Governor candidate stumps in Aspen
March 8, 2002
Rollie Heath, the Democratic candidate for governor, was in Aspen yesterday to meet with local elected officials and Democrats.
Heath has plans for rebuilding the economy, restructuring health care, promoting tourism and reworking the educational assessment tests. Oh, by the way, he also has a plan to unseat a relatively popular incumbent governor.
“I do one thing well: I get good people around me and listen to them,” Heath said.
To that end, Heath has signed on one of the top Democratic political consultants in the state – Mike Dino. Dino was the assistant campaign manager for former Gov. Roy Romer in 1990 and has run a number of major campaigns since then.
Dino believes first-term incumbent Bill Owens, a Republican, faces a similar situation to Romer in 1990, when Romer was also running for a second term.
“I think we’re in the same situation in terms of Governor Owens and his popularity – it’s eggshell thin,” Dino said.
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A key to the Democrat’s success next fall is the party’s statewide base. He attributes Owens’ razor-thin margin of victory in 1998 (he won by 5,400 votes) to the fact that Democrats didn’t come to the polls in full force.
This time around, the Democrats are working more as a team, with senatorial candidate Tom Strickland, who is taking on incumbent Wayne Allard, at the top of the ticket. State Sen. Stan Matsunaka is another top candidate. Matsunaka originally planned to run for the governor’s office but dropped out of the race to run for Congress in Colorado’s 4th Congressional District.
Matsunaka’s decision and the subsequent withdrawal of the only other Democrat from the governor’s race leaves Heath all alone against Owens. And as a relative unknown, he’s got his work cut out for him.
“Rollie has a lot of work to do to get the Democratic Party regulars to get to know him,” Dino said.
Heath has extensive experience as a captain of industry, an entrepreneur and in the military. He served in the U.S. Army for 22 years, worked as a senior executive for the Johns Manville Corp. for 17 years and founded a 40-employee metal manufacturing company in Denver 12 years ago.
What he hasn’t got is experience as an elected official. But that doesn’t leave him short of ideas.
“I look at myself as a builder or creator of things – jobs, businesses, nonprofits,” he said.
The first thing he would build, or rebuild as the case may be, is Colorado’s fiscal base. “Colorado was put on credit watch recently after five years of the best economy in history. Governor Owens was in charge for three and a half of those years, but if he could run a deficit he would be.”
Heath says fixing the fiscal problem requires a comprehensive vision and, perhaps, reform of some of Colorado’s tax laws, including the Taxpayers Bill of Rights. But before that happens, a comprehensive plan needs to be presented to the voters.
Heath would also fight to keep federal highway dollars at their historic level. He noted that 46 governors signed a letter to President George W. Bush urging him to restore a $9 billion cut proposed for the highway program, but Owens wasn’t one of them.
Transportation as a whole would be looked at more comprehensively, as well. Heath said mass transit programs need to be given serious consideration.
“All Owens talks about is concrete. We’re not going to solve Colorado’s transportation problems by pouring concrete,” he said.
On the health-care front, Heath is looking at ways to reduce the cost to employers and employees, perhaps by implementing a state funding program for catastrophic and chronic illnesses as well as for health maintenance.
Finally, on education, Heath would like to see Colorado’s uniform testing program reworked so it does more than rate how fourth-graders are doing each year. “The current system of testing is a disservice to children and teachers, not in its goal but in the way it is done.”