ASPEN - The battle for state House District 61 appears to have boiled down to a contest between Kathleen Curry and Millie Hamner.
Curry, of Gunnison, held the seat from 2004 to 2010. She broke with the Democratic Party in 2009 after a spat over health care legislation and other issues and then ran a write-in campaign as an unaffiliated candidate in 2010. She lost, however, to Democrat Roger Wilson, of Glenwood Springs.
Wilson, who is not seeking re-election, has endorsed Curry's chief rival, state Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon. Hamner currently represents House District 56, but her place of residence was redrawn into District 61 during December's redistricting process in the state General Assembly.
Hamner, former Summit County schools superintendent, was appointed to her legislative post in late 2010 by the state Democratic Central Committee when House 56 incumbent Christine Scanlan resigned from the seat to join Gov. John Hickenlooper's new administration.
Hamner has visited Aspen several times during the campaign, most recently on Saturday. She touts her extensive experience in the education arena.
She said education funding will be a top priority of her term if she is elected. The General Assembly needs to reform the state's school finance act as well as work toward a repeal of the voter-mandated Taxpayers Bill of Rights, also known as TABOR, which limits local government growth through tax increases.
"It's complicated because the people of Colorado voted it in, and the people have to vote it out," Hamner said. "(TABOR) has had a very negative effect on the amount of funding that local communities put into their schools, and it's caused the state budget to pick up the big difference. I think a long-term solution is really looking at that effect to see if there is something the state can do to allow local communities to be able to fund schools at a level they'd like to fund them."
Hamner said the state also needs to look at improving teacher salaries and finding money to hire more teachers so that the class sizes can be reduced.
She said she's listened to Pitkin County voters about their desires and hasn't heard anyone advocate for drilling in Thompson Divide northwest of Aspen. While that issue involves federal lands, there are actions the state can take to limit drilling or to ensure that energy production is handled in a manner that doesn't harm the environment of the area.
"As a state representative, I have to represent the people, but it's also my job to represent a balanced perspective on energy development," she said. "I think that there's a place for oil and gas drilling; I'm not convinced that place is on the Thompson Divide. There's so many recreational and agricultural activities, and it doesn't seem to be a good fit with oil and gas drilling."
Hamner added that voters throughout the district are nervous about the economy. She said the state could do a better job of investing in tourism and transportation. House District 61 includes ski towns other than Aspen, such as Crested Butte.
Curry, who is still unaffiliated with a political party after her famous break with the Democrats, said that after being out of office for a couple of years, she's getting good response on the campaign trail.
She said her primary talking points have involved the stagnant economy, water issues and problems in the forests related to pine beetles.
"Water does seem to be on the mind of everybody across the district, whether that's because of the drought we had or fears over more transcontinental diversion," she said.
Another primary concern, she said, is the tax environment for commercial property owners. The Gallagher Amendment, passed in 1982, puts more pressure on the commercial sector than the residential sector.
"What I think would be appropriate for the Legislature to do, and for me to work on, is the notion of sending a question to the voters to try to flatten out the curve on commercial versus residential property tax obligations," she said.
Curry said she's interested in removing obstacles to broadband service in rural areas of the state.
Though she said Hamner was not to blame, Curry added that negative campaigning has been an issue in the race. The Colorado Accountable Government Alliance, a political action committee, has sent mailers to voters throughout the district targeting Curry.
"When Kathleen Curry was in Denver, she wrote a bill to let insurance companies deny coverage for mammograms and other cancer screenings," one advertisement reads.
Curry said that in 2009 she voted for a bill that required insurance companies to expand their coverage for mammograms, cervical cancer screening and colorectal screening.
Others on the District 61 ballot are: Debra Irvine, a Breckenridge Republican; Robert Petrowsky, of Leadville, a member of the American Constitution Party; and Ellen Temby, a Libertarian Party candidate from Breckenridge.
Irvine has been attending candidate forums around the district but does not grant media interviews by phone. A professional artist, she bested anti-government candidate David Justice during the Republican primary in June with 53.4 percent of the vote. She unsuccessfully ran for the House District 56 seat in 2010, losing to Scanlan.