An Otero County Republican candidate forum got personal last week when primary challenger Don Bendell touted his health and pain tolerance at an event incumbent State Rep. Judy Reyher (R-Swink) was forced to miss while recovering from spinal surgery. 

Reyher is recovering from a May 22 spinal surgery for severe disc disintegration and was unable to attend. She sent a long letter explaining her absence, listing her legislative accomplishments and offering her priorities for her the upcoming year. It started with an extensive explanation of her recent surgery and the challenges that prevented her from attending the debate.

“When [the surgeons] got in there it was worse than they thought with the actual membrane surrounding the nerve being impaired.  I believed I could just drive La Junta for the forum today and and drive back tomorrow for my first post-op visit. My body put a full halt to that notion this morning as I was getting ready to make the trip. My body just has a lot of healing to do.”

Her opponent, Don Bendell, began his remarks by asking for prayers for Reyher’s recovery.

“I came here to debate. I really feel bad for my opponent, I’m sorry she couldn’t be here and I ask for you to join me in prayer for her quick recovery. I certainly can sympathize, since I started running I’ve had two 9mm kidney stones… It’s not fun dealing with pain but I’ve dealt with it my entire life. I had a broken back too, in 2011 and my prayers certainly go out to my opponent. I’m not here to say anything bad about my opponent but I am here to talk about her record.”

He then launched into a stump speech before taking questions from the audience. The first question was, “What do you have to offer Otero County?”

Here was his answer:

“Well for one thing, my enthusiasm. I’m the same age as Judy Reyher. And I’m also a disabled Vietnam veteran. But I work out every morning. I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I don’t do drugs. And I’m not suggesting she does, please don’t misread what I’m saying. I’m very healthy. And I’ve had plenty of health issues. But I don’t ever let health issues stop me. I don’t let pain stop me. When I had those kidney stones, I took extra strength Tylenol. When I broke my back in 2011, I took extra strength Tylenol.”

Reached for comment, Rep. Reyher said,

“There is no response to that. I have no further comment.”

Asked to elaborate on his reasoning for raising the issue of health and pain tolerance, Bendell reiterated that he sympathized with her, having endured his own health challenges with kidney stones. He went on to say that he also raised it because he’s heard complaints that since entering office, Reyher has largely remained in Denver.

“The reason I said that is that a lot of the constituents complained that she got elected to Denver and stayed there and that she didn’t come back to the district. She got an apartment in Denver and stayed there.”

In her letter to the event, Reyher addressed her decision to remain in Denver (at least post-surgery) as part of the recovery process. Bendell acknowledged that before returning to the theme of pain tolerance.

“Everybody has different levels [of pain tolerance]. I was a Green Beret, she wasn’t. I don’t expect her to have the same pain tolerance as me. I certainly don’t. However long she takes to recuperate that’s between her and her doctors. That’s none of my business.”

He also noted that he had experienced a migraine headache before last night’s forum in Pueblo, but that he didn’t tell anyone but his wife and the organizer.

“I don’t let pain control me. I don’t let pain define me. But that’s me. I don’t expect Judy or anyone else to be me. But I was also making a point. If there’s a blizzard and I’m in Denver serving the constituents of HD47 and God forbid I’ve broken both legs, I’ll get on some crutches or drag myself and I’ll do it because that’s what I said I’ll do and a man is only as good as his word.”

The video of the entire forum is available on the Otero County GOP Facebook page. It begins with the reading of Reyher’s letter. Bendell’s speech begins at approximately 48 minutes. His answer to the question from the audience begins at 52 minutes.