Pat DeGagne-Rule isn’t one for sitting on the sidelines.
She is a member of the Cortez Cemetery District board, a member and former treasurer of the Southwestern Cowbelles, a former member of the Cortez Cultural Center board, a member and former president of the Republican Women’s Club, and a member of Kiwanis.
She served one term on the Cortez Fire Protection District board – she lost her bid for re-election in May –and was chair of the local Republican Party Central Committee until she stepped down to run for county commissioner in District 2 (the Cortez area). She faces Keenan Ertel (profiled on Page 7) and Creston “Bud” Garner (profiled on Page 8) in the Republican primary June 26.
“All these organizations are important for our area,” she said. “And being involved in them has let me know more about the community. I can see the community as a whole, because I’ve been involved in it – not just a sliver.”
Being on so many boards has given her experience working with budgets and managing money, she said, and she’s also familiar with “what a road is and how to maintain it” through her years of involvement in Mancos Redi-Mix and Diesel Technology, businesses she and her husband owned but later sold.
But DeGagne-Rule faces some obstacles in her quest for the commission seat.
One is the fact that the seat she’s seeking is being vacated by her husband, Larrie Rule, who is term-limited. That has led to talk of a Rule family “dynasty” and an effort to circumvent the wishes of local voters, who have repeatedly rejected measures that would have lifted term limits for county commissioners.
DeGagne-Rule is finding that she has to keep repeating that she isn’t a carbon copy of her husband. “I am running after my husband, but I didn’t agree with everything that he did. The voters are not getting another four years of Larrie. We are two totally different people. I really hope they do look at me seriously.”
Her husband’s position did help her understand the job, she said – as well as its limitations. She said other candidates sometimes “step out of bounds and talk about things the commissioners don’t have power to do” and promise things that a commissioner can’t deliver.
“People think commissioners can do anything they want” – for example, firing workers in county departments or getting someone’s road paved. “The commissioners don’t hire and fire people – they have two people [the county manager and attorney] they have control over,” she said. “Even if they did, it takes two commissioners to vote for something.”
She said it hurts her campaign when other candidates say such things, “because I won’t tell an untruth and say I can do something I can’t.”
Another obstacle DeGagne-Rule faces is that she is a woman seeking a job that has belonged solely to males throughout Montezuma County’s history, with one exception: Helen McClellan, who served a single term in the 1990s. Cheryl Baker, the only other woman to run for commission in the county, lost to Rule in 2004.
DeGagne-Rule said she has been asked whether she wouldn’t be better off running for clerk or treasurer.
“We haven’t had very many women run here, and I’m not sure why. I did some research and statewide, 24 percent of the commissioners are women. People should look at the person, not what sex they are. You have to look at the person’s qualifications.”
DeGagne-Rule said she has no special issues or set agendas. She thinks the county has been run well of late and wants to continue that.
She likes the recently adopted changes to the landuse code that included renaming unzoned parcels “historic-use zone” to better reflect how they are actually managed and waiving the $500 fee for owners of historic-use parcels to come in and choose a zone during a specific time frame.
There was a common misperception because of the name “unzoned” that people in that category could do whatever they wanted on their land, and it was not true, she said.
“I think a lot of people stayed in the unzoned category because they thought they were exempt from regulations, and it was, ‘No, you’re in a category’.”
Land-use policy is one of the county’s most controversial issues. DeGagne-Rule said when it comes to subdivisions or commercial- industrial proposals, she will weigh all the arguments. A common conundrum for commissioners is how much weight to give to the comments of people who show up at public hearings.
“You have to give respect to the ones who show up, but you still govern by the law and if that proposal is within the scope of the law.”
She would like to encourage more people to comment on proposals by sending letters, perhaps by having a drop-off box in the county courthouse or a link on the county’s web site.
She emphasized that the commissioners should “look to the county as a whole and make decisions for the entire county, not just a handful of people.”
Some people have called for the county to have meetings, or at least public hearings, at night. Rule said that isn’t as easy as it sounds.
“You have to bring mikes, staff – you have people working after hours. During the day you have access to records.”
However, having public hearings at night might be feasible because they involve just one subject and a variety of records wouldn’t be needed. “I’m not inclined to do it for other stuff because of the extra cost.”
DeGagne-Rule describes herself as a conservative Republican but said party doesn’t matter much in the job. “Once in office you represent everybody. I will treat everybody the same. The party is forgotten.”
She attends meetings of the local 9-12 Project. “I believe in a lot of what they say. I’m with the Constitution 100 percent. But I think they get a little radical sometimes.”
One of the issues on which the 9-12ers have been most outspoken is motorized access to federal public lands. DeGagne-Rule said turnover within the BLM and Forest Service has harmed relationships recently. “Managers for the Forest Service were coming and going like a revolving door. The BLM and Forest Service split up [separating some functions that they had been doing jointly]. We don’t have consistency.
“How many times have we started over with a new [Dolores District] manager? That’s not good for the Forest Service or for us or for the people that are forcing things to happen. When you go to the table to talk to them, you want to see the same people.
“Now we’re going to have two new commissioners. Until we have the players in place and sit down at the table and know we’re not going to change personnel for six months or more, you’re not going to get anywhere.”
DeGagne-Rule said she hopes voters will give the candidates a thorough vetting before making their decision.
“I would hope people would really look at the candidates. We are different. I’m not a household name but I think I would be the best for the job. I’m more level-headed, conservative, believe in the Constitution, and I will look to the county as a whole, not just a part of it. I’m very passionate about this place.”