights enthusiast (particularly for the purpose of overthrowing a tyrannical federal government) and at least conspiracy-theory-adjacent conservative into federal office.
“But this is not Conspiracy Theory Land over here as a general rule,” Stout said. “Grand Junction is not filled with people who genuinely believe that 2020 was a stolen election, or that our democratic elections process is illegitimate. It does a disservice to us and what’s kind of real at the root of Grand Junction and what makes this place so great.”
Soon after her election, in late December, 2020, Boebert tweeted, “Who is going to be in DC on January 6th to stand with President Donald Trump?” And, on Jan. 6, 2021, just before a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol to stop the constitutionally mandated certification of Biden as president, Boebert tweeted “Today is 1776”. Hours after the deadly attack, despite a lack of evidence of widespread voter fraud, Boebert voted not to certify President Joe Biden’s victory.
Asked if the 2020 election of Biden was fair and legitimate and whether those who tried to stop the Electoral College certification of Biden engaged in an insurrection, Stout didn’t hesitate.
“My answer to both of those is yes, hard stop, no explanation needed,” Stout said. “The strength of our democracy is completely reliant on the strength of our institutions, and if our institutions are shaky or are questioned or being put through these significant stress tests, then our democracy is at risk. We need to without question know that when votes are cast and votes are counted, whatever the results of those votes are, they will be honored, and there will be an appropriate transition of power when transition is meant to happen.”
A campaign spokesman for Boebert did not respond to a request for comment on this topic. Grand Junction attorney and local business leader Jeff Hurd, a Republican seeking the nomination to challenge Boebert in the primary election, also did not provide any comments for this story despite numerous emails, texts, and phone calls with his campaign.
In the 2022 election, Boebert won Grand Junction and surrounding Mesa County by a smaller but still substantial margin of 16 percentage points over Democrat Adam Frisch of Aspen, who also lost the district-wide race by a mere 546 votes, or just .5%. Compare that to Mitsch Bush’s overall loss to Boebert in 2020 by a district-wide margin of just over six percentage points.
Frisch, a former Aspen City Council member and housing advocate who worked for 12 years in the financial markets in New York City, eight of them as a trader, is again seeking the Democratic nomination to challenge Boebert in 2024. He leads Boebert in both early polling and fundraising so far this year.
In a phone interview with the Colorado Times Recorder, the 56-year-old addressed an Aug. 31 Axios story headlined “Adam Frisch won’t support President Biden in 2024”.
“I think they threw in a little bit of an inflammatory headline,” Frisch said. “My comment was, ‘I’m part of the 75% of the country that is very, very frustrated that we might get a rematch [between GOP frontrunner Trump and incumbent Biden], and let’s see who is going to be sitting there at the end of the spring and the summer, whether on the Democrat or Republican [ballot].’ And so I’m just trying to focus on CD3. That’s what I’m trying to do.”
Pressed on whether a second Trump presidency would be dangerous for American democracy and if Frisch still supports some of Biden’s policy victories, such as the bipartisan infrastructure bill and the renewable energy spending in the Inflation Reduction Act — which he previously indicated he would have voted for — Frisch had this to say:
“I agree, there’s a right for people to be concerned about how this thing goes off, but for my part, I’m focused on making sure this district gets someone who’s actually a real representative because we haven’t had one since Lauren Boebert was put in office in January of 2021.”
Colorado’s massive and mostly rural 3rd Congressional District, stretching from Pueblo to Grand Junction, now leans nine points Republican after redistricting, with the majority of voters unaffiliated. That made Frisch’s near miss last year all the more surprising, and in part explains his conservative stance on some issues, such as fossil fuel production.
“The vast majority of people from Telluride to Meeker, they want people playing between the two 40-yard lines,” Frisch said. “That is where people are going. For 25 years I’ve said, ‘If there was a get-stuff-done party, I’d be in that party, just as a citizen voter.’ People are sick and tired of the [extreme partisan political] circus.”
With last year’s overturning of Roe v. Wade by the Trump-packed U.S. Supreme Court, Frisch said he’s hearing a libertarian take on the issue from CD3 voters.
“They do not want the government, whether it’s local city council, state legislatures, or people in federal office, dictating how anybody, especially women, control their healthcare conversations,” said Frisch, who has been personally attacked by Boebert on reproductive rights. “I’m meeting a lot of people, more and more people, who are not supportive of abortion, the process — it gives them trouble — but they do not want the government involved in other people’s lives.”
As the only woman still in the race challenging Boebert and her extreme views on abortion, Stout says she expects the trend of women voters flexing their electoral majority muscle at the polls will continue in 2024. She agrees it’s “not the government’s role to tell a person what they can or can’t do with their body.” For Stout, it’s a matter of maintaining basic freedoms.
“The word freedom has become a dog whistle on the other side,” Stout said. “And as long you’re framing freedom around bans — banning abortion, banning books, banning drag shows, banning gas stoves or whatever it is — we get into these extreme places of telling people how to live, and we’ve walked away from this concept of freedom.”
Russ Andrews of Carbondale, a 68-year-old financial advisor, former engineer and conservative radio commentator who’s also seeking the GOP nomination to primary Boebert, told the Aspen Times in September that he believes abortion should be legal up until 22 weeks of pregnancy, although “I don’t mean to sound like one of those men telling women what they can and can’t do with their bodies.”
As for the Jan. 6 insurrection and whether Biden was freely and fairly elected and Trump is a danger to democracy, Andrews immediately went to the Black Lives Matter nationwide protests the summer before against the murder by Minneapolis police of George Floyd and the overall higher incidents of police violence against people of color.
“A lot of attention gets paid to Jan. 6, but let’s not forget that there were 29 people that were killed during the George Floyd riots, tens of billions of dollars of damage, more than 2,000 police were injured,” Andrews told the Colorado Times Recorder in a phone interview. “And yet Jan. 6 is what gets all of the attention.”
Those numbers are disputed, with the vast majority of protesters peacefully demonstrating against police killing black people at a higher percentage rate than white people in America. The overall number of deaths attributed to political violence approached Andrews’ estimate, but less than half were reportedly at BLM protests – and none of those involved attacking Congress.
Andrews argues BLM protesters weren’t killed by police but by other protestors. He doesn’t think capitol police would have reacted more forcefully if BLM protesters or Antifa had been storming the Capitol to stop an election certification: “In fact, the one person that was killed by a cop during all that was on Jan. 6 was an unarmed woman [Ashli Babbitt] in the Capitol.”
Babbitt was trying to break into the House chamber to attack members of Congress.
“Yeah, I grant you that,” Andrews said of Babbitt, adding he fully condemns the attack on the Capitol to stop the certification of the Electoral Count victory by Biden in the 2020 election – an attack that has Trump facing state and federal felony election-interference charges.
“Was it a bad thing? You’re darn right, it was,” Andrews said. “Was it a horrible event? Absolutely. Did Donald Trump have the election stolen from him? Absolutely not. Donald Trump lost the election because of his big mouth.”
Editor’s note: This story first appeared on the Colorado Times Recorder website.