The meeting started congenially enough as each council member was allowed to name up to three of their favorite candidates from among the pool of people who applied for the vacant seat. The top three vote-getters in the first round continued on to the next round of voting, and that’s where the trouble started. Five council members chose candidate Abram Herman for their short list, three selected Sarah McCarthy and three selected Kraig Andrews. Duke Wortman was the only council member who only selected one person for his first-round short list: Kraig Andrews.
Despite Abram Herman emerging as the clear favorite in the first round of voting, things turned strange and ever more contentious as the farther right-wing council members — Duke Wortman and Phyllis Norris — struggled to tank the majority choice — Abram Herman — and instead push to install a known fellow conservative in the seat.
The second, third and fourth rounds of voting all yielded in 3-3 deadlocks, with harder right wing Council members, including Philip Pe’a, all repeatedly voting for Kraig Andrews, and the more moderate members Mayor Rick Taggart, Anna Stout and Chuck McDaniel voting for Abram Herman.
Phyllis Norris implored the other council members to vote for Kraig Andrews, saying Andrews was most qualified in part because he was a family man with a “young family” and there was “no one else on Council with young people in the community” (Andrews was divorced in 2016), that he had distributed food at a food kitchen and had experience that was badly needed on Council. She cited his experience in construction and as a mortgage broker. Duke Wortman similarly implored the others to vote for Andrews, citing his “diversity” and saying he had worked with “diverse groups,” although Wortman didn’t say exactly how having yet another middle-aged, conservative white male on Council would increase council’s “diversity.”
Finally, after several more tie votes, Council member Wortman couldn’t take it any more.
“I have a comment,” he interjected, his voice full of tension, almost anger. “I’m trying to be extremely political…” he said. “This group has turned incredibly political!” he protested, saying that if this had been the case over the last two years, he would never have lasted on Council. (Wortman was been on Council for 2 years.) Wortman then insinuated something bad or evil was going on in City Council, saying “There’s forces at work … and I don’t agree with what’s going on, and I look to you, Mr. Mayor for the leadership and would ask that you change your vote…I can’t ask you more sincerely than I am doing now,” Wortman didn’t elaborate on what he meant by “forces” being at work on Council that he doesn’t agree with, although it presumably was that there are now some people with different political beliefs on Council who aren’t afraid to stand up for those beliefs.
In the end, Taggart succumbed to Wortman’s public pressure and changed his vote to Kraig Andrews, ending the deadlock and installing Kraig Andrews on City Council for the next two years.
So, who is Kraig Andrews?
Councilman Wortman was right that vote for the vacant council seat was “political.” It was Wortman himself who politicized it.
Wortman knows very well that Kraig Andrews is no political moderate. Andrews is well known as the former chair of the Mesa County Republican Party.
As a stalwart Republican, Andrews is a supporter of President Donald J. Trump, who recently made headlines with a series of overtly racist tweets and statements targeting four female congresswomen of color, horrifying Americans on both the left and right, and generating statements of shock and disgust from leaders around the world. Mr. Trump has developed a reputation of working to fracture the country along lines of race and gender by making outrageous public statements that insult and scapegoat immigrants, refugees, people of color, and women, using terms like “horseface,” “lowlife,” “fat” and “ugly to describe women.” Judging by the increasing number of reports of racist incidents locally, Trump’s efforts to increase divisions and foster hatred of minorities have been quite effective in Grand Junction. Kraig Andrews, our new city councilman, openly supports our racist president, who has publicly asked why we allow people to come to the U.S. from “shithole countries,” derided women over their appearance and who long maintained a relationship with accused child trafficker Jeffrey Epstein, who is also an adjudicated sexual offender on the registry.
As chair of the Mesa County Republican Party, in October of 2016, Andrews refused to condemn the statements Trump made in the Access Hollywood tape, in which Trump bragged that could sexually harass women all he wanted, and he could “grab ’em by the pussy, anything…” because he was a celebrity. In a subsequent interview broadcast on KJCT on October 9, 2016, Andrews, asked about these comments, dismissed Trump’s comments, saying he made them “…Ten years ago before he was running for office, in a private conversation. Things that he said were not the greatest, but it was 10 years ago,” Andrews said.
So no big deal, ladies. Grand Junction’s newest city councilman believes when a man brags he can “Grab ’em by the pussy,” it isn’t offensive to women, it’s just “not the greatest” statement a person seeking the highest office in the land could make.
Andrews also told the media in 2016 that the Mesa County Republican Party wasn’t affiliated with the Mesa County Deplorables, but that the Republican Party would respect the Deplorables group if their “events were respectful.” (NOTE: former city councilman Duncan McArthur, whom Andrews is replacing, was a member of the Mesa County Deplorables, who were, in fact, decidedly disrespectful, as their name indicates.)
Thanks to Mayor Rick Taggart, this is our new city council member — someone for whom racism, sexism, scapegoating immigrants and fostering hatred among members of our community is perfectly suitable behavior for people in public office.
Maybe Grand Junction will come out better in the next election, when City residents get to choose their own council members.