GRAND JUNCTION " As she tells it, Collbran Republican Laura Bradford was hand-picked by leaders of the Mesa County Republican Party to drive a sword into a perceived gap in Grand Junction Democratic Rep. Bernie Buescher's armor.
"Based on his vote on the mill levy freeze, they were convinced that Mr. Buescher was vulnerable on that point and possibly others and that there was a shot, there was an opening, that somebody should run," said Bradford, who's running against Buecher for the House District 55 seat.
"The story goes is that they went back and looked at everyone that had gone through the Republican leadership program ... and I was on that roster," Bradford said. She went through the course in the late 1990s.
The freeze rose taxes on homes with increasing property values. Bradford, a fervent support of the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, says that's a TABOR violation. A district court has ruled the freeze unconstitutional and an appeal is sitting in a Supreme Court file.
Bradford spent the first few months of her campaign hauling around a homemade graph with one bar representing the amount the freeze was first estimated to bring in and the other bar showing how much it ended up being, sarcastically calling the first number "not a tax hike" and the second number "really not a tax hike."
She says she was reluctant at first to run because she knew it would affect her home and business life. Even now, she said she isn't sure she wants to serve more than one term in the state House. But she doesn't regret running.
"It's been a wonderful experience," she said.
Bradford has based her campaign on protecting TABOR and shielding small businesses from new taxes, regulations and union influence.
As president of Grand Junction infection-control device manufacturing company ProSafe Products since 1986 and past founder of sewing-related businesses, Bradford said she has seen injuries but never skipped out on helping employees. She said unions aren't the final word in compliance and says they create "higher costs and mess with the free market." She has said she'll be "unions' worst nightmare" if elected.
Protecting business and insulating the oil and gas industry are some of her top priorities.
"It's important not to create an atmosphere of taxation on Colorado businesses," she said. "It's not a matter of can they pay more, it's should they pay more?"
Bradford, 52, came to Grand Junction in 1981. She was raised in the northwest corner of Minnesota in the tiny town of Stephen, Minn., population 648. She started her first business there " a lemonade stand " when she was in third grade. Her parents, who owned a TV appliances store, charged her and her sister for lemonade and made them pay interest for the money they borrowed to start the stand.
"We were born and raised to understand the economy at a very young age," Bradford said.
She made money sewing dresses in high school. At age 18, she moved to Montana to work at Yellowstone National Park for a summer and a fall. She moved to Denver, got married and went to real estate school, then headed to Greeley and Aspen before settling in the Grand Valley. She remarried twice in Mesa County. She has three children and three grandchildren.
Her first foray into politics came in 1995, with a five-year membership on the Colorado Women's Economic Development Council. She became the Mesa County Republican Party's House District 55 chair in 2002 and has helped with a few local campaigns.
State Sen. Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction, has partnered with Buescher on numerous bills at the Capitol, but he's supporting Bradford this fall.
"She's got a strong business background. She's the type of fiscal conservative we need more of in the legislature," Penry said.
Not everyone is so pleased with Bradford. Gay Hammer, who has run several local campaigns, said she hasn't been impressed with Bradford's behavior in the past, including her reluctance to support local organizations that don't agree with her principles.
"Laura Bradford has no credibility," she said.
Buescher won't go down that road when asked to comment on his opponent.
"I tend to focus on what I'm doing. I don't do negative commercials. I'm not going to go into attack mode," Buescher said.
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