Sunday, December 27, 2009

42 years

I can hardly believe that its been more than a month since my last post--and so much has happened. So much in fact that the few times I've sat down to write, I ended up feeling overwhelmed.

I turned 42 on the 19th of December. Having a birthday triggers me to reflect on the year that I have had as well as the important relationships that are in my life. I have so many people to be thankful for, some of whom are alive right now and others who have passed on, all of whom have effected my life in different ways.

I wish I could have a conversation with my father and ask him what he thinks about this last year. He passed away about 13 years ago, he was a Vietnam Vet who didn't talk much about politics-or his military service--or really anything--he wasn't a big talker. I look at pictures now and wonder what was going on at the time and what the rest of the story is--but know that I will never really know. I can remember grumblings about the distrust of government and that we should mind our own country's business before we get involved with another's. I really don't know if he ever voted--if he was even registered to vote as a Democrat or a Republican. I do know that we would have some interesting conversations if he were around now--local politics, global politics and everything in between--at least I would hope so. He taught me a great deal of respect for rules and obedience, I wonder what he would think of my independence.

My mom is framing a picture for my birthday that we discovered of my grandfather in the Farmington, New Mexico newspaper as he is being sworn in as a town trustee in 1964. Had we not come across the yellowed newspaper by accident I would have never known about his service on the town council. I was proud to see him standing there--and wonder what was going through his mind at the time.

This has been a huge year for me and has provided me with some sure footing for next steps as 2010 begins. Having a birthday close to Christmas and the end of the year provides for some real assessment--and I have learned from every experience and am eager for the new year to bring more.

I am so glad to have great friends and many, many new acquaintances. I am sad to have lost some old friends too this year, but as I grow older that is something that just seems to be a part of life as we grow and change.

This time next year will be a big one for "independence"---an election will have passed and we may have elected La Plata County's first independent commissioner, a lawsuit will hopefully have been decided and a bill in the state legislature will have become law or at the very least, raised an awareness of the need for less partisan politics---especially as elected officials.

It is my plan to start organizing independents in the state of Colorado and working to provide an organization---not another party---that can be mobilized to support issues as well as candidates that don't seem to want to fit into an out of date mold. I have decided that for sure, no matter what happens with the lawsuit or the legislation its time to provide another choice and another way of solving our problems by working together.

Hope you had a great year, I wouldn't change a thing about mine--it was one to remember for sure!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Untenable Positions

I have been reading the online comments to the afore posted "press release" on various outlets and came across this one: "Just when I thought this ballot drama would go away, a new distraction comes in the form of a lawsuit. Now, with the pro bono help from respected counsel, Ms. Riddle can blame an unfair system for her ballot plight. Win or lose, it will not change the fact that she is fully responsible for creating her own untenable position." (County Taxpayer says on the Durango Herald online).

Now any good political advisor would tell me to not repeat "bad press", clearly I don't have a political advisor and may need to get one--- but it really got me thinking about how some people view my situation. Here, in a few words I hope to better explain.

One, I don't feel like I am in an untenable situation, I am truly glad to be where I am and take full responsibility for it. I didn't know that I had missed the deadline when I disaffiliated, because I felt like I had no other choice and couldn't continue with how things were going--and that was truly the untenable position that I found myself wanting to escape. Frankly one thing I did know was that I was loosing my passion for my job and finding myself not wanting to consider running for election again if it was to continue on those same terms. I noticed more and more how uncomfortable I was with the unwritten rules of the party do's and dont's.

As was also mentioned in a letter to the editor by Ann Markward, who I served with when I was Chair of the Democratic Executive Committee. Ann and I shared many hard-working and rewarding times together, at least from my perspective and it was tough to hear her viewpoint on this one, especially when we hadn't spoken about any of it prior to her letter. She states that "Riddle campaigned for and elected by Democrats, was expected to represent everyone in this county from a-surprise!-Democratic perspective." (Durango Herald newspaper Tuesday, 11-17-09 Letters to the editor)

Ironically enough, that was exactly what I thought I had been doing for the last three years---I thought I was representing everyone in this county from a Democratic perspective! One thing that I believed about being a Democrat was that, among other things we embraced diversity---including, but not limited to diversity of thought (Rest assured I know that there is no one party ownership of this term, but honestly in some ways the Democrats seem to have done a better job on this one recently). I also thought that the party was big enough to encompass many points on the party spectrum. I don't know if that is really true.

