By Chris Bragg
THE COLORADO STATESMAN
The work of Colorado legislators often involves incremental changes — tinkering around the edges to achieve what can be achieved, without raising taxes. The Legislature, after all, cannot raise taxes in Colorado without a public vote.
If governing effectively within those constraints is the measure of a lawmaker, then Rep. Christine Scanlan, D-Dillon, would seem to have been a success in her first session. The Legislature passed all 11 bills Scanlan introduced.
“That’s something I’ve gained a reputation for,” said Scanlan, at a debate in Eagle on Sept. 24 sponsored by radio station KZYR. “You have to get things done, or you are not doing your job.”
For Scanlan’s opponent in the battleground race in House District 56, however, there’s a difference between passing bills and representing the interests of the district.
“None of them have to do with helping I-70, with helping roads, with helping keep severance tax here in our local communities,” said Scanlan’s Republican opponent Ali Hasan. “Stop playing patty-cake with Denver.
“I’m not going to pass 11 bills.”
Hasan, of Beaver Creek, wants to go around the normal legislative process. If elected, he plans to push for ballot initiatives that would fund a monorail to reduce congestion on I-70 and that would bankroll the fight against the pine beetle epidemic.
Whether taxpayers will vote to fund the Western Slope district’s priorities through statewide ballot measures is another matter.
The race in HD 56 — which includes Eagle, Lake and Summit counties — offers a clear contrast between the brash, bold Hasan and the quietly effective Scanlan. And those adjectives apply to the candidates’ ideas as well as to their personalities.
Maybe the differences have something to do with their ages. Hasan is 28. Scanlan is 44.
“Your energy and your youth, I admire that,” Scanlan said to Hasan, before hastening to add that she, however, is “not quite in the crypt yet.”
Scanlan, who was appointed by a vacancy committee in December and has one legislative session under her belt, cautioned Hasan that big ideas get shot down at the Statehouse if their consequences aren’t fully vetted or if all the players aren’t given a chance to weigh in.
“You’re going to be answering those questions,” at the Capitol, she said, noting that it takes a two-thirds vote for a legislator to directly refer a measure to the ballot, “and I can tell you there’s a bipartisan spirit to killing bills that don’t make sense for Colorado.”
Hasan dismissed the idea of plodding along such a deliberate path.
Although Hasan is a staunch supporter of the Taxpayers Bill of Rights, which he considers a “sacred text,” he is also a big advocate of proposing tax increases on the ballot, and that’s how he intends to fund programs that will benefit the Western Slope.
“If our changes don’t happen at the Statehouse, we need to put them on the statewide ballot,” he said. “If the Statehouse doesn’t want to have a dialogue, then the state of Colorado will.”
“Put it on the statewide ballot,” Hasan said. “We’re only in session for four months. I’d spend the other eight months campaigning for it.”
Scanlan says any plans for the monorail are unlikely to proceed unless some groundwork is laid. That would include consulting with the I-70 Coalition, a group of stakeholders along the interstate, and completing a federal study on the project. Strategic lane widening or adding more buses to the mountains could offer short-term solutions, she said. Meanwhile, she would carefully build long-term support for a monorail that could cost as much as $12 billion.
“We have to be thoughtful,” she said. “This is a huge undertaking.”
Hasan, however, said he’s done waiting.
“I have a deep respect for the I-70 Coalition,” Hasan said. “But enough study. It’s time to build.”
Hasan, who says he has knocked on 18,000 doors in the district since June, has more than youthful energy and big ideas on his side. The son of a Pueblo HMO millionaire, he has a family fortune on which to draw, to the tune of around $200,000 so far. That gives him more than a fighting chance in a district that leans slightly Republican, but whose independent voters have been trending Democratic.
Scanlan, meanwhile, says she’ll win because she’s quiet, but effective.
She points to her success in reopening the Dillon Dam Road, defeating a proposal by Denver legislators to put tollbooths on I-70, and abating the impact of the Leadville mine disaster. Scanlan also carried a sweeping education reform bill that was perhaps the most important piece of legislation passed during the 2008 legislative session.
Most recently, Scanlan went to Washington D.C. and successfully lobbied Congress to give money to fighting the pine beetle epidemic. Last week, Congress restored funding to the fight, providing $910 million in emergency funding to cover all 2008 fire suppression costs and to reduce hazardous fuels in 2009.
Scanlan says that’s the kind of behind-the-scenes approach she’ll continue to take.
“I appreciate my opponent’s creative thinking,” Scanlan said, “but I sometimes think he doesn’t have the entire strategy mapped out in a way that thinks through all the potential effects of the policies that might be created. And frankly, that’s one of the toughest jobs you have at the Capitol.