PUEBLO, Colorado — The Chair of the Pueblo County Democratic Party held a news conference on Thursday announcing the censure of County Commissioners Garrison Ortiz and Epimenio "Eppie" Griego.
The formal reprimand comes in response to the two commissioners, who are Democrats, endorsing the Republican candidate in the race for Commissioner District 3, Zach Swearingen.
Reading from a prepared statement, chair Mary Beth Corsentino told reporters the endorsement betrayed the trust and hard work of the thousands of Democrats in the county who helped to elect the two commissioners to their offices.
"To you, Garrison Ortiz, the Pueblo County Democratic Party says, District 3 is not your seat," Corsentino said. "District 3 and all the seats on the Board of County Commissioners belong to the voters of Pueblo County."
Ortiz and Griego were also removed from their respective seats in the party's central committee.
Ortiz declined a request for an on-camera interview with News 5. Instead, he provided a written statement explaining that the endorsement "was simply done in a spirit of finding ways to work together" regardless of political affiliation.
"I have a long track record of working with and supporting many candidates int he Democratic Party for year. I just felt in this instance that he (Swearingen) is the better candidate for the job," Ortiz added in a phone conversation.
Swearingen will face Roxanne "Roxy" Pignanelli, an administrator with Pueblo County School District 70, in the general election in November.
Pignanelli told reporters that she was shocked by the endorsement, but not surprised. She shared that she had coffee with Ortiz in March shortly after joining the commissioners race. Pignanelli said that Ortiz told her at the time that he planned to support the Republican candidate.
"I was waiting for the other shoe to drop, I wasn't sure," Pignanelli said. "And so when the announcement was made at the event held at Water Tower, it just confirmed it."
Pignanelli said she's been a life-long Democrat and is honored to have such strong backing from the county party.
Watch KOAA News5 on your time, anytime with our free streaming app available for your Roku, FireTV, AppleTV and Android TV. Just search KOAA News5, download and start watching.