Bottom line, I don't know how we got so mixed up in what the "definition" of a Democrat is, but it happened. I guess becoming an independent and unaffiliating myself is my solution--and it feels like a very honest one. I will not say that one philosophy fits every issue, as is sometimes required within a party mindset. Disaffiliating and saying that party politics have no place in county government is also a solution that has helped me regain my passion for wanting to be a county commissioner and most importantly, connected me to my democracy in a way that I never could have imagined.

I may not win the lawsuit, I may not run for office again and I may not "win", but one thing I will continue to do is make decisions that I feel good about and am proud to be responsible for. I have done that in my three years of office and I want to continue to do so in a way that may help us not make assumptions about where we are or where we should be on issues ---just according to party positions.

At the end of the day I know I did the best job I could and that I listened to as many diverse perspectives as possible as well as doing extensive research into whatever subject is being considered. I think that's what counts the most and it allows me to get up the next morning and do it all over again---and enjoy it!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Press Release Announcing Lawsuit

Here is a press release that was sent out today:


November 10, 2009


Durango, CO — La Plata County Commissioner Joelle Riddle will file a federal lawsuit this week challenging the constitutionality of a state election law that imposes a heavier burden on independent candidates to obtain a place on the ballot.

The statute in question precludes an independent or unaffiliated candidate from being eligible to be nominated by petition for elective office unless they were not affiliated with any political party for one year plus 140 days before the general election, or by June 15 of this year. Riddle changed her affiliation on August 21.

While a similar statute appears to impose the same burden on major party candidates, that statute allows major parties to "opt out" of this requirement by adopting party rules to override the statute. Both major parties have taken advantage of this opt out provision and now allow a candidate to obtain the nomination of their party just as long as they have been a member of the party one year before the general election and thus providing an exemption from the 140 "additional" days required by all others.

"I seek to remedy this burden that falls unequally on small political parties and independent or unaffiliated candidates, unfairly discriminating against them and not affording them the same privileges as the major political parties. Throughout my campaign and during my three years in office, I have always maintained that partisan politics have no place in county government,” Riddle said. “I work for all citizens of La Plata County regardless of their affiliation and believe I can do so more effectively as an Independent County Commissioner and I would like an equal opportunity to be on the ballot as such.

"The Supreme Court has held that "[t]he exclusion of candidates also burdens voters' freedom of association, because an election campaign is an effective platform for the expression of views on the issues of the day, and a candidate serves as a rallying point for likeminded citizens."

"If an election law unfairly or unnecessarily burdens the citizens' political opportunity, it is unconstitutional", Riddle says.

The Commissioner invites public response to her filing the lawsuit at or or


Friday, October 9, 2009

Are we sorting?

I just finished reading the book: "The Big Sort" by Bill Bishop. It has proven to be somewhat of a guide along my journey for the last few weeks. It was given to me by a friend after he had read about my disaffiliation from the Democratic Party and it couldn't have been more timely. The book was written by a reporter with the help of a sociologist who had compiled a tremendous amount of data from recent elections. For me it explained some feelings that I had about our country and my community that I just couldn't put my finger on. I know I am over-simplifying and hope not doing too much disservice to the book---I thoroughly enjoyed it and learned a great deal.

The book is subtitled: "Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing Us Apart". It starts out with presidential election results from 1976 and the race between Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford. There is a map that demonstrates that in 1976, less than a quarter of Americans lived in places where the presidential election was a landslide. By 2004, the map drastically changes and reflects half of all voters in the United States lived in landslide counties. There is a 2nd edition out in paperback that shows the results from the 2006 elections---and although I haven't seen it, I can predict the ugly truth. Essentially our country has been going through a process moving to like-minded communities and the electoral process is becoming more predictable and more extreme to boot.

