Rep. Kathleen Curry says there are now times in the Colorado state House when she’s a little lonely as the only unaffiliated member.
“I don’t go to caucus meetings anymore,” said Curry who announced on Dec. 28 that she was leaving the Democratic party and would start the legislative session this year as “unaffiliated.”
Curry represents District 61, a narrow and mountainous district that includes towns from Gunnison to Glenwood Springs, including Aspen.
So now when the 27 Republicans and 37 Democrats in the House huddle behind closed doors, Curry is left behind, like a nerdy student alone in study hall while all the cool kids are at football practice.
But the former Democrat and rancher from Gunnison County doesn’t sound like she minds all that much.
“I just feel that voting as a bloc is not how I want to do the job,” she said. “I’m really happy with my decision. And I’m just kind of running my life the way I always have, which is hectic.”
Curry files bills that she really cares about, but the former Democratic speaker pro tem doesn’t think her new independent status has cost her any votes so far in recent committee hearings.
One of Curry’s bills would have eliminated landowner liability in the event of kids under 14 trespassing, say by climbing a fence to go play in an irrigation ditch on a ranch. That bill went down by a vote of five to six in the Judiciary Committee on Jan. 28.
“I think there were six people who didn’t like the bill, not because of my affiliation, or lack of,” Curry said.
But Curry did write on her website that the defeat of the bill was “an example of why I changed affiliation.”
“The Colorado Trial Lawyers Association opposed the bill and worked hard to get it killed,” Curry wrote. “They were successful, the bill died in committee yesterday 5-6, with one Democrat (Rep. Sal Pace of Pueblo) voting with the 4 republicans in favor of the bill.”
Curry’s legislative effectiveness will be put to the test on Monday when the Judiciary Committee hears her proposed “Commercial Rafting Viability Act,” which seeks to clarify existing Colorado law on whether commercial raft companies can float down a river that happens to run through private land.
“There are a lot of people who feel there are two sets of rights,” Curry said. “But I feel we ought to find a way to make it work for both. And I think the committee will give it a fair hearing.”
The bill would allow commercial outfitters to float through private land and allow for incidental contact due to low water with either the river bank or with rocks in the river.
And it also allows portaging around an obstruction or a hazard “if the portage makes the minimum possible use of the bed or banks that is necessary to safely avoid the hazard or obstruction.”
Another of Curry’s bill addressing funding for water commissioners — who monitor local irrigation ditches — was recently passed by the Agriculture Committee, on which Curry still serves, and was sent on to the Appropriations Committee.
But a bill that would have required a legislative analysis of the cost of any new health care mandates was sent to the committee where, as Curry put it, “bills go to die.”
That’s the State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee, which has seven Democrats and four Republicans on it, meaning the House speaker can rest easy that the committee will not approve bills he doesn’t want to see come to a vote on the House floor.
“Usually you have a committee that the leadership can count on to do what they want done,” Curry said.
Her “Health Insurance Mandates and Cost Benefit Analysis Bill” would place a one-year moratorium on any new health care bills being passed and then require an independent cost analysis be provided to lawmakers.
“I don’t think they liked the moratorium period,” Curry said.
She found it ironic that last year the legislature adopted a health care mandate related to autism care, but then exempted the state’s insurance plan from the mandate when it became clear how much the mandate would cost.
”We weren’t able to afford it, yet we forced the small groups to do it,” Curry said.
Curry seemed to relish her independence on Monday when she voted against 10 bills that involved either removing sales tax exemptions or adding new sales taxes.
“I believe that the General Assembly needs to exhaust every option available to it in terms of cutting expenditures before we ask the taxpayers for more revenue,” Curry wrote on her website. “We haven’t done that yet.”
And she didn’t care if she was sounding, or voting, like a Republican.
“I will be voting the way I think is best for my district,” Curry said this week. “If it happens to be Republican, then so be it. I think these bills should be looked at their own merit and not based on how the party votes on them.”