Challenger presses gas issue in District 57 debate
A Battlement Mesa man seeking election to the Colorado House of Representatives said he chose to run due to unimpeded gas drilling in Garfield County.”The reason why I’m here is because the gas industry in my community has had some real negative impacts,” Democrat Sam Robinson said in a weekend debate with incumbent state Rep. Al White. The debate was sponsored by the Club 20 Western Slope lobbying group, and held in Grand Junction.Robinson and White are running in House District 57, which includes western Garfield County, as well as Rio Blanco, Moffat, Routt, Jackson and Grand counties.Robinson currently serves on the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance, which has been active in seeking drilling regulation reforms in order to better protect the interests of landowners.”I’m very active in opposing some of the things that the energy companies are doing – specifically, running roughshod in some instances over the surface rights owners since the surface rights owners have nothing to say about how the drilling occurs under their grounds,” Robinson said.White, R-Winter Park, said he’s not sure what kind of job the Colorado Oil and Gas Commission did in regulating the industry in the past, but he doesn’t think its members are “serving as lapdogs” today.He cited the COGCC’s recent decision to levy its highest fine ever – $371,000 – against EnCana Oil & Gas for a gas seep that surfaced earlier this year south of Silt.”To me that should prove that the oil and gas commission is on the job,” he said.It’s the legislature’s duty to make sure the COGCC does its job correctly, White said.Robinson said the state should be preventing situations like one in Garfield County in which a second gas pipeline is being put in beside one installed just two years ago.”Why are they putting in two pipelines when they could have put in one? We need a master plan and it’s not being done,” Robinson said.For his part, White emphasized his four years of experience in the Statehouse. He served this year as assistant House majority leader, and believes that if he is re-elected, he would be chosen for the powerful position of majority leader. It’s a plus whenever Western Slope lawmakers can hold that position, said White, pointing to past majority leaders Tim Foster of Grand Junction and Scott McInnis, then of Glenwood Springs, who went on to be elected to Congress.”It adds extra leverage to the issues of western Colorado,” he said.White’s legislative track record includes sponsoring the popular no-call list telemarketer bill.Having formerly been a small businessman in the tourism/hospitality field, he called himself a supporter of business and economic development. White said he also is heavily involved in water issues, and is an advocate of gun rights and a defender of rural education.”There’s no good reason to change horses in this game,” he said.Robinson is a Korean War vet and retired civil engineer.Although the gas issue got him into the 57th District race, after talking to voters he believes the lack of universal health care is the most important issue.”If you’re born into this country you should be born into a health care system. A lot of people say that would be socialized medicine but I don’t think so,” Robinson said. “If the federal government doesn’t do it, the state should.”Robinson described himself as “a progressive conservative, if that’s possible.””I’m progressive when it comes to people and I’m conservative when it comes to spending their money,” he said.Robinson pressed White on why he cosponsored a bill that Robinson said protects construction companies from being sued for what he called “lousy work.”White said the new law doesn’t bar such suits, but simply requires that homeowners and builders first seek to settle cases out of court.That helps courts from getting clogged with cases, and results in fairer payments for faulty construction, he said.”It helps keep housing costs down and that’s important,” he said.Amendment 34 on this fall’s ballot would seek to have the law overturned. White said the measure is backed by “greedy attorneys” afraid of losing big court judgments “because they’re concerned that builders and homeowners will get together and not end up in court.”On other issues:• Robinson said he would be uncomfortable seeking repeal of voter-approved state measures that lawmakers are blaming for a budgetary crisis.White said he believes the Taxpayers Bill of Rights, or TABOR, amendment contains some onerous elements. But he said he believes it can be fixed through piecemeal reform, as can Amendment 23, which mandates spending increases for K-12 education. He said he supported ballot questions on these reforms that were turned down in the legislature, and will continue to support them.• White and Robinson agreed on the need for lawmakers to look to other states as models to get workers’ compensation costs under control.”They need to copy something from other states,” said Robinson.• Asked by White what plans he had for enhancing tourism in Colorado, Robinson said he believes any tourism taxes should be imposed only within the industry, on businesses such as lodges, rafting companies and ski resorts.”I don’t understand why people in the state would have to pay for tourism promotion,” he said.Contact Dennis Webb: 945-8515, ext. firstname.lastname@example.org
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