I have had many opportunities to talk with people since changing my affiliation to "independent" and the conversation almost always ends up with heads nodding in frustrated agreement at the current two-party system. I have also found many other interesting blogs and reading to satiate my desire to learn all I can about how we got to where we are and what it will take for us to evolve to the next level of our democracy. In "The Big Sort" Bill Bishop surmises that there may not be much hope for escaping our current polarizing situation and our best bet might just lie with the next generation. Being the optimist that I am, this was somewhat hard to swallow and I wonder if the way the "sort" began is the way to it's end or at least its next iteration--at the local level.

Counties across the country are a unique level of government as we are sandwiched in between municipalities and the state--and are often overlooked. As county commissioners go, we aren't mentioned much and the majority of people don't really know how important this level of government is, much less how our decisions effect their lives. I remember getting a little angry looking at the state Democratic website and under the heading "elected officials" there isn't one mention of a county commissioner---yet it's a partisan race.

I am convinced we are the best part of the elected mix. We have the ability to be so close to our constituents that at times it can seem smothering and soothing all in the same grocery store visit. When I've had a particularly challenging week I often scrounge the cupboards for forgotten cans of food for a "creative dinner" (I don't think my family would describe some of them so favorably) in order to avoid the check out line or the bread aisle. I have spoken to many elected officials who know that living so close to those one makes decisions on behalf of is often a delicate balance--and interestingly enough, one they wouldn't want.

The complex issues at hand are made more complicated when we find ourselves so far apart that we forget what we have in common---and at any given moment we can allow differences to escalate to levels of intolerance and worse---become enemies.

For this reason I think the concept of "The Big Sort" is even more powerful. Every day in my job I see the value of diversity of thought and overall respect for differences. I have learned that when I truly listen and attempt to understand the commonalities are revealed and opportunities begin to emerge. When we loose the ability to listen to each other and remain open-minded, we and our decisions loose out on the best that we have to offer by way of solutions. I remember telling one member of our local Democratic Executive Committee when asked why I didn't just vote the way they wanted, that I would always look for compromises to achieve our goals and ways to move forward---but that I would never give in and do something that I felt wasn't in the best interest of our community. Giving in and compromising are two very different things. An elected official once told me that no matter what, you ultimately have to live with yourself---something no one else really has to do and you have to be true to what you think is right. Pretty good advice, I'd say.

This independent thing is turning out to be vast and expansive--and I love exploring it. For me, it's thought provoking, uncharted territory that gets to the root of our democracy. I belong here because there are no boundaries and nothing for me to fit into---just a lot of room to move around in. No wonder democracy is so difficult to master, it seems to require a level of authenticity that takes work and is sometimes uncomfortable---but seems to be so worth it in the end and would we really want it any other way?

Sunday, September 27, 2009

A very busy week and a bike ride

This week was extremely full of important things.

Monday started with the "Bringing Health Home" conference in Pueblo sponsored by The Colorado Health Foundation and The Adams Group. The conference brought together several best practice examples of many communities who have managed to tackle the health care issue in very creative and successful ways. There were several teams from many different areas across Colorado. I had the privilege of attending with Julie Thompson, Missy Rodey and Karen Zink. It provided us with even more ideas of what might further advance the work of the Health Services Steering Committee (HSSC) and other groups that have been working on health care in our community. Julie Thompson, who has been compiling data and taking surveys should be close to a recommendation of action steps for our community. I am certain it will be a multi-pronged approach and will involve community desires as well as proven models. It will provide us with some clear direction for moving forward in addressing our primary care needs, as well as other areas in need of improvement. There is some great information available via the Colorado Health Foundation's website: This organization is a huge asset to our state and has not only provided our community with great resources through research and funding, it also works to promote the important role of public health in our communities.

