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State house gets new majority

Dennis Webb

When Democrats this week ended up with a majority of seats in the Colorado House of Representatives, it dashed the hopes of one local lawmaker gaining a leadership position in the state Legislature.At the same time, it immediately boosted the chances of another one making an immediate impact despite her freshman status.State Rep. Al White, R-Winter Park, had expected to have his fellow Republicans elect him House majority leader Thursday.”I had the votes counted. I would have been (elected), but you know it only works if we have the majority, which we didn’t,” he said.White easily defeated Democrat Sam Robinson of Parachute Tuesday to win re-election to House District 57, which includes western Garfield County. But he watched his party lose control of the House majority, meaning that Democrats rather than Republicans got to pick the House leaders. The Democrats seized control of the Senate majority as well.Meanwhile, Democrat Kathleen Curry of Gunnison defeated Republican Becky Rippy of New Castle and Libertarian Dale Reed of No Name in the race to replace Gregg Rippy, R-Glenwood Springs, in House District 61, which includes eastern Garfield County.House: see page A2Curry had been assuming that if she were elected, she would go to the Capitol with limited power and influence as a newcomer in the minority party. Though still a newcomer, she’s now a member of the party that will hold the leadership posts, chair the committees that first hear bills, and control enough votes to decide a piece of legislation’s fate.”It’s exciting because I think I can do more for the district,” said Curry.She said the Democrats’ seizure of majority control increases her chances of being able to push through legislation on water, and oil and gas drilling, two top issues for her in her campaign.Meanwhile, White is still digesting the shock of the Democrats winning enough seats to gain majority control.”It was a very long-shot scenario that would have allowed for it. I thought it was one in a hundred, to tell you the truth,” he said. “It took us all by surprise.”He said the scenario occurred when two Republican incumbents lost even though the party had expected them to win.White could have vied to become House minority leader, but decided against doing so. He said he thinks he can better serve his party by working to help it regain the House majority in two years, by making sure “the right candidates run for the right seats with the right funding.”If that happens and White is re-elected to his seat in 2006, he hopes to become speaker of the House, its top leadership position.For now, “It’s a transition, there’s no question about it,” he said. He said it was interesting watching the lobbyists taking the freshman Democrats out to lunch Thursday, being more interested in seeking favor with those in the party in power.White also said that despite promises by some Democrats not to hold grudges, he expects “a lot of payback” against the Republicans who once wielded the power. That will make it hard for Republicans to get any legislation passed, he said.Curry said she appreciated hearing new House Speaker Andrew Romanoff stress the need Thursday for Democrats to work in a nonpartisan fashion and not be vindictive.”That’s been my approach anyway but I was really glad to hear it from him,” she said.She said if Democrats fail to work cooperatively with Republicans, they stand to lose their power in the next legislative elections two years from now.White said it’s going to take compromise to resolve state budgetary concerns stemming from the Taxpayers Bill of Rights and Amendment 23 school financing measure. He said Democrats have given no indication they are willing to seek changes in Amendment 23, which he believes is necessary. And any solutions the Democrats propose will still require the support of Gov. Bill Owens, a Republican, White added.Curry said she’s willing to consider changes to Amendment 23, though she continues to believe it’s not a source of the state’s budget problems.”But we owe it to Colorado to get something done (on the budget). I would never agree to do nothing this year,” she said.Curry expects to immediately introduce water legislation seeking to protect basins of origin, after some 40 years of such bills failing to get passed.She also thinks Democrats may be more amenable to considering changes to oil and gas regulation.”I think I’ll be able to get more done there,” she said.She said she plans to do more talking with residents, local politicians such as Garfield County commissioners, and industry representatives before finalizing her plans for a bill.She said the industry is telling her problems being experienced by residents in places such as western Garfield County can be resolved without the need for legislation.”I’m willing to listen to that for sure but I’m hearing the exact opposite from the landowners and the affected people,” she said.Curry said she is considering a bill that would require adequate surface use agreements between energy developers and landowners, and another that would reconfigure the makeup of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. The regulatory body currently is heavily tilted towards members with an industry background, but Curry wants to make sure changing its makeup would make a difference.”I’m not sure if that’s treating the symptoms or the disease,” she said.Contact Dennis Webb: 945-8515, ext. 516dwebb@postindependent.com


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