UPDATE to this story: Bill Gillard is withdrawing from the Weld County Commissioner District 1 race. He is instead throwing his hat into the race for State House District 48, currently held by Steve Humphrey, who is term-limited. Gillard said he has heard from trusted sources that another big name is about to announce intent for District 1, and he does not want to dilute field so much that the main focus of replacing incumbent Mike Freeman is lost. He believes he can do good at the state level. Currently, only one other candidate has announced their intention for 48. Grady Nouis, who lost a bid for House District 29 in 2018, moved to Johnstown to run for the seat.
GREELEY — For the second straight election, a Republican Weld County Commissioner incumbent finds himself being challenged by members of his own party, something that historically has not happened frequently.
According to the Weld elections page, which has records of elections dating back to 2000, only one other time prior to 2018 has an incumbent from either party been challenged from within their own party. In 2012, the incumbent, Barbara Kirkmeyer, won the race with 72 percent of the vote.
In 2018, incumbent Julie Cozad was challenged by then Johnstown Mayor Scott James. Cozad stepped down from the race, and — then — Greeley City Councilman Mike Finn intentionally moved from District 1 into District 2 for the sole purpose of challenging James, citing anger over James’ decision.
The race was met with angst and controversy, including Finn filing a complaint against James with his full-time employer, iHeart Media, where James is one half of a morning County Music disc-jockey duo.
James won that race by nearly 20 percentage points, and eventually the general election by 30 percentage points.
However, Mike Freeman, the subject of this election’s challenge, says this race will be different. Windsor Mayor Kristie Melendez and Greeley resident Bill Gillard both announced their candidacy for District 1 in the last week. Both have said they will try to get on the primary ballot through the caucus process, which Finn bypassed in 2018, opting to petition his way on.
Freeman said he respects the decision of the two, and he will focus on his record and relationships with the residents of District 1.
“It’s the way our process works,” Freeman said. “It’s wonderful that anyone can run for elected office.”
Freeman said he believes Melendez is a great leader and will make a great county commissioner at some point, but he doesn’t believe the time is now.
“I think I’ve had a good first six-and-a-half years,” Freeman said. “There are a number of things that I think I have accomplished as a county commissioner. I think my background and my knowledge of District 1 are extremely important.”
Freeman said what he sees as the biggest advantage for him in his race is experience. The new board is guaranteed at least two new faces, as both an at-large seat and the District 3 seat belonging to Sean Conway and Kirkmeyer, respectively, are term limited. Freeman, if he wins, will be in his third term while Steve Moreno (at-large) will be in his second term and James (District 2) will be in his first.
“This is a critical time for Weld County,” Freeman said. “We are essentially under attack from the Democrat legislature on the way we do things in Weld County and the values we have in Weld County, from agriculture to oil and gas to the red flag bill.”
Melendez agreed, saying she did not run to cause controversy. She said her intent has nothing to do with anything Freeman has or has not done, but instead, she believes she can be of value to the people of Weld County, especially her constituents in District 1, adding that in her time as Mayor she has made many relationships with the people of District 1 that she wants to build on to preserve Weld County’s future.
“I want to keep at the core what Weld County stands for, the values and principals,” Melendez said. “I care so much about this community. I was a 4H Kid. What I got to experience as a kid, I want to make sure our future kids get that too.”
Melendez will host a kickoff party for her campaign from 5-7 p.m. on June 28 at Pelican Lakes in Windsor. There has been nothing scheduled as of publication for Freeman or Gillard. Complete Colorado will update the story with any additions.
Freeman said he is looking forward to conversations with constituents and continuing his open-door policy throughout his campaign.
“I think I have a great reputation of listening to people and making decisions,” Freeman said. “I’m supportive of my neighbors in rural Weld County. I’ve done that since the beginning.”