State Senate District 5: Snowmass Village’s Gail Schwartz challenges incumbent Lew Entz
October 10, 2006
The Colorado Senate District 5 race, between Republican incumbent Lewis Entz and his challenger, Democrat Gail Schwartz, has been characterized as one of the most crucial in the state.That’s because the balance of power in the Statehouse, where Democrats hold a one-vote majority, could be changed by the outcome of this one race. Democrats believe Entz is vulnerable to a strong challenge, while Republicans feel he is firmly enough entrenched that he will survive Schwartz’s attempt to unseat him.Schwartz, 56, a Chicago native who moved to Colorado in 1967, lives in Snowmass Village with her attorney husband, Alan, with whom she has raised three daughters. In 2000 she proved her ability to win upset victories by nabbing a seat on the University of Colorado Board of Regents, against a Republican incumbent. She won by 52 percent to 48 percent, the smallest margin among the regent races that year. Her campaign information is on her website at http://www.gailschwartz2006.comEntz, 75, is a lifelong Coloradan and farmer who lives and works seven miles from where he was born near Hooper in the San Luis Valley. He served in the state House of Representatives from 1983 through 1998, and in 2001 was appointed to fill a vacated seat in the state Senate, winning re-election in 2002. His website is http://www.entzforsenate.com.Both candidates point to records of community activism, Schwartz in such areas as education and the environment, Entz in agricultural issues and veterans’ rights, among others.Both say they are advocates for greater emphasis on education, at the elementary, high school and higher education levels.And both say they want to protect Western Slope water from being siphoned off by Front Range developers.
The Senate District 5 race has so far attracted the most money among current contests for state office – nearly $200,000 had been raised by the end of August, more than in any other state race, according to the Rocky Mountain News. As of this week, according to the Colorado secretary of state, Schwartz had raised nearly $150,000 and spent slightly more than $105,000, while Entz has raised more than $80,000 and spent nearly $55,000.It also has brought into play the controversial use of “527 groups,” independent political action committees that can raise unlimited amounts of money for campaign advertising. So far, two such groups have swung into battle in the District 5 race.One, the conservative Trailhead group, has targeted Schwartz in what she has called an unfair and untruthful smear campaign involving her work as a University of Colorado regent. The ads have charged that Schwartz, while attending Board of Regents meetings in Denver, has stayed at the expensive Hotel Teatro and charged it to taxpayers.Schwartz maintains that the university gets a special rate for the hotel, and that the amounts spent are close to those charged by budget hotels. She also notes that all regents, including the Republican majority on the board, stay at the Teatro when attending official regent functions.Meanwhile, a similar group working for the Democrats, Moving Forward Colorado, has run radio ads critical of Entz over his voting record and his self-described inattentiveness during a recent legislative debate on water issues. One flyer distributed to voters depicts Entz asleep in his chair in the Senate chamber – a tactic that Entz likewise labels as unfair and a mischaracterization of his years of public service.
