DENVER– Former Rep. Kathleen Curry had no qualms about changing the “D” behind her name to “unaffiliated” in December 2009, because, as she said then, it fit the “independent” spirit of House District 61 voters.
This week, the Gunnison rancher launched a petition drive to reclaim the seat she lost two years ago by a mere 359 votes to Democrat Rep. Roger Wilson of Glenwood Springs.
“I live in a unique part of the state where you have to earn your votes from the electors – you answer to them,” said Curry. Her campaign this year, as in 2010, is based on nonpartisanship – and a stand against partisan politics.
Because of reapportionment maps that placed Wilson and Rep. Millie Hamner (D-Dillon) in the same territory, he’s stepping aside and letting Hamner have at it.
If Curry captures the 400 petition signatures by July 2, her name will appear on the general election along with Democrat Hamner, American Constitution Party candidate Robert Petrowsky of Leadville and the winner of the Republican primary between Debra Irvine of Breckenridge and David Justice of Gunnison.
“The leadership in both (Democrat and Republican) parties plays hardball politics,” declared Curry. “And the leadership shouldn’t ever tell you how to vote.”
But that’s what the House Democratic leadership did to Curry, particularly in her third two-year term, and she resisted. The friction became so bad that Curry changed her voter registration and became unaffiliated.
In February 2010, Curry boldly voted against House Bill 1365, the Clean Air-Clean Jobs Act promoted by Democrat Governor Bill Ritter that required Xcel Energy to convert three power plants from coal to natural gas by 2018. The bill passed and was signed into law but resulted in economic casualties, particularly in House District 61.
“I have significant coal production in my district, with over 700 miners working in two major mines on the North Fork and the Gunnison (River),” said Curry in a statement. “I don’t think the state should dictate this conversion. I think it will negatively impact the coal industry, and … it will drive up rates for consumers.”
In May 2010, Curry also voted against a House Joint Resolution that sent a message to Congress to promote renewable energy and its promise of economic security by ending the country’s dependence on foreign oil.
A deep line was drawn in the sand by Curry, whose votes for bills – environmental protection, oil and gas development, tourism and water resources – had reflected the diverse interests in her district.
When Curry saw a photo of House Speaker Frank McNulty in standoff with House Minority Leader Mark Ferrandino over the same-sex Civil Unions Bill in May, she said it inspired her to run again for office – and to be nonpartisan.
“The civil unions debacle was terrible especially when good bills did not get heard,” said Curry of the estimated 30 bills that were killed in the collision of wills. “It was part of the partisan political gamesmanship that has been very damaging.”
That particular show down might have hurt Republicans, but Curry said, “It’s symptomatic of the bigger problem of partisan games on both sides of the aisle.”
One of the bills left on the floor at the end of the session wasn’t in the House, but in the Senate where Democratic leadership merged it with two divergent bills, but never put the legislative package to a vote. The lost bill was House Bill 1160 that would have recognized as a renewable energy the recapture of methane gas from coal mines as a source of low cost energy, benefited the environment and created jobs in HD 61.
“I think it’s regrettable that it didn’t get a third reading on the Senate floor,” said Curry. “That’s the problem with the (Democrat) leadership.”
Curry has not studied the bill, but the fact that it had gained support from Democrat and Republican legislators, the Environmental Protection Agency and Holy Cross Energy as well as rural utility cooperatives, she said, “I would have liked it… and it should be revisited in the next (legislative) session.”
“Why not let it be brought up for a vote?” asked Curry.
She answered her own question, saying it’s an example of power of partisan leadership. Senate Majority Leader John Morse of Colorado Springshad said the bill was “not consistent with our Democratic values.”
HB 1160 would have created construction and long term jobs at mines in Somerset in Gunnison County in HD 61. Democrat Rep. Hamner voted against the bill. But, Republican candidates Debra Irvine of Breckenridge and David Justice of Gunnison favor the measure.
“I want to put coal miners back to work,” said Justice. “We’re being irresponsible to our environment, energy and economy by not voting for this bill. It’s a contradiction in our goals for the state. I would put my full support behind this bill.”
Justice said, “I’m for wind and solar energy resources, but I am also for a playing field that is level for other alternative energy sources.”
“I would have voted in favor of HB 12-1160,” said Irvine in an email.
Will this election year recycle the slash and burn tactics of liberal groups used in 2010 in order to elect a Democrat?
Then a write-in candidate on a shoestring budget, Curry battled attacks by well-heeled liberal 527 committees bent defeating her and delivering the Democrat. One of the flyers said, “Don’t throw your vote away” on a write-in candidate and depicted a trash can, recalled Curry.
Curry said that she’s ready for any Democrat 527 committees that want to pour money into the race to elect Hamner.
“Bring it on!” declared Curry.
The district combines voters in Lake, Pitkin, Summit and portions of Delta and Gunnison counties, and includes ski resorts in Aspen, Breckenridge and Crested Butte as well as ranching and mining industries in rural communities
Of 38,164 active voters, 36.1 percent are unaffiliated, 31.6 percent are Republicans and 31 percent are Democrats according to the June 1 report published the Colorado Secretary of State’s office.