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Independent living: Curry enjoys life as a former Democrat

John Colson
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
Chad SpanglerDistrict 61 State Representative Kathleen Curry poses for a quick portrait outside of the chamber of the Colorado State House of Representatives.
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DENVER – Colorado Rep. Kathleen Curry, I-Gunnison, is feeling upbeat these days about her decision to leave the Democratic party earlier this year and become an “unaffiliated” or “independent” politician.

“It’s going fine,” she said last week. “It took a little bit of an adjustment in the beginning, [but] I don’t feel any tension or anything” from other legislators of either party.

“I feel a lot of peace of mind” about the lack of partisan party politics in her life, she said. “The attitude on both sides of the aisle has been supportive.”

Because she is no longer a member of the majority party, she lost her chairmanship of the Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee, a plum assignment she was proud to get. That committee is now chaired by Rep. Randy Fischer of Fort Collins.

“It was hard at first,” she admitted about losing the authority that went with a chairmanship.

On the other hand, she admitted, “I don’t really miss the administrative stuff” that is among the duties of a committee chair. And she still serves on both the Ag committee and the Appropriations committee, two important bodies in the legislative firmament.

But Curry, whose district includes the Roaring Fork Valley and much of Garfield County, remains a bit anxious about the upcoming election, in which her only announced opponent is Republican attorney Luke Korkowski from Crested Butte.

Because she missed a deadline for getting her name printed on the ballot for the November 2010 election – a deadline that passed back in the June 2009 – she currently is limited to running a write-in campaign if she is to keep her post in the Colorado General Assembly.

But she is exploring other options, both for herself and for others who decide they don’t want to play by the rules as set up by Democrats and Republicans.

She is taking part in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the relevant election law, which she and others feel embodies an unfair bias in favor of partisan political interests rather than the interests of the voters.

Curry is scheduled for a deposition in the case later this month.

The lawsuit was filed last November in federal court by La Plata County Commissioner Joelle Riddle of Durango, who in August 2009 changed her party affiliation from Democrat to independent.

According to attorney Bill Zimsky, the lawsuit names the Colorado Secretary of State and the LaPlata County Clerk and Recorder as defendants, in their capacities as enforcers of Colorado’s election laws.

Zimsky said last week that the judge is considering motions from both sides, and that he is hoping for a decision on the case in May, which could be in time to get both Riddle’s and Curry’s name on the ballot in November.

Curry also has introduced legislation to change the deadline for unaffiliated candidates to get their names printed on the state’s ballots.

Currently, a candidate who wishes to be unaffiliated must declare so by registering with the secretary of state about 17 months before Election Day. Candidates affiliated with a party, however, do not have to register with the state until a year, or in some cases less, before Election Day.

If passed the legislation would not help her, because it would not take effect until the 2012 election cycle.

And just in case the court case is not resolved in time, or in her favor, Curry still is planning to run a write-in re-election campaign and has a crew of volunteers already set up and operating in Gunnison.

“We talk weekly, they keep my website up to date, we’ve done meetings and fundraising,” she explained. “I feel like, if I need to go that route, I’ll be ready.”

She said she has contacted the district’s Democratic leadership, to say that “I felt that I could defeat the Republican candidate, either way.”

In the meantime, Curry said, she has been busy working on other legislation, such as a bill that recently passed out of committee that changes the laws regarding rafters floating on rivers through private property.

The bill, which would permit rafters to make “incidental contact” with the river bottom or riverbanks, but not linger to, say, have a picnic or camp, narrowly passed out of a Senate subcommittee last week and is headed for debate before the full Senate. It has drawn intense opposition from private landowners worried about trespassing and littering by the rafters, and equally strong support from many commercial and private rafting interests.

Curry also has introduced a bill to establish highway crossing zones for wildlife (on behalf of Carbondale Trustee Frosty Merriott and others).

The bill would set up zones similar to school crossings and construction zones, as a way to reduce the level of annual carnage on the state’s highways, although it would affect a maximum of 100 miles of the state highway network to start with.

Curry is working on an animal-welfare bill that grew out of the controversy surrounding the Krabloonik kennels in Snowmass Village and allegations of poor treatment of the sled dogs there, and supported the recently passed Senate Bill 52, a controversial measure that is meant to protect boundaries of a designated groundwater basin that’s home to the Republican River and many eastern plains farmers.

All told, according to her personal bill digest, Curry has gotten 53 bills passed and signed by the governor since 2005, many of them about water issues, wildlife and conservation concerns, and matters related to the energy industry.

Her most productive year, in terms of volume, was 2007, when a total of 14 bills she either introduced or co-sponsored were approved and signed into law. The number of bills she ushered successfully that year matched the number of bills with her name on them that were not approved – 14 – in all five of her years at the Statehouse.

Legislators are normally expected to introduce a maximum of five bills per session, but there is no limit on the number of bills one can co-sponsor, according to a staffer at the House Legislative Affairs office.

jcolson@postindependent.com


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