Janet Rowland is running for Mesa County Commissioner.
She’s already been a Mesa County Commissioner — from January, 2005 to January, 2013 — but that doesn’t mean her being commissioner again is a good idea. It arguably is not a good idea. From her previous two terms, we have an abundance of experience with her and know what is in store if Janet Rowland gets another chance to be Commissioner.
So let’s take a look at the past and see what it tells us.
Morally and ethically challenged
Certainly Janet has done some good things through her career, like trying to address child abuse and finding homes for foster kids. While those endeavors are laudable, we also need to take into account all the things she’s done that have set a poor example for our community and done harm to the County.
Shortly after losing statewide election for lieutenant governor as Bob Beauprez’s running mate in 2006, and while she was previously Mesa County Commissioner, Janet was a guest columnist for the Grand Junction Free Press, at the time a competing newspaper to the Daily Sentinel. She wrote several articles for the Free Press until one day a sharp reader noticed Janet had lifted most of one of her columns word for word from a government-published pamphlet, and brought this fact to the paper’s attention.
The Daily Sentinel reported on it on February 3, 2007:
A Mesa County official has plagiarized a government substance abuse booklet in her two most recent columns in the Grand Junction Free Press, that newspaper’s editor confirmed Friday.
The majority of Mesa County Commissioner Janet Rowland’s Feb. 1 column in the Free Press, titled “The importance of a strong parent-child bond,” was lifted verbatim from a 2006 National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism publication titled, “Making a Difference: Talk to Your Teen About Alcohol.”
A reading of Rowland’s unattributed column and the text of the booklet revealed the two are virtually identical. The only differences were found in the column’s first sentence and its lead into several bullet points.
The editor said if Rowland had been a staff writer, she probably would have been fired.
Janet’s first reaction to the plagiarism charge was to claim she couldn’t even remember writing the columns. (Denial.) When that didn’t tamp down the kerfuffle, next she said the information she used in her columns had been intended for “mass duplication anyhow,” adding that if people wanted to make what she did out as something evil, that was THEIR prerogative. (Sour grapes.) Next, she blamed the plagiarism on others, saying she had included the necessary attributions in her column, but Free Press staff had edited them out. (Lying and blaming.) Free Press management quickly produced the emails that contained the articles exactly as they had received them for publication, showing that they contained no references or attributions.
When the Free Press found out Janet had lifted a substantial part of a second column from a government pamphlet, they fired her.
Janet never took responsibility for the plagiarism, nor did she apologize to readers for it. Instead, she left it to the managing editor of the Free Press to apologize to readers.
This episode told the public something important about Janet’s character, both in the fact that she tried to pass off someone else’s work as her own, and in the way she handled the public exposure of it. Her response set a bad example of leadership and character for kids, and our entire community.
Lack of journalistic integrity
In another display of remarkably poor journalistic judgment, in 2007 Janet approached KKCO 11 News with a proposal that they hire her as a weekly legislative analyst and reporter, even though she was campaign chair for Josh Penry at the time, a Mesa County Republican who intended on running for governor. KKCO hired Janet despite this and other clear political conflicts of interest. Upon hearing about this arrangement, on January 5, 2007 the Daily Sentinel printed a story about it with the headline, “Program Breaks News Ethics.” The article quoted the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics which says correspondents “must be free of obligation to any interest other than the public’s right to know.” A January 10, 2008 editorial in the Sentinel further described Janet as “about as partisan a locally elected official as there is,” and made the point that KKCO could hardly have made a more inappropriate hire.
Yet both Janet and KKCO’s news director, Jean Reynolds, who defended hiring Janet, ignored the clear conflict of interest inherent in the situation. It took a third party — the Sentinel — to point it out and put a stop to it.
Poor judge of character
Rowland has also admitted she was responsible for nominating former Fruita policeman and Republican Jared Wright to run for state representative in 2012. After he was nominated it was revealed that the Fruita Police Department had ordered Wright to either resign or be fired for radioing into police headquarters that he was “in service” at the start of his work days, and then not leaving home. Wright argued that what he did was merely the equivalent of radioing in at the start of a work day and then stopping at a coffee shop. Wright, who was elected the Colorado House of Representatives in 2012, gained further notoriety on February 6, 2014 for leaving a loaded handgun in a committee hearing room in the state Capitol in Denver after a hearing about hand gun permits. Under Colorado law it is illegal to carry a loaded gun in the Capitol “without legal authority.” Nevertheless Wright claimed he had this authority because he was a “peace officer,” even though he was no longer employed with any police department.
Janet responded to these embarrassing revelations about Wright by saying that she thought Wright hadn’t gotten a “fair shake.” Her response was weak, but she did engage in a little self-reflection when she added that she wished she had had more information on him before nominating him. Of course it would have been wise to have vetted someone more thoroughly before nominating him for public office, but she didn’t do it. As it is, his time in office resulted in extreme embarrassment and regret for western slopers of all political persuasions.
And Janet’s penchant for supporting unethical people to run for office wasn’t just a one-off, either.
In 2014 she made robocalls to help Republican Steve King get elected state senator.
King was another disastrous Mesa County Republican who went down in flames and caused the area grievous embarrassment.
Shortly after he was elected, King was charged with three felonies including embezzlement of public property from Colorado Mesa University and the Mesa County Sheriff’s Office, forgery, second degree forgery, theft, and first degree official misconduct. King plead guilty to all charges.
Janet never acknowledged having been a poor judge of character on either of these occasions, nor did she apologize for her choices of dubious, embarrassing and even corrupt candidates for office.