The conference ended on Tuesday, which gave me just enough time to get home to welcome folks to our first annual breakfast report of 4CORE (The 4 Corners Office of Resource Efficiency). LPEA graciously hosted us and Aileen Tracy, the Executive Director did a great job of presenting the first-year of success for this important organization. We had members of the Durango City Council, the Board of Directors for LPEA as well as all three county commissioners and representatives from BP and the town of Ignacio. Southwest Sustainability Alliance have been strong advocates for more energy efficiency in our community and continue to be very active in the work of this diverse board of directors. We feel very fortunate to have a group of committed people who are all interested in hearing the various ideas and opinions about ways in which we can balance the energy needs as well as increase efficiencies in our region. In fact through 4CORE's great collaborative approach and direct funding awards from the Governor's Energy Office as well as others, at least 65 new jobs will be created and more than 2 million dollars have been brought into the region. This plus all of the amazing returns on the initial investment made by our community in a number of ways. Check out more at:

Wednesday morning lead into a meeting with CSU Extension Director, Darrin Parmenter as we have been working hard to make sure that we have the staff and resources available to help continue the great 4-H program and other extension services that we have in our community. We have some good news in that we have come up with a good compromise and will retain our local collaborative effort. We will hear in the next few weeks about a funding agreement to find a replacement for Bob Salzar (he is already missed as he heads into the sunset of retirement), It looks like we have a good proposed plan in place to be considered. I am sure that we will see an agreement before the BoCC for consideration in the coming weeks. You can find out more about extension programs at:

Thursday started with a breakfast with the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission ( as they held their regular meeting in Pagosa Springs on Friday. We met with several of the commissioners prior to their tour of the area that included a visit to the Southern Ute Reservation and their "picket fence" along the outcrop of the San Juan Basin.

I then headed over to the Durango Recreation Center for a pep rally for our local "It's About Kids" Network. There were many partnering organizations and agencies represented in attendance as well as a letter read on behalf of State Representative and State Senate Candidate, Ellen Roberts who has been a strong advocate. This organization does a stellar job of working to increase the for the the kids of Colorado. They keep folks updated on potential legislation that may be beneficial and or potentially harmful to our youth. Our local organization has seen many accomplishments as they partner with the Colorado Children's Campaign (

Their mission:
  • Represent the needs of children at the state capitol
  • Build public awareness about key issues
  • Gather and analyze data to support local needs and coordinate a statewide grassroots
    advocacy network to influence legislative decisions
  • Develop coalitions of diverse groups and help them create a shared vision
It was great to hear about their success and plans for this legislative session and to see the many supporters. I know that they have just hired a local coordinator and are always interested in finding more people to work with them in their grassroots advocacy network.

Later on Thursday, we had the board meeting for the San Juan Basin Health Department in Pagosa Springs. We continue to hear about the planning efforts for H1N1 and ways that our community is preparing. You can find out how you can prevent the spread by going to: There you can also see the many other programs that they provide in our community. We have set up two subcommittees, one to work on the budget needs as well as one to work on strategic planning and the community assessment. We have accomplished much, but are still in the process of finding a better way to break down the programs into how much they cost, who benefits and what the results are related to improving the public health in our community.

Friday was the COGCC meeting that I mentioned earlier in Pagosa Springs. There were many in attendance and the commission discussed the statewide permitting process and methods for tracking as well as new water studies and other issues relating to oil and gas development in the state. We are fortunate to have many people in our local community who are experts in this field and do a good job of always trying to balance the economics and benefit of extraction with the public health and safety as well as our environment. We know it is a benefit to our community to have this huge resource and must continue to find balance in this often complex, technical and specialized arena of our county. I listed the website earlier in my comments for the COGCC and here is our local Natural Resources team within the Planning Department. There are some good resources available on this site as well.

Phew! I really needed that bike ride up La Plata Canyon today! The fall colors are spectacular and it reminded me of why I love to work as a county commissioner---one of the reasons is: I truly love where I live.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Annual La Plata Dems Picnic

I went to the annual La Plata Dems picnic yesterday with a good friend of mine. I know that several people were surprised to see me in attendance, and I can appreciate that in light of recent changes. I wanted to attend and let people know that even though I may not be affiliated with the party any longer, I care about the people and the issues. There were many candidate speeches and a special "roasting" of former State Senator Jim Isgar. It was especially nice to hear from Jim as he spoke very humbly about what he had accomplished during his time in office. It was amazing to hear about the number of bills that he had sponsored and the people with whom he worked closely. One of them was Jack Taylor, a Republican. Jim said that he knew if he had both of them supporting a bill the likelihood of it passing successfully was greatly increased.

