GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. " At the state Capitol, Laura Bradford said she's known "as the woman who defeated Bernie Buescher."
With some studying, a few successful bills and hard work on the two committees she's been assigned to, Bradford hopes to change that image and become known as Rep. Laura Bradford, R-Collbran.
It's been more than a week since Bradford defeated two-term Democratic incumbent Buescher, a task even she admits she didn't think she'd complete. She believes he "had every right to believe he'd be speaker of the House," although she never thought that was a reason to secede from the race.
"Bernie, he's bigger than life. We just differ philosophically," Bradford said.
Now she's reading everything from "15 Tips on How to be a Good Legislator" to "How to Write a Bill," going through orientation and figuring out how she's going to run her Grand Junction business, ProSafe, from a distance during the 2009 and 2010 legislative sessions.
Bradford said she was more intimidated by the race against Buescher than she is by her future in the legislature. She was welcomed by her Republican colleagues when she met them for orientation at the Capitol last week. House Minority Leader Mike May assigned himself as her mentor and the two will share a legislator's aide. Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry of Grand Junction supported Bradford throughout her twelve and a half month campaign and has defended her when political-types across the state have questioned how a freshman legislator could be better for the Western Slope than Buescher.
"She proved in her campaign she's ready," Penry said.
Penry watched Bradford get "more press than Britney Spears" when she walked into the Capitol last week. He's advised her to use that instant recognition wisely, and she plans to do so.
"This first session I'll be a listener," she said. "I don't have to hog the mic. People already know who I am. I might be a little quieter. I'd prefer not to be in the limelight when I'm learning."
As soon as their debates began in September, Bradford made a clear stance on her positions and interests. She wanted to protect Western Slope water and agriculture, have smaller government and fewer taxes. She said Buescher's support of the 2007 mill levy freeze would make higher taxes for local businesses with increasing property values, something she disagreed with.
Not every comment was a slam dunk. She criticized Buescher's fight to end a flyaway tax for "rich Californians" to buy airplanes here. A day later, former state Sen. Tillie Bishop, R-Grand Junction, said he'd supported the same idea. At one debate, she said the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission should disband for a year. Days later, she said they should hurry up and make their oil and gas regulations final so energy companies can deal with the known instead of the unknown.
But in the end, it was a combination of honesty, hard work and linking Buescher to Gov. Bill Ritter that helped bring Bradford over the top, Penry said. Art Gardner, a local businessman who helped Bradford edit her speeches and went door-to-door for her, said she always made it clear she wanted to run a clean campaign and only hit Buescher on his record, not his character.
Gardner volunteered his services after meeting Bradford at the Mesa County Republican Convention in February.
"I found Laura was an exceedingly qualified candidate and I agreed with her principals," Gardner said. "I didn't see any way someone with Laura's attributes could not win " this is a strongly Republican county and there's no reason for her not to win."
Through the mill levy freeze vote and a yes vote on anti-discrimination Senate Bill 200, Gardner said he "thought Bernie Buescher had failed his responsibilities to his district." As far back as January, Bradford told a group of Mesa County Republicans that Buescher's yes vote on the mill levy freeze demonstrated he was "out of step with Mesa County." The freeze's constitutionality is still being debated by the Colorado Supreme Court.
Around the same time, hackers linked Google.com search results for Buescher's name to pornographic words. The culprit behind the scam was never identified.
It could have been the start of another ugly campaign season for Buescher. He'd already endured smears from opponents Shari Bjorklund in 2004 and Bob Caskey in 2006. But Bradford stuck to her promise to run a clean campaign " even when 527s questioned her commitment to cancer screenings ("They didn't know I'm a cancer survivor" she responded) and water issues. Bradford said she didn't want to attack the "popular" incumbent's character in debates.
However, 527 groups stepped in and starting slinging mud on behalf of both candidates. The candidates themselves never ran overtly negative ads, and were not allowed by law to talk to or stop the 527s. Focus on the Family and 527s connected Buescher to Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter and attacked him for voting yes on the mill levy freeze and Senate Bill 200, an anti-discrimination bill that earned the nickname "the bathroom bill," although the 20-page law never mentions the word "bathroom." Buescher decried the "made-up issue" as a major reason for his tight race with Bradford on Election Night as he walked between parties at 8 p.m. He was still ahead of Bradford by 10 votes at the time.
In unofficial results, Bradford beat Buescher by 405 votes in House District 55.
In January, Bradford will serve on the business affairs and labor committee and become the ranking Republican on the local government committee. She'll find out more at next weekend's Republican retreat in Breckenridge what kind of bills she'll carry, but she expects to be a voice for business and may even ask to carry a bill Buescher was working on dealing with fetal homicide charges. She wants to pick bills that allow her to work across the aisle, she said, and wants Mesa County residents to know she aims to serve all of them if they give her the opportunity.
"I'm not Bernie Buescher," Bradford said. "Some people in this community have this sense of loss. I hope they give me a chance."
Reach Emily Anderson at email@example.com.