Water issues compel Sylvester to run for guv

Agricultural issues are a big concern for this rural Republican
The Colorado Statesman

Republican gubernatorial candidate Roni Bell Sylvester flip-flopped the second she entered the already crowded field of GOP candidates.

“I’m on record for having said that there is no amount of money you could pay me to run for public office,” laughs longtime Weld County resident Sylvester.

But Sylvester, 68, was motivated to throw her name into the race over concerns with water rights and what she believes is a government intrusion into private property ownership, all of which she says is connected to the water issue.

The final straw for Sylvester was after her farm was destroyed in the devastating floods of September, totaling her century-old home.

Roni Bell Sylvester

“I forgot to look at the reverse side of the situation,” added Sylvester. “That is how much money I have lost in trying to defend private property rights.”

Sylvester is crashing a true boys club of seven men seeking her party’s nomination to challenge Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper this year. She is the only woman in the race, facing off against big names like former U.S. Rep. Bob Beauprez, state Sen. Greg Brophy, Secretary of State Scott Gessler, former state Sen. Mike Kopp and former U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo.

Sylvester is not delusional. She knows that she isn’t likely to receive the GOP’s nomination to challenge Hickenlooper. But she believes this is the best way to advance her message of protecting water and property rights.

“I have been ignored, but I’m not whining,” she said of her reception so far after announcing her candidacy on Feb. 19.

Sylvester shrugs off the fact that she had to personally call the state Republican Party to remind them that she had entered the race, and she isn’t insulted by the fact that at her recent caucus meeting her name wasn’t even listed as a candidate.

“Whatever,” she said. “I don’t play those games. I’m a mom. If I see a mess, I need to clean it up.”

While this marks Sylvester’s first campaign for elected office, she is no stranger to politics, known for her regular presence at the legislature where she usually testifies on water and agricultural issues.

Her husband, Chuck Sylvester, is the former general manager of the National Western Stock Show.

She describes herself as a farm girl, cowgirl, homemaker, mom and wife. Sylvester grew up on a dairy farm in Nebraska, running a milking operation on the farm as young as 13 years old.

“If I can milk 40 cows every morning, then I can sure as heck do this,” she declared.

Sylvester doesn’t focus much on the fact that she is the only woman currently in the race, adding, “I was liberated when I was a kid shoveling manure alongside my brothers, so I’ve never been good with gender fights.”

Sylvester says she is not running a one-issue campaign, though rural agricultural issues are a priority. She points to her passionate disdain for federal regulation, and her intense support of local government, having supported the 51st state movement, in which voters in 11 northern counties were asked whether to secede from the state. The initiative failed, but she is still drawing upon that effort.

She has spent a considerable amount of time attempting to reaffirm water as a vested property right. Most recently, Sylvester has tried to get Hickenlooper to pull out of the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program, which aims to increase stream flows in the central Platte River; protect habitat lands; and accommodate new water-related activities.

The program came about after efforts to relicense Kingsley Dam on the North Platte River in western Nebraska. Rather than engage in lengthy courtroom battles over limited water supplies, the governors of Colorado, Nebraska and Wyoming joined to sign an agreement.

Sylvester believes the result has been the development of irrigation and canals on the upper end of the river that has caused over-hydration. She is pushing Hickenlooper to pull out of the agreement in order to lower the water table, which Sylvester says would decrease chances of flooding.

She is still waiting for her farm to be restored following the floods in September so that she and her husband can move back home.

“I told [Hickenlooper] that you guys need to come to the farm and see firsthand the results of what we tried to forewarn you about,” explained Sylvester. “Now we have a dog in the fight after our farm has been devastated by the flood because of the over-hydration and the refusal to allow the well pumping.”

Sylvester has been disappointed with the governor’s response, and so she decided to run for governor to raise attention to the issue. She has promised to drop out of the race if Hickenlooper pulls out of the agreement and supports making water a vested property right.

“I made a challenge to Gov. Hickenlooper that if he would commit to withdrawing Colorado from the Platte River recovery and make a commitment in writing that he would do everything to identify the areas of federal where it has over-reached and kick it out of the state, I would withdraw from the race,” said Sylvester. “It’s as simple as that.

“Reaffirming water as a vested property right would give the water an opportunity to correct itself and heal…” she added.

Sylvester extends her pleas over water rights to other environmental issues as well, suggesting that the Environmental Protection Agency should not have authority to regulate the states.

“Right now we’re being way over-regulated by the EPA, they have way over-reached,” opined Sylvester. “Colorado is very good at self-governing on all of the matters in respect to health… We’ve done a marvelous job for the past 237 years until the EPA stepped in and is just running amok.”

Sylvester is not concerned that she is too rural for a statewide race. She points out that she previously lived in Denver.

“I’ve had my feet in both worlds — the agricultural world and the urban world,” said Sylvester. “I speak both languages, and I think I can translate that…”

Peter@coloradostatesman.com