Use of her elective position for religious grandstanding
Janet portrayed herself to the Denver Post in 2006 as “not extreme” in her views, but has also said publicly that she doesn’t believe in separation of church and state, and that she favors teaching creationism in science classes in public schools. These are extreme views by any measure, and she’s certainly allowed to hold them, but problems arose when she put these extreme ideas into action as an elected official.
When she was county commissioner before, Janet intentionally conflated religion and government at public meetings, putting her religion on display at county business meetings while excluding all other religions to the point where national organizations threatened the county with a lawsuit.
Commissioner meetings in Mesa County have historically been secular without any religious rituals or introductions, but after Janet was elected she decided to institute Christian prayers at the start of public meetings. Moreover, Janet insisted on praying to Jesus Christ herself at the start of these meetings, thus stepping well over a bright legal line into the realm of governmental promotion of religion.
When the fact that she had crossed this line was brought to Janet’s attention, instead of recognizing the problem and fixing it by returning to the way public hearings had historically been conducted, Janet doubled down. She got tricky and developed a scheme to help assure she got her way. She altered the meeting schedule slightly so that instead of gaveling the meeting to order when everyone was present and then starting the meeting with her prayers at 9:00 a.m., she would pray to Jesus first, then gavel the meeting to order after the prayers so she could claim she wasn’t actually praying at the hearing, but before it. She also ordered the videographer who broadcasted the meetings on TV to start the cameras AFTER the prayers were concluded, to make it harder for people watching the hearings on TV — and harder for any lawyers who might be watching — to see she that she was still violating the law by praying to Jesus at public hearings.
Several national organizations who defend separation of church and state threatened Mesa County with legal action as a result of Janet’s actions. Janet seized the opportunity to portray herself to the public as a martyr who was resisting efforts to “force her to lose her religion.”
In other words, Janet used her elected office to grandstand.
This incident showed that Janet will use her elected office to showcase her personal religious views, that she is willing to ignore laws and norms to the extent that she will put the county in danger to further a personal agenda, and that she doesn’t prioritize the best interests of the county or its taxpayers, but rather puts her personal ideology first.
At a bare minimum, we have a right to expect our local elected officials obey laws and rules, not do end-runs around them, and that they will keep their personal beliefs from becoming an issue while doing county business.
Using her elective office for self- and ideological promotion
There is yet another example of the damage done to the county when Janet holds a Commissioner seat.
In January, 2007, James Garrett, the former head of the Mesa County Department of Human Services, wrote a letter to the editor of the Sentinel that indicated Janet’s similar use of the office of commissioner for personal promotion and advancement of her personal ideology.
The commissioners fired Garrett as head of DHS in January of 2007. Following his firing, on Sunday, January 21, 2007, the Daily Sentinel printed a letter to the editor from Garrett in which he explained what happened in the run-up to his firing. He wrote:
“During my tenure at DHS, I found myself in almost constant conflict with County Commissioners Craig Meis and Janet Rowland. The source of the conflict, in my opinion, was their desire to inappropriately use the department to further their own personal or political goals. Often, the ‘directives’ that I received, again in my opinion, seemed designed to gain photo ops, build a political resumé’ or settle personal scores, whims or ideology. I could not ethically or professionally support those types of directives.”
Garrett added that he believed “such interference [by Commissioners Meis and Rowland] and its effects are … pervasive throughout Mesa County government.”
This is, in effect, a job review for Janet and does not bode well for the idea of giving her another bite at the apple.
Homophobic comments and subsequent condemnation
Janet put her extreme religious beliefs on display again while in office in 2006 when she made her infamous derogatory “man-on-sheep” comments on the March 17, 2006 edition of the state-wide Rocky Mountain PBS television program Colorado State of Mind. It happened during a discussion of a referendum to allow domestic partnerships in Colorado.
In explaining her views on gay relationships, Janet linked gay marriage to polygamy, bestiality, incest, and marriage involving 11-year-olds all at once by stating:
“I believe marriage is between a man and a woman. Homosexuality is an alternative lifestyle, that doesn’t make it a marriage. Some people have group sex — should we allow two men and three women to marry? Should we allow polygamy with one man and five wives? For some people, the alternative lifestyle is bestiality — do we allow a man to marry a sheep? I mean, at some point, you have to draw a line … What if someone — let’s say, what if someone’s ‘line’ is a cousin? What if they want to marry a cousin or an aunt or an uncle? What if it’s an adult with a child? Why do we say you have to be 18 to get married; why can’t 11-year-olds?”
Janet appeared on the show the day after Republican candidate for governor Bob Beauprez declared she would be his running mate for lieutenant governor. The Democratic nominee for governor, Bill Ritter, pounced on Janet’s comments. His campaign immediately issued a press release condemning her comments as “insensitive, closed-minded, derogatory and crude.” When asked about the effect her comments might have on the Beauprez campaign, Republican political analyst Katy Atkinson told the Denver magazine WestWord that “Coloradans tend to not like or vote for anybody who is an extremist. If that comment is used to portray her and Bob Beauprez as extremist, that’s a problem.”
Janet’s comments were indeed extremist and posed a big problem for the Beauprez campaign. Her statements drew outrage and condemnation across the state, and throughout the country, and helped tank Beauprez’s bid to become governor.
Given what we already know about Janet — her plagiarism and the poor way she handled it, her bad judgment of character, her use of elected office for promotion of her religious views, grandstanding and other more recent transgressions that show she has a fundamental and possibly willful misunderstanding of the law, Janet is a bad choice to be re-elected for county commissioner.
The reason we have term limits in Colorado is to spread around opportunities to serve and help taxpayers get responsive representation.
It’s time to take stock of what we’ve learned from our past, and what it does to our area when we keep electing “retreads,” and give someone else a chance to hold office.