By Leslie Jorgensen
THE COLORADO STATESMAN
Democrat Rep. Wes McKinley is proud of his Colorado roots and crusty cowboy image, and his independent brand of representation sits well with most of the folks in House District 64, even if it rankles the Democratic leadership under the gold dome.
“I’m definitely running for re-election. I’m fired up!” declared McKinley, who garnered 73 percent of the vote last year, leaving Republican opponent Ken Torres in the dust of the district, which encompasses all five counties in the state’s southeastern corner, plus a bit of Huerfano. The trail might be a bit rougher in 2010. McKinley is facing Republican challenger Lisa Grace Kellogg, who traded the big city life in Los Angeles for the rural ranching lifestyle of La Veta.
“I’ve been kidded about that,” said Kellogg with a laugh.
She said that some folks have compared her lifestyle switch to the one portrayed in the 1960s TV sitcom “Green Acres,” in which Eva Gabor played Lisa, whose successful attorney husband moves the couple from a penthouse in New York City to a farm in rural Hooterville.
Unlike Gabor’s character, however, Kellogg said she has had no difficulty adjusting to the sight of land spreading out for far and wide.
Kellogg, born and raised in California, spent childhoodsummers on her parents’ ranch in Huerfano County. In 2005, she and her husband, Michael Kellogg, bought a home in Major’s Ranch, a development of 40- to 300-acre properties located eight miles north of La Veta.
Three years later, the couple bought the struggling Walsenburg-based Huerfano County World. They publish the newspaper, as well as several California community publications, within their American Print Media company.
Previously, Lisa Grace Kellogg served as general counsel to a news media company owned by her parents.
Michael Kellogg, who played for the Denver Broncos in the 1960s, is a judge in Los Angeles Superior Court and resides at the couple’s ranch in Malibu. The couple calls it a haven for rescued animals, including dogs, horses, chickens, goats and turkeys.
As the HD 64 race unfolds, McKinley and Kellogg are finding that they share a number of views on such issues as improving education, protecting the environment and respecting private property rights. The latter issue is the most contentious in the mostly rural district.
Local ranchers have adamantly opposed the U.S. Army’s proposed expansion of Fort Carson’s training site in Piñon Canyon. Earlier this year, their opposition was strengthened when Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter signed into law a bill sponsored by McKinley and Rep. Sal Pace, D-Pueblo, which bans the lease or sale to the Army of state-owned land.
Kellogg shares McKinley’s stalwart belief in protecting private property rights and also swears to fight the use of condemnation powers to seize land. The views of both are recorded in YouTube videos.
The candidates’ styles, however, are decidedly different.
In his video, dressed in cowboy duds, McKinley trots his quarter horse across the rugged, rocky terrain as he leads a tour of reporters through Piñon Canyon.
Kellogg, on the other hand, looks prim and polished in her video, wearing a triple strand of pearls and a dark suit as she speaks in a modulated tone about private property rights and other issues in the wood-paneled library of her home.
She touts traditional Republican values and goals: lowering taxes, improving the economy, curbing excessive state government spending and creating new jobs.
“We need a pro-small business representative fighting for us in Denver,” says Kellogg, noting that three out of four jobs are created by small businesses.
“I know how to create jobs. The solution is to create more opportunities for small businesses,” she says. “It’s not rocket science.”
Kellogg says she hopes to repeal legislation requiring businesses to pay sick leave to workers for their personal or family medical needs. The Healthy Families & Workplaces Act was introduced by former Rep. Anne McGihon, D-Denver, during the legislative session earlier this year.
“It sounds warm and fuzzy. But the law is unfair to small businesses and discriminates against workers without families,” said Kellogg of the newly minted legislation.
McKinley counters that he, too, is a small business owner — as well as an educator, author and cowboy. A third-generation Coloradan, McKinley lives with his wife, Jan, a schoolteacher, on their ranch in Walsh.
“You can’t stimulate a dead horse,” scoffed McKinley of Kellogg’s goal to revitalize the economy.
“Government’s role isn’t to create jobs. It’s to protect life, liberty and property,” declared McKinley.
McKinley asserted that he has a very conservative voting record — more “libertarian,” in fact, than his Democratic peers in the Legislature would like.
He and fellow Democrats found themselves at odds over the Funding Advancement for Surface Transportation and Economic Recovery (FASTER) bill, which increased vehicle registration fees to fund road and bridge projects. The bill passed and was signed into law by Ritter.
“I was hard against that bill,” declared McKinley. “Democrats hammered me on that one.”
Kellogg said she, too, opposes FASTER and has signed the Colorado Union of Taxpayers “No New Taxes” pledge.
“Household budgets are stretched these days,” declared Kellogg in her campaign announcement. “Families cannot afford to send more money to Denver. As the next representative from District 64, I will work to control spending and lower our tax burden so people can keep more of their hard-earned paychecks.”
Kellogg plans on a high profile campaign — featuring everything from buttons and bumper stickers to social networking on her Web site, Twitter, MySpace and Facebook.
McKinley said he’s not ruffled by the Republican’s razzle-dazzle candidacy — and he has no plans to change his down-home campaign style.
It has worked in each election since he was first elected to the House in 2004 from a district where 43 percent of voters are registered Democrats, 34 percent are Republicans and 23 percent are unaffiliated.
“I’m going to sit deep in the saddle, tighten the rein, keep my eyes on the horizon and ride hard!” he declared.
“I’ve bought 15 sacks — that’s about 60 pounds — of peanuts to hand out at the bars and the ballgames,” said McKinley, who ultimately expects to buy more than 400 pounds of peanuts for his re-election campaign.
“No lapel pins, no bumper stickers! I’m not polluting this world,” declared the Democrat. “Peanuts are biodegradable. And they’re American!”
“I don’t have any glamour shots,” said McKinley, referencing his opponent’s glossy image. “I’m just kind of old and crusty.”