One of the things that sparked my interested in politics was because of Jim Isgar---and Mark Larson. I met both of them while at my former job and witnessed the good work they did together as a Democrat and a Republican team of sponsors that took the best of differing opinions and came to compromises that made a difference in our community. I can look back now and be thankful that this was the norm that I was exposed to and it made a lasting impression upon me.

Tonight I also had the opportunity to listen in to a conference call with Jackie Salit, who is a cofounder of the Committee for a Unified Independent Party (CUIP)--and The call discussed unity (or the lack thereof) in our country right now. There were some interesting statistics mentioned like the fact that 40% of American voters are independent, and that number grew by 10% after the last election. I have found some of the conversations and articles on this website very interesting and hopefully others will as well.
That's all for now---thanks for reading!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Am I being mistaken for Diana DeGette?

So today in the Telegraph, it stated in the "Quick'n'Dirty" section, third paragraph down under the "Scott Graham vies for commission" section it reads: "In sharp contrast to Riddle, he noted that the safety and security of La Plata County's drinking water supplies-municipal as well as rural-currently are threatened by proposed natural gas drilling and the potential pumping of hydraulic-fracturing chemicals. Plans to drill in the nearby Perins Peak State Wildlife Area, a mere half mile away from the streams that could contaminate Durango's Drinking water, are of particular concern to Graham."

Okay, so here I have the opportunity to make a choice after reading this little snippet. Do I just ignore that allegation and hope that most people would think it ridiculous (because it is really) or shall I respond? I have been of the opinion that it's best to not respond to some things--but the blog-thing somehow seems different, so here's what I think. I may veer around a bit, but I'll come back to that quote.

I was out riding my bike tonight and I got to wondering about how many people have contacted Representative DeGette urging their support of her hydraulic fracturing bill. She has introduced the bill every congress since 2005 and hasn't moved it forward. As a county commissioner, I had the ability to vote in favor of a nonbinding resolution urging the support of this bill---NOT voting literally for or against this legislation. Hence, my question: Am I being mistaken for Diana DeGette? Do some people think that I have more authority than I really do? It seems that, in some people's mind, the issue of hydraulic fracturing has turned into something that I alone have control over and that my vote on a nonbinding resolution in favor of Federal Legislation would have caused the bill to magically work its way through both the House and Senate and be turned into law. ("nonbinding" is exactly what it says: meaning that our local vote would have little to no effect on the actual passage of this bill - it's up to Congress to do that!- not a board of county commissioners!- for Pete sakes!) I feel like some people will blame me for the demise of this bill, should that occur. I know that may seem a little far fetched, but I really think so. To put it another way, it seems that certain members in our community think that I could have voted this into law on July 14th--which is really far from the truth.

I would like to ask Representative DeGette if people are contacting her about this proposed legislation, but when attempting to email her I was turned away for not having a zip code that is within her district. How many people from La Plata County have contacted her or Representative Salazar, and our other federal legislators? I know that I have had many people tell me that this is important to them (and many more who haven't said anything at all) I just hope they are telling the people with the authority to act upon it and move it forward or suggest another way to approach the issue. I have urged Governor Ritter and both Senator Udall and Congressman Salazar to help problem solve the current situation.

As far as my jurisdiction goes, I am proud of our Chapter 90 Land Use Code Rules regulating Oil and Gas. It was a unanimous vote by the commission to pass them close to a year ago now and they have been touted as some of the best. Because of my vote (and my fellow commissioners') those rules were then adopted and are being implemented today. They have even been looked to and replicated in part, by other counties as well as the state. I am clear on my jurisdiction with respect to the county and will continue to do what I can to foster good relationships between surface and mineral owners within our land use arena. I will also continue to advocate for a proven science based approach--such as a study, or at least a review of the current data available by an entity such as the National Academy of Sciences as an alternative or interim step relating to Representative DeGette's bill.

