Legislative contests provide fodder for Club 20

By Ellen Miller

GRAND JUNCTION – One of the hazards for political candidates who stray too far toward their party’s extremes is figuring out how to “walk back” some of what they said to win primaries.

At Club 20’s debates last weekend, Ken Buck and Sen. Michael Bennet sparred over whether Buck really called for abolishing the Department of Education, and 3rd CD Republican Scott Tipton had to deal with Rep. John Salazar contending that Tipton supports phasing out Social Security. Both Buck and Tipton had courted support from tea partiers, and Tipton won his GOP primary against a tea party favorite.

And then there’s J. Paul Brown.

The Ignacio rancher, running as a Republican in House District 59 in Durango, warned of “Obama’s private army.”

Pressed by Democratic opponent Brian O’Donnell, Brown replied, “I don’t know what it’s called, but there’s a provision in that health bill to do it.”

O’Donnell asked Brown about remarks at a Tea Party rally when he warned of the federal government “controlling kids with student loans.”

Brown: “The federal government wants to control everything, including loans.”

Then the discussion turned to guns and the United Nations.

O’Donnell asked Brown about saying the United Nations “is going to try to control our land and our guns, and then said this is going to cause civil war. Who is the civil war between, and is this appropriate rhetoric to bring up in a state legislative race?”

Replied Brown: “It’s a concern of mine, you know, if you start taking away our guns. I’m sorry, people are going to stand up, and they’re not going to let it happen. The idea that Hillary Clinton is out there doing a treaty with the United Nations, it’s my opinion that maybe we just ought to get out of the United Nations.’’

The winner of the HD 59 race will succeed Rep. Ellen Roberts, a moderate Republican from Durango who won her primary against a Tea Party favorite. State Democrats think they have a real chance to win one here.

Senate District 5 — Rankin vs. Schwartz
Four years ago, Gail Schwartz of Pitkin County stunned longtime Republican legislator Lew Entz to win the SD 5 seat, a district that sprawls from the wealthiest enclave in the state to the poorest in the San Luis Valley.

Schwartz this year faces Republican Bob Rankin, who has had to fight off accusations that he hasn’t lived in the district long enough despite years of residence in the Roaring Fork Valley, where one might live in one of five counties.

Schwartz doesn’t contest Rankin’s eligibility, but she tries to paint him as a Tea Party favorite out of touch with the district.

During their Club 20 debate, Schwartz pressed Rankin for his position on the so-called Big 3 — Amendments 60 and 61 and Proposition 101.

“I certainly support efficiencies and smaller government, but I am not advocating or voting for them,” Rankin replied.

“You need to make it clear to your Tea Party compatriots,” Schwartz replied.

Rankin criticized Schwartz for voting against SB 191, which ends rock-solid teacher tenure, saying the bill (which passed) is important “because it costs $200,000 to get rid of a teacher and it shouldn’t be that way.”

Schwartz said she is “committed to accountability,” but opposed the bill because of the difficulty small rural school districts have recruiting and retaining teachers.

“They don’t need another unfunded mandate,” she said.

House District 57 — Ivancie vs. Baumgardner
In contrast to the two debates with Tea Party undertows, Rep. Randy Baumgardner and Democratic challenger Steve Ivancie in HD 57 were a study in civility and general agreement on a number of issues in the northwestern Colorado district.

They agreed that HB 1365, which requires Xcel to study and preferably switch from coal to natural gas as a fuel source for three Front Range power plants, should have failed. Baumgardner said the state shouldn’t put one industry against another, and Ivancie, a former coal miner, also supports development of the state’s clean coal and natural gas, along with renewables.

Both also agreed that the state budget will remain in trouble and that further cuts will be painful. Both support small business development.

The district covers Jackson, Moffat, Rio Blanco and western Garfield counties.

House District 61 — Wilson vs. Korkowski vs. Curry
Rep. Kathleen Curry, U-Gunnison, is trying to defend her HD 61 seat by the toughest way possible: as a write-in candidate.

She faces Glenwood Springs Democrat Roger Wilson and Crested Butte Republican Luke Korkowski.

In an unwieldy three-way debate, Curry defended bolting from the Democratic Party, saying she didn’t agree with its fiscal policy, and she voted against HB 1365 because of significant coal workers in the district and because “mandates are not a workable approach.”

Korkowski said government should not compete with the free market, and called for regulation only when compliance is easy. Wilson said the HB 1365 mandate could work to expand renewable energy and thus bring new jobs to the state.

Best wishes to Bishop
Many of Club 20’s moderators throughout the day of debates expressed good wishes to CU Regent and former state Sen. Tillie Bishop, R-Grand Junction.

Bishop, a fixture at Club 20 meetings for decades, was in a Denver hospital recovering from surgery to remove a cancerous bone and replace a knee. The longtime Western Slope pol is battling bone cancer.

Polls and pols
The lunch speaker was Amy Walter, ABC Television’s political director, who led the 200 or so lunch attendees through a blizzard of polling numbers, trend history and other numerical detail, all interspersed with informal humor.

“This is really cool out here,” she said. “I’ve seen three bike shops in one block and I’ve never seen that before.”

But her remark about herself and her audience brought the house down:

“You have to understand we’re not normal people. Normal people don’t sit in rooms like this on a beautiful afternoon in Colorado talking about polls. So we are not normal,” she said.

Western wit
A Senate seat in southwestern Colorado hotly contested by both parties pits Sen. Bruce Whitehead, D-Hesperus, against Rep. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango. But their anticipated debate was derailed when Whitehead was called to a family funeral Saturday. So Roberts had a few minutes uncontested at the microphone to discuss state issues, and offered an observation:

“That elk bugle you hear during breakfast at a Western Slope café is some guy’s cell phone ringing.”