A longtime Weld County resident has joined the list of candidates hoping to unseat Gov. John Hickenlooper this November.
LaSalle resident Roni Bell Sylvester, 68, filed paperwork this week with the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office to run as a Republican for governor.
Sylvester, the first woman to enter the race, is the wife of Chuck Sylvester, a longtime Weld resident and retired general manager of the National Western Stock Show.
In September, the floodwaters destroyed their century-old family home. She said the flood played a part in pushing her to run.
Sylvester said she is on record as having said in the past that no one could pay her enough to run for office, but that all began to change when the flood hit. She said a confluence of events, including the flood, conversations with leaders in the region and the death of a longtime friend, prompted her to make her first run for elected office.
“It was just like, ‘I’m a mom and there’s a huge mess here in Colorado, and I need to go in and clean it up,’ ” she said.
Sylvester said she’ll focus her campaign on water and private property rights, as well as defending agriculture from government overreach.
“Agriculture is the most reliable economic base in Colorado,” she said. “Construction and energy, etc., they ebb and tide, but agriculture really is our most dynamic reliable base, and I see that being really chipped away at.”
Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway said he’s known Sylvester since 1978, when the two met while working on political campaigns.
He said during the more than 35 years he’s known her, he’s come to see her as a champion of the agricultural community, and he thinks she’ll bring a voice to the governor’s race that hasn’t been heard yet.
“I think her interest lies more in the area of those issues that are impacting rural America right now,” he said.
Conway said while he’s not endorsing Sylvester at this point, he thinks her presence in the race will bring attention to important rural issues.
“I think what she brings to the race is a deep and abiding passion for those folks out there that work hard every single day, the 2 percent that feed us 98 percent, that struggle every day with a more distant government when it comes to understanding the issues that farmers and ranchers face.”
Sylvester is the seventh GOP candidate to enter the gubernatorial race. Former Congressman Tom Tancredo, Secretary of State Scott Gessler, State Sen. Greg Brophy, former state Senate Minority Leader Mike Kopp and businessmen Steve House and Jason Clark all have already declared their candidacy for the GOP nomination. Sylvester said she thinks the fact she has never run for elected office before will work in her favor.
“I think it’s a net positive because I have zero baggage,” she said. “I don’t play games. I have established a longtime — 36 year — history of working always with the quality of candidate or the quality of the issue, regardless of the party.”
She has frequently testified at the Legislature on water and ag issues, among other things. She also is the editor of Land and Water USA, a website that focuses on water and private property rights.
“I have a duty,” she said. “I have to do this. We have a crew, we have the knowledge — as far as actual boots on the ground, policy and getting things done and getting them done properly.”
Sylvester said she is in the process of hiring her campaign team, and she said she plans to petition onto the June 24 primary ballot, as well as taking the more traditional route through the Republican caucuses and assembly.
She said she knows this effort will keep her busy for the next few months.
“I’m going to be Roman riding here for a while, but I’m a cowgirl. I can handle it,” she said.
If she becomes governor, she said she would focus on pushing back against the overreach of the federal government into state affairs.
“You really can’t get that much done as a senator or a congressman. You can get an awful lot done as a governor as far as exercising your authority as a governor to protect the citizens within the boundaries of your state,” she said. “We can ask some of the federal overreach to please exit our state.”
She pointed to legislation introduced this year in Idaho — House Bill 473 — that would declare the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority in the state null and void. The Idaho bill says the EPA is not authorized by the constitution and doesn’t have the authority to enact regulations in Idaho.
She said she would push for similar efforts in Colorado.
“I’m the only one that has the knowledge as far as really cleaning up this mess,” she said. “If the others had the knowledge, then why haven’t they implemented it?”