Now, just to close out---I do care about safe drinking water in both the municipal ( the municipalities have some responsibility in this) as well as the rural areas of the county (we have some great water providers). I also know that we have good state and local agencies that care about our water resources as well, and help in a myriad of ways to ensure that we have a safe and good supply of water. I know that it's vitally, lifegivingly (don't think that 's a word) important to every aspect of our lives.

I also care about the Perin's Peak Wildlife area for many reasons---that's why I brought the resolution requesting that we do not allow drilling in the area to the Board of Commissioners for consideration and---yes, I voted in favor of it. That also, was a non-binding resolution, because it's out of my jurisdiction. When discussing this resolution prior to a vote, we heard from the Energy Council that no company had interest in bidding on those leases at that time (or she didn't think anytime in the near future)---so I think we need to focus on a way to urge them to be permanently removed from the list and protected. I would work for that end and have been talking to Congressman (he has the jurisdiction) Salazar's office about it for a few months now. I love that area and get up there as much as possible---Dry Fork Trail was one of my first mountain bike rides and remains one of my favorites. I am glad that this is a priority for Scott Graham as well as San Juan Citizen's Alliance and hopefully others.

So to end the late night discussion on hydraulic fracturing and mistaken identities, I may look a little bit like Diana DeGette, I am an elected official--but we don't have the same job and I don't have the ability with my vote to enable federal legislation. I do also know that I have an ability to advocate for my community in a unique way--which is why I am urging all of us to work together and find a solution (if we don't have one in place already) that will stand the test of court.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

First Post Attempt

I am a County Commissioner in La Plata County, Colorado who wanted to make a bold move and I did so last Friday. After many weeks of nausea, sweaty palms and furrowed brow I walked into the county clerk's office and checked the box next to "unaffiliated" on my requested form.

I remember my hand shaking as I filled out the paper and gave it to the clerk. I had heard everything from the flat out "You're going to loose if you run for office again" to "You're ruining your career" and then finally the "Good for you", which always makes me a little uneasy when its said in a certain tone. Another thing that I heard from people--honestly, more often than anything else was: "Its about time we had someone willing to make a change". I do have to say that come Friday night I had a smile on my face that came from finding myself a little bit more, even when I didn't even know I was looking.

I also thought back to my campaign and the confusion and dismay I felt when I was told my "universe" (political term for who I want to contact as a potential vote) was limited to Democrats, Unaffiliated and a few Republican Women. I thought it was strange that my universe seemed small and confined. Now, could my universe have just increased with a little checked box? That seemed very liberating, not to mention exciting.

This is is my first blog experience---I have never contributed to a blog in any way prior to my inaugural venture this evening. I thought about creating a blog in connection with my decision to move from being a registered democrat to an independent as an elected official. I wanted to have some sort of mechanism to have an ongoing dialogue with our community and here I landed. One thing I have wanted more of as an elected official is to hear from people. I know where to find the obvious groups and the sometimes predictable opinions---but what I want is your opinion and feedback and not just yours alone! Hopefully we can have more conversations that involve more of our community. They can be local, global and meaningful without having to attend another meeting in the same old way.

The thing that I am excited to do is to speak about my challenges and strengths related to leadership, especially with those of you who are on the receiving end of things. I think a lot about people and issues and want some way to just get it out of my head and closer to actually talking with others about it. I thought blogging might be the perfect venue to share some thoughts and ramblings on subjects. The bottom line is: I really want to get to know you a little bit better and I would bet that some of you may be a little curious from time to time about why I do what I do and why I make the decisions I make. In the long run, I hope to have a closer relationship with the people of La Plata County.

I truly think that for politicians to be more effective we need a stronger connection to the people we represent. My decision to become an independent was based in large part on what I was hearing from people--not just at the national level---but at every level, and how tired they (I, we) are of the same old red and blue rhetoric and the need for something different. I also knew that I was becoming more conscious of the different categories of response that are accepted as well as expected of elected officials within parties at times. Changing political parties was a leap of faith for me---and I hope for the community. Now comes the real test, do people really want more choices or is that just what they say?

What do you think?

Here is the link to the front page Durango Herald article announcing my switch: