Curry turns heads with independent write-in bid to hold House seat
There’s a reason that 40 percent of voters in Colorado’s House District 61 are not affiliated with a political party, says the three-term incumbent state representative for the district, Kathleen Curry of Gunnison.
“They are not happy with the status quo,” says Curry, whose historic bid to win re-election to the state House as an independent write-in candidate has caught the attention of political observers from the Western Slope to Denver and all the way to Washington, D.C.
And, it was for that same reason that Curry broke from the Democrats late last year to become an unaffiliated member of the Colorado House during the 2010 session.
“People are ready for a different approach and most of all they are ready for elected officials to get back into the business of problem solving,” she told the Post Independent recently.
“I believe that the current system is not working for us, and it needs to be improved,” Curry said. “In order to put the district first, I believe I can do that best as an independent.”
But her decision last December to disaffiliate came at a cost. The statutorial deadline for unaffiliated candidates to qualify for the Nov. 2 general election ballot had passed, and after an unsuccessful court challenge, Curry was left to seek re-election as a write-in candidate.
She’s now in a three-way race with the two party nominees, Democrat Roger Wilson of Glenwood Springs and Republican Luke Korkowski of Crested Butte, to represent a district that stretches from eastern Garfield County, including the towns of Silt, New Castle, Glenwood Springs and Carbondale, the Eagle County portion of the Roaring Fork Valley, and all of Pitkin, Gunnison and Hinsdale counties.
Curry, 50, was first elected to the state house seat as a Democrat in 2004, and was unopposed for two subsequent two-year terms.
She served as speaker pro tempore in 2009, and served as the chair of the Agriculture, Livestock, and Natural Resources Committee for five years. As an independent member of the House this year, she continued to serve on the Agriculture and Appropriations committees.
Prior to serving in the legislature, she was manager of the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District. She also worked as a water rights specialist for Wright Water Engineers in Denver, and as a physical scientist for the Colorado Water Conservation Board.
Curry co-owns and helps her husband, Greg Peterson, manage the Tomichi Creek Natural Beef cattle ranch in the Gunnison Valley, and is a part-time professor at Western State College. She and Peterson have two sons.
Curry discounts claims by her Democratic opponent that her write-in bid will split the progressive/moderate vote and end up electing Korkowski. And she believes she has both bipartisan and unaffiliated voters behind her in that argument.
She points to a combination of recent polling within the district by her own campaign and by an independent polling organization that had her winning 44 percent of likely voters, while Wilson had 33 percent and Korkowski 23 percent.
“I am hearing a great deal of support for my race, from all sides of the political spectrum,” Curry said this week.
As for those who say she’s a longshot as a write-in candidate, “The one with the most votes wins, so a vote for me helps me get elected and doesn’t do a thing for Mr. Korkowski, who by the way has run a clean campaign and I appreciate that,” she said.
“The message is, we need to reduce the extreme partisanship that is undermining our government in order to better address the challenges that we face as a state,” she said.
Curry agrees that Wilson is the more liberal candidate in the race on issues such as energy development and implementation of health care reform. But that’s not necessarily a philosophy that fits the constituency of the 61st District, she said.
“My title is ‘representative,’ and by taking a more centrist approach to the issues I think that I better represent the district,” she said.
However, she notes that she received a 100 percent rating for the last legislative session from the Colorado Conservation Voters.
“I don’t know how you can do much better than that,” Curry said.
And, she feels she’s been an effective representative even as an independent this past session working outside the party process.
“Of the nine bills that I ran, only three did not pass and I blame that on the fact that I didn’t do a good enough job on them,” she said.
“Effective representation for me means remembering where you came from, advocating for the interests of your district, and focusing on good policy,” she added, noting that both parties asked her to caucus with them.
“I declined,” she said, “preferring to use that time to read the bills and call my constituents at home to see what they thought.”
Curry said the main difference between her and her two opponents is her six years of experience dealing with the key issues facing not only the district, but the state as a whole.
She believes Wilson and Korkowski would be pressured by party leadership to “vote in ways that might not be in the best interests of their district.”
Among her major accomplishments as a legislator, she points to her bill requiring that local governments make a finding of water supply adequacy before approving new development will help us deal with pressure on rural water supplies.
“And my bill reconfiguring the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to make it more balanced helps ensure that as the state’s gas resources are developed the health of the people living in the area will be protected,” Curry said.
The primary issue legislators will be dealing with when they convene in January is the projected $1 billion state budget shortfall that’s expected to hit over the next two years.
Curry said her focus in that discussion will be to balance the budget without raising revenues and minimize the impacts of budget cuts on the 61st District.
“We also have to move forward with measures that address the structural problems that have exacerbated the revenue decline,” she said. “I would also very much like to try to put a question on the ballot in 2011 that establishes a rainy day fund in the state Constitution so that we can be better prepared for the next economic downturn.”
Other bills she said she would like to introduce relate to election fairness issues for minor party and unaffiliated candidates; providing a mechanism for banking pre-Colorado River Compact water to deal with a downstream call; and landowner liability issues.
For more about Kathleen Curry’s campaign, visit http://www.kathleencurry.org.
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