Larry Don Suckla is aware that running for county commissioner as an unaffiliated candidate is not the easiest path to being elected, but he isn’t daunted.
“I don’t think there’s been an independent that’s won,” he said, “but I have a good feeling about this.”
Suckla, a rancher and auctioneer, is facing another unaffiliated candidate, Greg Kemp, and Republican Dewayne Findley in a contest for the commission seat from District 3, the Mancos area. The winner will replace the term-limited incumbent, Gerald Koppenhafer.
Suckla is comfortable being unaffiliated. He said one side of his family is Republican, the other Democratic. “At times I have seen value in each side. I’ve always thought you should pick the best person and not the party.”
He added with a grin, “And I just like the word ‘independent’.”
Suckla is familiar to many in the county because of his work. The co-owner of Diamond Jim Land Auctions and Suckla Auction Service has volunteered his services as an auctioneer at the annual dessert fundraiser for the Bridge Emergency Shelter and announces at rodeos for high-school students locally.
In addition, he has been a volunteer firefighter with the Lewis-Arriola fire department for more than a decade.
The dynamics of a three-way race can be complicated. Kemp, who was profiled in the April 2012 Free Press, has followed county land-use policy for years and has spoken at numerous public hearings, generally urging the commissioners to heed the concerns of landowners worried about neighboring industrial and commercial uses.
Findley, who served one term as commissioner from 2003 to 2009, is a conservative Republican who is regarded as listening to all sides and taking fairly moderate positions. He was profiled in the May Free Press.
How voters will decide among the three candidates is anyone’s guess, but Suckla said he doesn’t worry too much about strategy.
“I look at this race like golf. I’m playing against myself. What I do and how I act is what matters. There’s no mud-slinging going on. Those two gentlemen I respect, and they can do what they want.”
Suckla said, if elected, he would like to make one change immediately involving the layout of the commission meeting room. He would like the commission chair to sit in the center of one side of the table with the other two board members flanking him. “I would have the chair ask them their thoughts on every issue. That way in the minutes you have the opportunities of all three commissioners giving their views,” he said.
He also does not like the fact that Administrator Ashton Harrison doesn’t face the audience, so he would move in a longer table to allow Harrison and the three commissioners all to sit on one side of it facing the people.
Suckla said he would also like to implement an easy way for citizens to register both complaints and compliments. “I’d like the administrator to read the complaints at the first of the meeting. If we have repetition in those complaints, those need to be addressed,” he said.
Suckla also wants better signage explaining how to use the lift chair to access the third floor of the courthouse, where the commission meetings are held. And he thinks the board’s PA system needs work “I’m an auctioneer so I work with them all the time. AudioBox could fix that.”
But beyond those logistical issues, Suckla believes the major concerns facing the new board will be those that have proven thorny over the past several years: zoning and public lands.
“I don’t like zoning,” he said firmly. “However, as a commissioner you are bound by law to abide by what the current laws are.” He said he would not seek to change the existing land-use code without a vote of the people.
He said La Plata County, which does not have countywide zoning,” seems to be doing a better job than us for growth.”
Regarding public lands, Suckla is “a true believer in multiple use.” He said his family has always advocated for broad access and multiple use. “My grandfather testified on the public-lands council in Washington a couple times.”
He said his approach would “start from where they [the current board] left off with the Forest Service. As a commissioner you have got to stay on top of it. If I felt like our rights were being infringed on, I would do everything in my power to stop that, which would mean that I would do whatever it took. If I felt it was an injustice being played on us I’d fight.”
He said the main problem in sometimes troubled relations with the local Forest Service and BLM is turnover among agency officials. “They get somebody in here and they work on the forest, and right when they start learning what we know about the forest because we’ve lived here all our lives, they move to another forest. If the government could get somebody here and let them stay for a while that would help.”
He said he wants to run the county “more like a corporation” and would go to each county department and ask the employees to provide two suggestions to improve that department. The suggestions would be given directly to the commissioners. He said the county is a service company and he wants it to be more efficient. “Nobody wants their tax money wasted.”
He said Kinder Morgan is a friend to the county but he supports the commissioners and assessor in their fight to ensure that the company pays what the county believes is its fair share of property taxes.
Suckla said the current board has done a good job and praised it for being fiscally responsible. Suckla said he is running because he is concerned for his children’s future and the future of the area.
“I love this place, the beauty of it.”
He also loves the diversity of the people and their viewpoints. “That’s why I’m running. I love where I live. I feel I’ll be good for the job because in my job I’m a negotiator. Our business is all about bartering. The commissioners need to be very good negotiators for the people and I’m a strong believer in the Constitution.”
Suckla said he will base his decisions, including those on development proposals, on whether something is constitutionally right or wrong. But he hopes to be able to find ways to help each side when controversies erupt.
“I think that there are ways to fix problems, to talk to each side. As a commissioner probably the most important part of your job is to be able to keep control of both sides there, to have them be able to speak with each other and not have a shouting match. You have to be extremely open minded to be the type of person to do that. I have expertise.”
But Suckla is prepared to deal with criticism and disagreement if he is elected.
“I feel like if I’m doing a good job, not everybody is going to like what I’m doing. But the important thing is to do it right.”