With Gunnison rancher Kathleen Curry announcing her intentions to run as an independent for Aspen’s state House District 61 seat in November, the total number of candidates in the race is up to five.
Also running are two Republicans — Summit County GOP Chair Debra Irvine of Breckenridge and David Justice, a political activist from Gunnison — who will face off for the party nomination in a June 26 primary. Rep. Millie Hamner, a former public school superintendent from Breckenridge, is the Democrat in the race, and she was appointed to the Colorado Legislature in December 2010 to represent the current district made up of Summit, Eagle and Lake counties. Robert Petrowsky of Leadville is running under the American Constitution Party banner.
Curry held the seat for six years, but mid-way through her last term, she disaffiliated with the Democratic Party and attempted to be re-elected as an independent in 2010. But she had not been unaffiliated long enough to get her name on the ballot. She ran a write-in campaign, but lost by about 300 votes in a three-way race to Democrat Roger Wilson of Glenwood Springs.
At that time, the district included the Garfield County portion of the Roaring Fork Valley, as well as all of Gunnison County. Then the district’s boundaries were redrawn during last year’s reapportionment process. The Garfield County portions were dropped, as was the southern portion of Gunnison County, including the city of Gunnison. Lake and Summit counties were added in their entirety. The eastern portion of Delta County, including Hotchkiss and Paonia, also was added to the district, which now touches five counties and includes five river valleys. The district includes Pitkin County.
Wilson will not be seeking re-election in his new district, which includes Rio Blanco and Moffat counties.
Curry must submit 400 signatures from district voters to the Secretary of State’s office by July 12 to qualify for the ballot. She said she sees an even greater need now for non-affiliated politicians in the state Capitol.
“Things are getting more partisan instead of less,” said Curry, who has been working for nonprofit arts organizations in Mount Crested Butte and Gunnison since leaving the legislature. She said she considers herself a specialist in water, oil and gas, agriculture and tourism issues.
Curry said the main differences between herself and the Democrat Hamner were related to their backgrounds, and that Hamner is a “solid candidate” and a “good person.”
Hamner said via email that she always knew the race would be tough.
“I am proud of my bipartisan record of working on job creation, water security, forest health, improving our public schools and finding innovative solutions to transportation issues,” Hamner wrote. “I am looking forward to continuing my service as a strong voice for our unique mountain communities.”
Irvine said via email that the district is a combination of what makes Colorado great, offering agriculture, mining, ranching, beautiful mountains, natural resources, history and recreation.
Irvine has lived abroad for much of her life, but returned to Breckenridge in 2004 after living in Brussels, Belgium. She was the Republican nominee for the Summit County state House district in 2010, but lost. She describes herself as a professional artist who has won awards in Breckenridge, and points to her diverse work history as a qualification for office. Her resume includes working as a ski instructor in Garmisch, Germany, a suicide hotline counselor in Washington, D.C., and a document security officer for a defense subcontractor working on the Star Wars missile defense program.
Justice, Irvine’s Republican primary opponent, said his message of “state sovereignty” and pushing back against federal government encroachment is resonating with both Republicans and independents. He said he favors the state taking control of federal public lands in Colorado, to ensure that management decisions are made locally with the best interests of the state in mind. He also said he wants to provide property tax relief to ease foreclosures, and to see banks held more accountable for their role in the financial collapse.