Steamboat Springs Voters in State Senate District 8 will have a clear choice. When they step into the voting booth Nov. 7 they can vote for a Republican legislator who supports local government control until it impinges too much on private property rights, a longtime former Democratic Grand County commissioner who says he wants local control that goes beyond government to the voters themselves, or a Clark man who says he tried both the Democratic and Republican parties, but rejected them in favor of the Colorado Libertarians.
The candidates are State Rep. Jack Taylor R-Steamboat Springs, Paul Ohri, who was a Democratic county commissioner in Grand County for 12 years and Michael Zuckerman of Clark, a retired physicist who is running as a member of the Colorado Libertarian party.
Zuckerman said he was originally a Democrat but became uncomfortable with some aspects of the party and decided to try being a Republican. Soon, he became disenchanted with the GOP as well.
"When they would vote, (politicians from both parties) would often vote the special interest groups. That means less liberty for the people," Zuckerman told a recent gathering of business people in Steamboat Springs.
Zuckerman said he has chosen to run for the state Senate as a Libertarian because the party favors less governmental interference in peoples' lives.
"Dictates from the state are not necessarily in your best interest," Zuckerman said. "There are too many dictates from the state, and even from the county, dictating how your property is going to be handled."
Like Zuckerman, Taylor is concerned with his constituents' ability to manage their property to suit themselves.
"Private property rights are at the top of my list," Taylor said. "That's where I draw the line on local control."
But Taylor says he has worked hard to pass legislation that enhances local control, including bills to establish rural transportation authorities and local marketing districts.
As a longtime Kremmling Realtor who has real estate holdings in the area, Ohri said he can certainly identify with the need to protect property rights. But he believes local control is critical to the future of Colorado's Western Slope and he is making that a central part of his campaign.
"That's the theme of my campaign," Ohri said. "The most valuable level of service we can have is at the local level. I'm talking about starting at the people up. I pledge that I'll carry that level of communication all the way from the people of northwest Colorado to the Statehouse."
Taylor said that during his eight years in the House, he voted for three tax cut bills that were signed into law and returned $900 million to taxpayers. He wants to see that trend continue.
"As a member of the Legislative Audit Committee, I have some oversight of the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights," Taylor said. He predicted the state budget surplus will go as high as $1.5 billion within three years.
"So, to me, the only accurate way to refund your tax dollars under TABOR is not to collect them in the first place, and I'll continue to work for that," Taylor said.
Taylor said he favors implementing tax cuts that have built-in protection. A combination of permanent tax cuts and temporary tax cuts with trigger points based on the size of the state surplus, will afford local governments the protection they need.
Ohri told a recent meeting of the Steamboat Springs Rotary Club that more needs to be done to protect Western Slope water in the Colorado River Basin. He is the current president of the board of directors of the Colorado River Water Conservation District.
"The Colorado (River) is way over appropriated and way under utilized," Ohri said. "We can be subjected to severe stream flow problems."
People in Routt County aren't impacted as immediately as other constituents of Senate District 8, Ohri said. But in his home county, and in Eagle County, Colorado River tributaries like the Blue, Eagle and Fraser rivers are facing critical problems.
"Fifty percent of the in-stream water supply is diverted to the Eastern Slope before it ever hits a mountain stream," Ohri said. "That's critical to this Western Slope."
Ohri said he played a critical role in stopping the Two Forks Dam on the South Platte, which would have diverted even more Western Slope water to the other side of the Continental Divide. As a state senator, Ohri said he could become more effective in the struggle to preserve Western Slope water for agricultural and recreational needs.
Taylor, who is a member of a special legislative water committee, told the Rotarians he would "fight until his dying breath," to protect Western Slope water interests.
Restoring funding for statewide promotion of tourism has been one of Taylor's hallmark efforts in the state Legislature.
"Tourism, let me talk about tourism," Taylor told the Rotarians. "In this town, maybe that's a dangerous thing to talk about, but I'm proud of tourism."
He is a member of the Colorado Tourism Board and said before he carried legislation to reform the way tourism is promoted statewide, Colorado was losing up to an estimated $2.1 billion annually in revenues attributable to tourism.
"If we can begin to recover some of that money, it's going to help small business mom and pops and then we can do more of those tax cuts," Taylor said.
Ohri, who served on the West Grand School District Board for 10 years from 1977 until 1987, said he isn't afraid of accountability for public schools, but he doesn't support the state-mandated tests that assess schools on their students' performance on CSAP (Colorado State Assessment Program) tests.
Ohri said he's worried that rural schools that score low grades will be stigmatized, and bright young teachers will avoid them because these schools won't be perceived as a desirable place to build a career.
Taylor countered that the education reforms spearheaded by Gov. Bill Owens are good because they empower parents and taxpayers to know what's going on in their schools.
Taylor told his audience of Realtors that he has been a Republican in spirit before he was old enough to vote, and that as a youth, he couldn't wait to reach voting age. Taylor said in his mind, the Republican Party is the party of less government, more efficiency and cost effective government.
Ohri said he regards the Democratic Party as the party of the people. But he believes he was thrice elected as a county commissioner in Grand County, where 65 percent of registered voters are Republicans and 18 percent are Democrats, because he votes on the merit of the issues, not strictly along party lines.