Voters in the north and eastern portions of Delta County find themselves faced with an incumbent they may well never have heard of, as a result of redistricting which split Delta County into two House districts. House District 54 is generally along the City of Delta boundary to the east and stretches from the Montrose County line to the Mesa County line.
House District 61 encompasses east of the Delta city limits and includes Orchard City, Cedaredge, Hotchkiss, Crawford and Paonia.
Incumbent Millie Hamner, a Democrat, is from Summit County. Republican nominee Debra Irvine also resides in Summit County. Gunnison area resident Kathleen Curry, a former state legislator, is running as an unaffiliated candidate. Robert Petrowsky is the American Constitution candidate, and Ellen Temby is a Libertarian.
Four of the five attended a candidate forum hosted by the League of Women Voters last week. Temby sent a letter which was read by moderator Ed Baxter. She feels strongly the two-party system does not represent the diversity of the American population, and she urged voters to research the Libertarian platform and the positions of its candidates.
Hamner, the incumbent, has lived on the Western Slope since the '70s. She served as superintendent of schools in Summit County until she was appointed to fill a vacancy in the Colorado House of Representatives. As a Democratic freshman she says she was able to get things done because she used her skills of "listening and working well with others."
Irvine previously ran for state representative in House District 56 and has been active in Republican politics. She pledges to remove and reduce harmful regulations, restrictions and taxes to help businesses grow.
Petrowsky grew up on a small farm in Kansas and is a firm believer in respecting the rights of businesses and giving them a healthy environment to operate in. Government should offer a protective wing and nothing else, he said.
Motivated by water issues, Curry served in the Colorado General Assembly for six years and chaired the ag committee for five. "I threw my hat in the ring this time because I want to work on those issues but I want to do something about what I consider to be a problem with our government," she said. "It's not functioning very well. That's why I'm running as an independent. We need to reduce partisanship in General Assembly and hopefully get back to problem solving."
Each candidate answered a handful of questions posed by the members of the audience. They all agreed on keeping energy impact funds within the county of origin, rather than using them to help balance the state's general fund.
Their positions diverged on Amendment 64, which would legalize recreational marijuana use.
"That's not one of my top priorities," Hamner said. "I will tell you as a former teacher and superintendent, I'm very concerned about the message we might be sending our children if we start talking about marijuana the same way we talk about alcohol. I am most likely voting no."
Irvine cited an increase in the number of school suspensions and expulsions this year because of the use or possession of marijuana. She is concerned Colorado will become a distribution center, because we will be the only state in the nation that will have legalized marijuana.
Petrowsky said, "From a personal rights perspective, I don't feel I have any right to tell someone what they can do in their home. I believe the voters should decide."
Legalization could lead to controls, taxation and safer access to a multi-billion dollar industry that's been unregulated up to this point, he added.
Curry was frank in her support. "It's a personal right and it's time we started focusing our enforcement energies on more important issues." The real issue, she said, is to prevent people from driving while impaired.
The next question dealt with promoting business across the state. "Specifically, what regulations, if any, do you feel need to be relaxed?" the candidates were asked.
"It's not a regulation, but the Gallagher Amendment needs to be addressed by the Colorado General Assembly," Curry responded. "The relationship between residential and commercial tax rates is out of balance."
Irvine believes the state should assert its 10th Amendment rights, which grant sovereignty, freedom and independence to each state, to minimize burdensome federal regulations from the EPA and other government entities.
"The first thing I would want to do is get an understanding from local businesses," Hamner said. "What are the barriers? What are the regulations that are causing problems? Are they state or federal? That's a strength I bring to office. I want to listen."
Members of the audience were anxious to hear the candidates' position on capturing coal mine methane gas. Hamner was specifically asked about a vote she cast on renewable energy sources. Hamner said she voted against the bill because its wording polarized the environmental community against the mining community. The legislative session ended before a compromise could be reached. "I have made a commitment that I want to be out in the forefront of finding a good solution so we can incentivize the industry to capture methane without alienating the environmental groups," she explained.
Petrowsky said he would propose tax incentives to encourage coal mines to capture that resource, but since he wants to eliminate corporate taxes altogether, he would come up with other incentives to make the process more attractive.
The bill died because of disagreement over whether coalbed methane is a renewable energy source, Irvine explained. The bottom line: The coal mine industry in our district is extremely important and the only person to testify against the bill was a lawyer from an environmental group.
The bill made sense, Curry agreed, but never made it out of a Senate committee because it got so complicated because of conflicts with solar/wind interests and purchase requirements from power suppliers.
Following the tragic shooting in Aurora, gun violence is sure to be a topic of discussion at the state capitol.
All of the candidates expressed their support for Second Amendment rights; the problem, they felt, was recognizing when people need help, and stepping up to make sure they get the services they need.
"We have not been putting our resources into mental health," Curry said. "I'm not saying we have those resources, but look at the price we're paying."
A follow-up question dealt with assault weapons, and whether they should be banned. Hamner was asked specifically about a vote which would have allowed business owners to use lethal force to protect their establishments.
Petrowsky quoted a portion of the Second Amendment, "The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."
It doesn't define the arm — it's a right, as defined, he stressed. The other four candidates agreed. Hamner explained her vote by saying as a teacher and superintendent, she's seen kids do some really stupid things. "You've got a kid doing a prank and he ends up getting shot — I couldn't get that image out of my mind as I voted."
Fracking has been a hot topic in Delta County, and specifically the North Fork, for a good part of the year but none of the candidates believe it's a matter of concern.
Hamner commended Governor Hickenlooper for bringing all the interests to the table to try to forge regulations for Colorado that are actually a model nationwide.
"However, the public is not quite on board," she said. "I thnk we have work to do. The people aren't convinced that fracking is 100% safe so we've got real work ahead of us to make sure we're providing the proper oversight and that we have good disclosure policies."
Irvine said that's not the position Hamner took at the Club 20 debate, where she reportedly said she opposed fracking. Irvine, on the other hand, described fracking as "sound technology."
Curry said she believes mineral and surface rights are co-equal, but if drilling can be done safely — even with fracking — it makes sense.
That position reflects the sense of balance Curry says she would bring to the table. Her background in water and natural resources is also an asset, she said. Of the 100 state representatives, fewer than five have a background or interest in natural resources, she said. "We need to have that voice."
Hamner reiterated her ability to work with diverse interests to bring forward real solutions. Her passions, she said, are the environment, education and the economy.
Irvine read a prepared statement in which she promised to be passionate about issues, and compassionate about the voters' needs.blog comments powered by Disqus