Reacting to Schwartz’s campaign charges, as outlined in a graphic on her website, Entz admitted this week that he “just voted wrong” on a Senate bill sending Referendum A to the voters in 2003. Referendum A, which would have authorized $2 billion in water projects to supply thirsty Front Range cities, was roundly rejected by the state’s voters, most ringingly on the Western Slope.”Lew Entz was the only senator from the valley or the Western Slope to vote for Referendum A,” declares the Schwartz website.But Entz maintains that he only voted to pass the measure on to the voters because had attached a rider to the bill that would have exempted rural water users from a state regulation governing new water projects that was opposed by his main constituency, the farmers of the Rio Grande Basin.”I didn’t support Referendum A, and I voted against Referendum A” in the general election, he declared, adding that he opposes the transfer of Western Slope water to fuel metropolitan and suburban growth on the Front Range.In response to another of Schwartz’s charges, Entz said he “just screwed up” in voting earlier this year against an important bill that would have allowed water judges to require major water-diversion projects to reduce their impacts on water quality. The measure reportedly had broad support throughout the Senate district and the Western Slope. But, Entz said, when the bill failed on third reading and came up again for reconsideration, he supported it. Entz produced documentation indicating that another legislator also switched her vote, from “yes” to “no,” and the bill was defeated.”I didn’t kill it. She did,” he protested.Then there is the so-called “Droste bill,” sponsored by Entz in 2004 at the behest of the Droste family of Brush Creek, who has battled with Pitkin County over development rights for years. Entz said his intention was to get a bill passed that reaffirmed the concepts of Senate Bill 35, a 1974 measure that exempted parcels of 35 acres or more from county subdivision review. Local officials worried that the Droste bill would turn back the clock to 1974 for land-use regulations aimed at large landholdings, and gut Pitkin County’s land-use code.The bill failed to pass, and Entz, who was an Alamosa county commissioner for 13 years, said “I suppose I’d take a hard look at it” before supporting it again. He said he would want to make sure it would not unravel hard-fought local land-use controls.Entz portrays himself as a simple country politician with roots in the land, and he smilingly admitted to a reporter recently, “I’d rather be in San Luis any day than in Aspen.”Asked about the statement, he replied, “Yeah, it’s friendlier [in San Luis]. It’s home!”But, he added, “I’ve probably been in Aspen more times than my opponent’s been in the San Luis Valley in her life.”
Schwartz, who said she has traveled thousands of miles in recent months to meet with voters in District 5, countered that she visited the San Luis Valley region “at least 20 times” and has found considerable support there. She says she is more in tune with the modern needs and wishes of the electorate, citing her beliefs in environmental conservation, water regulations that would prevent diversions to the Front Range, and the need to improve the state’s educational institutions.Pointing to Entz’s published preference for his home turf, she said, “I take exception to any of these broad-brush comments about our county and our community.” She argued that Entz’s antipathy to voters in this area is shown by the fact that “so few people [in Pitkin County] really know who our senator is.”Entz points to his record of sponsoring more than 400 pieces of successful legislation. According to a list compiled by the Colorado Legislative Council, these have included more than 70 water-related laws and dozens that deal with everything from homelessness prevention to how school buses discharge their passengers, from search-and-rescue funding to fire and police pension funding.To Schwartz, however, her opponent’s legislative record is the problem.For example, she notes that Entz has voted repeatedly against funds for public schools. Entz did not deny that he voted to cut nearly $96 million from K-12 school programs in 1983 and 1984, as well as more than $170 million between 1998 and 2004.But, he countered, those cuts came during state budgetary crises, when recession was hampering the economy and the Legislature was cutting a broad range of programs, not just in education, to balance the state budget as required by law.”Those are not votes I would have case,” Schwartz said of Entz’s record. “I think he should be accountable for his voting record.”
The 11-county district, which stretches from Pitkin County’s northern border to the New Mexico state line and from Delta County in the west to Saguache County in the east, is home to about 122,000 residents.According to the secretary of state, about 42,400 district residents voted in the 2002 off-year election, which Entz won handily against his challenger, Democrat Rafael Gallegos (25,895 for Entz, 16,553 for Gallegos). In liberal Pitkin County, however, Gallegos outpolled Entz by 3,062 to 1,992.In the 2004 general election, Pitkin County voters chose Democrats in both the presidential and U.S. Congressional District 3 races, selecting Democrat John Kerry over Republican George Bush, and Democrat John Salazar over Republican Greg Walcher.Entz is confident he will still have the support of the agriculturally based communities around the San Luis Valley, including Alamosa, as well as voters in Delta and Gunnison counties, which he said make up a large segment of the district’s voting population.Schwartz, on the other hand, points to her recent endorsement by the normally conservative Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, and from such politicians as U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar and State Rep. Kathleen Curry of Gunnison as proof that she has broad support.John Colson’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org