Curry drops Dems, becomes Independent

Can she win re-election in 2010 as a write-in candidate?

By Leslie Jorgensen

State Rep. Kathleen Curry became Colorado’s only independent legislator this week when the Democrat changed her voter registration to “unaffiliated.” Curry filled out the paperwork on Monday at the Gunnison County Courthouse and then informed Gov. Bill Ritter and House Speaker Terrance Carroll of her decision.

“Terrance wasn’t happy about it, but he was respectful. He has always been respectful to me,” said Curry.

The decision, Curry said, wasn’t made hastily.

The three-term legislator said that she had felt torn between being loyal to the Democratic leadership and honestly representing her constituents in House District 61. At least 43 percent of voters are unaffiliated in the district which includes Eagle, Gunnison, Pitkin, Hinsdale and Garfield counties.

“I have to vote my conscience and for my district ­— and that isn’t always in step with party leadership,” said Curry. “I’m really not a partisan person.”

When Curry told the House Speaker of her decision, Carroll suggested that she remain a Democrat and relieve the pressure by resigning her leadership roles as speaker pro tem and chair of the House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee.

“His suggestions were great alternatives, but it was too late,” said Curry. “I’d already filed the paperwork.”

Carroll also left the door open for her to continue participating in the Democratic House caucus, but Curry said she is uncertain about being aligned with either party. “I just want to focus on my job as a legislator and represent my constituents,” she said.

Carroll said he will announce replacements for her positions as speaker pro tem and chair of the House Agriculture Committee in a couple of days.

“Rep. Curry has always been an independent thinker,” said Carroll, “and has worked well with the caucus in the past. Though it will be tough to see her go, I look forward to continuing to work with her this legislative session. As we move forward, our priorities remain the same: working for you, your family and small businesses and focusing on things that will steer us toward recovery, and that will help people find jobs. I look forward to a great session.”

Curry had been a Democrat for more than 30 years, but she described herself as an independent thinker.

That independent streak drew criticism from some Democrats, she said, particularly during the 2009 legislative session. During the debate over the “long bill” in April, Curry had proposed several amendments to balance the state budget — including a proposed across-the-board budget cut — that were rejected.

Perhaps more controversial, Curry said, was her vote against Senate Bill 228, sponsored by Sen. John Morse, D-Colorado Springs. The bill, which passed, eliminated the 1991 Arveschoug-Bird measure, which had capped state General Fund growth at 6 percent a year and required any additional money to be used for transportation and construction projects.

“Kathleen Curry is a sharp, sharp person. I have the utmost respect for her,” said Morse, who was surprised by her decision to become unaffiliated.

“I don’t think this was an impulsive decision — she’s very intelligent,” said Morse.

Like other political observers, Morse questioned the timing of Curry’s decision. To run for a fourth term in 2010, Curry will have to wage a “write in” campaign because independent candidates had to have registered as such by June, 2009 in order to be on the ballot in 2010. Republican and Democratic candidates have to be affiliated for one year prior to the general election. Ironically, Curry knew of the disparity between the rules for unaffiliated and affiliated candidates.

“It’s a long shot,” admitted Curry.

“If she was going to be listed on the ballot, I’m sure she’d win. But, it’s darn near impossible to win as a write-in candidate,” said Morse.

“It’s early — but it will become a three-way race,” he said. “I’d wager that Carroll and (House Minority Leader Mike) May are both looking for candidates as we speak.”

Curry had been planning to propose a bill to make filing requirements identical for affiliated and unaffiliated candidates.

“I wanted to even the playing field for all candidates,” said Curry, who doubts the bill will survive in this session, but hopes it will eventually pass to help other unaffiliated candidates in the future.

Despite a few rumors bubbling on blogs, Curry said, “There is not one bill, person or thing that influenced my decision.”

She adamantly disputed a rumor that her decision had been influenced by Democratic opposition to a health insurance bill which she plans to cosponsor with Rep. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango.

The bill, she said, aims to improve the functions of the Commission on Mandated Health Insurance Benefits, which was created in 2007 after the legislature passed a bill sponsored by Rep. Greg Brophy, R-Wray, and former Sen. Bob Hagedorn, D-Aurora. The Commission was established to communicate with the general assembly and the state Insurance Commissioner and to provide assessments and fiscal impact studies.

Curry and Roberts’ bill would also place a one-year moratorium in 2010 on measures that would change health insurance coverage requirements. They reason that it will take time to assess the federal health care package — and particularly its impact on small businesses and insurers.

“It’s a good bill, and it’s a bipartisan bill,” said Roberts, who said it had no influence on Curry’s decision to leave the Democratic Party.

“Her move to become independent is much bigger than this or any other bill,” declared Roberts.

“Kathleen is doing what she thinks is right. She is a legislator who has the greatest amount of courage and integrity.”