This is a profile of one of two candidates in Centennial City Council District 1, representing the far west part of the city, encompassing most areas between South Broadway and Colorado Boulevard.
Before the coronavirus pandemic upended life in Colorado, Robyn Carnes was doing contract work for “corporate America,” she said.
As the economy took a hit, she realized that the work was not going to continue. At that point, she wanted to put her time into an organization that was making a difference, she said.
She came across Rescue America, a national organization that provides a 24/7 hotline and emergency response system to help survivors of sex trafficking, according to Carnes. She’s compassionate about victims of trafficking; she said a member of her family was trafficked for two to three years.
The issue of trafficking often overlaps with homelessness, said Carnes, who wants Centennial to have “a proper response.”
“With the homelessness issue, I think there has to be a plan intact, and we have to partner with other organizations to have this heart. We can’t put everything on the government,” Carnes said, adding that there are private companies that “have heart” for corporate responsibility and could play a role.
The city should be “rallying those entities that really can make a difference,” Carnes said.
Carnes, 43, grew up on a farm in northwest Iowa, and her husband once worked as a children’s choral conductor, she said. Her husband got an offer for a position in Colorado, leading them to move out west and eventually to Centennial.
Carnes worked as a senior manager at a company called Leadership Strategies, a meeting facilitation company that offers public classes around the world as well as private, onsite classes, according to her LinkedIn profile.
She now serves as vice president of expansion for Rescue America, which partners with law enforcement and receives state and private funding, according to Carnes. Rescue America’s contact information includes a Houston post office box, and the company has staff in other states, Carnes said.
“I feel very called to government — government, in my opinion, is what provides the guardrails for a society to keep a society going in the right direction,” Carnes said.
She’s garnered endorsements from former Arapahoe County Sheriff Dave Walcher and the board of directors of the Arapahoe Lodge 31 of the Fraternal Order of Police, the Arapahoe County law enforcement union. Her husband has been serving in law enforcement as well, she said.
“I think there’s a true need to back the blue and truly support our law enforcement officers,” Carnes said. Her husband was part of a program called YESS — Youth, Education and Safety in Schools — which educated kids about topics such as drugs and online predators, she added. Douglas County founded YESS, she said.
“We need more programs like YESS to bring (people together) and back the blue so they feel supported,” Carnes said.
In a Sept. 29 campaign newsletter, Carnes referred to her opponent, Fernando Branch, as “far left” based on a questionnaire.
“We were both given a series of questions to answer; it was from ActiVote,” Carnes told the Centennial Citizen. She said she wasn’t planning to take the questionnaire but that she did because Branch did. ActiVote is a program that provides “easy access to your elections and what candidates really stand for, while filtering out all the noise,” according to its website.
Based on the answers, the program placed them on a spectrum, Carnes said. In the newsletter, Carnes wrote: “I fall near center on the political spectrum.”
Carnes has received campaign contributions from Suzanne Taheri, the Arapahoe County Republican Party chair; Heidi Ganahl, a Republican who is running for Colorado governor; Kathleen Conti, a Republican former representative in the Colorado General Assembly and former Arapahoe County commissioner; and Susan Beckman, a Republican former state representative from Littleton and former Arapahoe County commissioner and Littleton city councilmember.
Asked about the lack of prominent Democrats among her campaign contributors, Carnes said it might be based on whom she asked for support.
She added: “I think that if you’re going to have to plot me, I’m center, I’m a little bit center right.”
Carnes said that although Centennial City Council races are formally nonpartisan — meaning candidates aren’t listed with party affiliation on the ballot — voters often don’t treat the election that way.
“When I was walking neighborhoods, the No. 1 question I was asked is, ‘Are you a Republican or a Democrat, or are you conservative or liberal?’” Carnes said.
Carnes also received a contribution from Schumé Navarro, a candidate for Cherry Creek school board. Navarro also received a contribution from Carnes. Navarro was chosen to be secretary of the Arapahoe County Republican Party this year.
Carnes met Navarro a year ago because they both took part in the Leadership Program of the Rockies, Carnes said. The Leadership Program of the Rockies is an effort to train “emerging leaders to reach new heights in public policy and the political process,” its website says. Alumni photos suggest it used to be called the Republican Leadership Program.
“I met Schumé because we both lived in Arapahoe County … she became a friend simply because we were in the same class,” Carnes said.
Navarro also has expressed support for the unproven claim that the 2020 presidential election was fraudulent. Carnes said she was aware of Navarro’s election beliefs. Carnes declined to comment when asked whether she believes the election was fraudulent as well.
“I am going to choose not to comment on that specific thing because, unfortunately, that’s a very divisive issue right now,” Carnes said. She added: “I think of regardless of where we live … we must … work hard to ensure that all elections are fair. And if there is room for doubt, let’s get to the root of that to erase and eliminate that doubt.”
A high-profile issue in west Centennial is the proposed redevelopment of The Streets at SouthGlenn outdoor mall. The shopping center’s former Sears property is owned by Northwood Investors, which wants to add apartments there.
Alberta Development Partners — which controls nearly all of the rest of SouthGlenn — wants to put in apartments and office space, and retail and entertainment establishments, where the Macy’s stands.
The former Sears property is “a huge space, huge parking lot, and it’s empty, and it’s concerning,” Carnes said.
“The obvious answer is, something needs to be done. The other obvious answer is, there’s not enough housing right now in Centennial District 1 for those who want to move here,” Carnes said.
She added: “It is also very, very important to look at the housing that goes into that — it has to reflect the neighborhood that surrounds it … The current homeowners and property values, they should not be ignored or sacrificed. Balance is key.”
Carnes also received campaign contributions from Mayor Stephanie Piko, former Mayor Cathy Noon and Kathy Turley, the current Centennial city councilmember in District 1.
Carnes called the current and former officials “all strong and smart women” who responded to her request for support.
“I’m honored to receive contributions from them, and I think it’s a vote of confidence,” Carnes said. She added: “They see a strong female who wants to make a positive difference for her community.”
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