Billboards and fliers are all over town, campaign ads have grown larger and more strident, and Grand County Commission candidates are jumping all over the issues at meetings and on local television as election day nears.
At stake are two of the three commission seats. Democrat Ferne Mullen chose not to seek another term. Republican Manuel Torres is vying for that seat against Craig Bigler.Incumbent David Knutson is fighting to retain the other four-year seat, which has been the only channel for the Republican view since Democrats seized control of commission two years ago. Knutson is being challenged by Democrat David Bierschied.
If Democrats push the Republican incumbent out and hang on to Mullen's seat, Grand County would have its first all-Democratic commission. It would also be an all-new commission, because Democratic chairman Merv Lawton recently resigned and someone else from the party will be appointed to his unexpired term.
Also the ballot is a proposition for a two-mill levy increase for education - promoted as a measure to reduce class size. All four commission candidates support the proposition.
The candidates differ most over spending. What expenditures are appropriate in an economy in transition from mining to tourism-recreation is the major issue in the campaigns, said Travis Trittschuh, chairman of the Grand County Democratic Central Committee.
"Whether it is for roads, or a road, or special buildings, or for the hospital and education - that seems to be one of the major divisions," he said.
In a special election last week, voters defeated a plan masterminded by Knutson over the past four years to finance a major courthouse and jail expansion and renovation project with up to $4.5 million in general obligation bonds.
Knutson has proposed putting the same package to the voters again in a second special election later this fall - a plan the Democratic challengers criticize as irresponsible spending, and an example of Republicans not listening to the people.
Bierschied and Bigler say the project could be pared down and more time should be put into studying how to make it pay for itself.
Another issue where the two sides differ is administration and projects of special service districts. Bierschied and Bigler want more control over the hospital board and the new road and recreation districts, and how they use mineral lease revenues.
The Democrats are critical of tying up funds to build the proposed Book Cliffs highway. Knutson and Torres fully support the project and the road district.
David Bierschied, 37, has been a member of the Moab City Council for nearly three years and believes that background would help improve relations between the city and county. He grew up in Moab, is self-employed and served as Chamber of Commerce president in 1988-89.
Bierschied is president of the Canyonlands Wildlife Federation and a Utah Wildlife Federation board member. He is chairman of the Blue Ribbon Committee on Colorado River Corridor management and the newly founded Canyonlands Chapter of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.
"I understand city government, and county, state and federal - I understand all their needs and the way they work," Bierschied said. "Bringing everybody to terms is tough, and I think I can do that."
All issues tie into the issue of fiscal responsibility, in Bierschied's view. "I'm against excess spending and raising taxes. And staying within budgets is absolutely necessary, and electing boards and basing economic growth on long-range, comprehensive planning with sound business practices and representing all the people's needs," he said.
David Knutson, 32, is a Moab native and owner-operator of an all-terrain-vehicle rental business. He also helps his father with an oil and well-drilling and contract construction business.
His public service has included a term on the Utah State Aging and Adult Services Advisory Board, the Moab Chamber of Commerce board and the Utah Association of Counties board, which has nominated him secretary-treasurer for 1991.
Knutson said he would like the county to get into the utility business, as a partner in a company that would locate in Cisco and supply the county with natural gas, stimulating oil and gas production.
Knutson said he is frustrated over people's resistance to the Book Cliffs road project, which he believes deserves investment of mineral lease funds because much of those monies are derived from oil and gas production in the Book Cliffs.
Manuel Torres, 39, said he feels obligated to run for commission. He failed in his bid for mayor of Moab in last year's election, but the community has helped him survive hard times and now it's his turn to come forward and help, he said.
He serves as minority representative on the Southeastern Utah Economic Development Board. He is also a member of the College of Eastern Utah Institutional Council.
A masonry contractor for 17 years, Torres said he is conservative about government as in business.
Torres said he suspects the Bureau of Land Management has a plan to "take over southeast Utah recreation" at the expense of private users such as the jeep group that conducts the annual Jeep Safari. He said federal agencies need to cooperate more with the county, and budget cuts will force them to do that.
Economic development to broaden the tax base and stave off property tax hikes is the main directive for the county, in Torres' view.
Craig Bigler, 53, came to Moab about five years ago with an exten sive educational and professional background in economics. This is his first try for office, but Bigler said he believes, based on previous employment in government at state and federal levels, that he has the experience and competence necessary to do a good job.
Bigler arrived under a federal program to assist economic recovery in the area and has realized a desire to live and work in the outdoors as a river guide and active volunteer in recreational and community affairs.
He opposes rapid growth or changes forced on the community. Bigler said his main platform is to keep the community "a place where people from all walks of life live comfortably side by side, not dominated by a single industry or establishment - living in harmony with the land."
"County politics, until 1988, have been so dominated by an extreme, right-wing faction that the need for someone to represent the mainstream of the population is overwhelming and . . . I'm uniquely qualified to give voice to the mainstream population," he said.