Candidates start early in HD 59

By Katy Schultz
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

Colorado’s Four Corners area regularly sends both Democrats and Republican legislators to the Capitol, and House District 59, a swing district, is shaping up as battleground territory in the 2010 election.

The seat, now held by Republican Ellen Roberts, will be open in 2010 as Roberts runs for the Senate District 6 seat being vacated by Democrat Jim Isgar.

The Democrats are pinning their hopes on Brian O’Donnell, executive director of the Colorado-based non-profit National Conservation System Foundation, while Republicans look to Lew Webb, a second-generation automobile dealer originally from Orange County, Calif.

Both men are making their first run for public office in HD 59, which lies on Colorado’s border with New Mexico and includes the cities of Durango, Pagosa Springs, Cortez and Silverton.

O’Donnell, of Durango, made his formal political debut as a delegate to the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver.

“I think there is a great opportunity to give back to the community of southwest Colorado,” said O’Donnell, who hopes to champion health care reform and land and water conservation legislation if elected.

Because party affiliation in HD 59 is so evenly divided, candidates from both parties tend to take moderate positions.

“I think I will be able to appeal to the middle,” said O’Donnell who said he favors gun rights and a conservative fiscal policy, in contrast to more liberal Democrats.

However, he also said he would push aggressively for health care reform and green legislation.

“I think I am a moderate candidate who can get along with both sides of the aisle,” O’Donnell said.

O’Donnell plans to hit the campaign trail hard, meeting constituents and listening to their views on issues facing southwest Colorado.

O’Donnell admits he “doesn’t know a lot” about his opponent, Webb, but is confident he can beat him by appealing to a wider demographic.

“I’m going to run a positive campaign,” said O’Donnell. “I feel it’s important to run a strong grassroots campaign. I want to represent all of District 59. It’s a diverse demographic district.”

Webb, like O’Donnell, is making his first run for public office in HD 59 — excluding a run for president of his second-grade class.

“I didn’t just wake up one day and decide I wanted to be in government,” said Webb. “I have always been very politically aware and very active in political debate and conversation.”

Webb said he had been approached by both unaffiliated voters and Republicans who asked if he would consider running for office.

His interest in seeking office comes from dissatisfaction with “the direction government is going theses days” and his love of the state.

“Southwestern Colorado is a very interesting place. I love it!” said Webb.

He realizes the path to political success in HD 59 goes straight down the middle of the road.

“I think for anybody to get anything done these days, you have to be willing to work together as Americans,” said Webb.

Webb presents himself as a straight shooting businessman who says he wants to wait until he finds his way around Capitol Hill before he commits to pushing any political agenda.

“My background is in business. I’m not a career politician,” said Webb. “It seems these days politicians want to dance around and not answer questions directly.”

Both candidates will be closely watching the 2010 legislative session as they determine their campaign strategies.

“A lot will depend upon the forecast for revenue and how well the economy is doing a year from now,” said O’Donnell.

Katy@coloradostatesman.com