A Gunnison man has successfully petitioned his way onto the November ballot to challenge state Rep. Barbara McLachlan for Colorado's House District 59.
Independent candidate Paul Jones gathered more than 600 signatures to run against the incumbent. There is no Republican candidate in the race.
"The fact that we're actually going to have a chance to run as an independent and, I hope, to be a voice for all independents in House District 59, it's pretty awesome," Jones told The Durango Herald.
Colorado House District 59 includes La Plata, Archuleta, San Juan, Ouray, Hinsdale and Gunnison counties.
Because Jones is unaffiliated with a party, he had to petition to be on the Colorado ballot after the state's primary election in June.
Under state law, the June primary sets the November ballot lineup for Democrats and Republicans, but independents get on the ballot by submitting petitions and have more time. The rules for unaffiliated candidates to petition onto the ballot are "less arduous" than for Democrats or Republicans, according to Secretary of State Wayne Williams.
McLachlan, a Democrat, won the seat in 2016, beating incumbent J. Paul Brown, a Republican, by a 23,336 to 22,661 vote. The race was the most expensive House race in the state with more than $311,000 raised between the two candidates.
Jones, a Montrose native who moved to Gunnison in 1995, retired as a Colorado Parks and Wildlife game warden in June 2017.
This will be his first campaign for elected office. As an independent, he says he holds values on both sides of the political spectrum.
Jones said he grew up in a household with a mother who was a Democrat and a Republican father.
"What they taught my brother and me was everybody has different ideas and different opinions, and to make good decisions on complicated problems you really need to look at issues from different perspectives," he said.
In the political system, there used to be a broad representation from liberal Republicans to conservative Democrats, Jones said. But now things are more polarized. Jones says he will solve issues with liberal values, conservative values or a combination of both.
"We have a very diverse population with diverse needs, and ideological approaches to solving problems usually leaves a lot of people frustrated and out in the cold," Jones told the Herald when he announced his candidacy in April. "Balanced solutions are usually the best ideas."
Jones' campaign platform includes protecting and managing the environment and public lands, he said.
He said that he can balance the range of interests and users of the vast swaths of public lands in the district.
"We're here because of the amazing public lands that we have," he said.
The candidate vows to expand post-secondary education opportunities for students in rural Southwest Colorado. In particular, he said, there is a lack of trade schools to learn a skill like welding, so communities lose those students to other areas. Jones wants to help schools work toward offering more specialized certificate programs.
In his campaign finance report filed in July, Jones had nearly $4,000 on hand. His campaign in April started off with a $4,850 contribution from Unite Colorado, a political group that backs independent candidates running for statewide races. The group is financed by individual donations coordinated through Unite America, formerly CentristProject.org.
Jones' biggest individual contributions were given before he successfully petitioned his way onto the ballot. He received $400 each from William Jones, retired; Robert Brown, who is in media/public relations; Scott Brooks, with Raytheon Co., a U.S. defense contractor; and Gary Fenchuck, with East West Communities, an East Coast real estate developer.
Jones' campaign coffers pale in comparison to incumbent McLachlan's, whose finance report filed in July reported almost $40,000 on hand.