Fetcher, White vie for House District 56 seat

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— The candidates for House District 56 took on the question of making weapons available to public school officials as a deterrent to violence during a campaign forum at Colorado Mountain College in Steamboat Springs on Thursday.
In response to a written question from one of the 70-plus people in attendance, Republican Al White said with strict controls in place, and during times of extreme need, he could support making guns available to teachers and administrators. Democrat Jay Fetcher said although he supports the state's system of issuing permits for concealed weapons, he can't envision extending that system to school officials on campus.
"I do not support concealed weapons on school grounds," Fetcher said.
White said he would consider supporting such a measure only if the weapons were locked up safely until there was an extreme need.
"There might not be the occurrence of violence we've seen" if teachers and administrators had access to the weapons, White said.
Fetcher said he also supports Amendment 22, which is intended to close the loopholes on background checks for gun purchasers at gun shows.
Fetcher is a Clark-area rancher who served a long stint on the Steamboat Springs School Board and has been active in land conservation issues. White is a Winter Park businessman who has owned ski shops and a small ski lodge. White has served on a local water and sanitation district and a recreation district in Grand County.
Their discussion about education also touched on more traditional issues.
White said an earlier impression that Colorado schools were already adequately funded was reversed when he met teachers who were taking anywhere from $500 to $2,000 out of their own pockets to meet the needs of their classrooms.
Using an analogy to the human body, White said that while public schools form the strong spine of the system, they need the ribs of competing forms of education to support a healthy heart and lungs.
Fetcher said the Legislature has not provided adequate funds for teacher cost-of-living increases. He said he would like to take the model of the half-cent sales tax in Steamboat Springs, which goes to support school growth and technology issues, to the state level.
Asked how he would support tourism in the state Legislature, White cited a study that shows the decrease in state tourism attributable to the loss of state funding between 1992 and 1997 cost the state $110 million in tax revenues.
"I think it's imperative we get tourism marketing at the same level it was when we had the tourism tax," White said. He said it was his belief that voters who cast ballots against the tax didn't fully understand how much they depended upon it.
Fetcher said he supports tourism funding but stopped short of naming specific methods he would use to foster it as a state representative.
The abortion issue found its way into the exchange between Fetcher and White.
Fetcher reiterated his "pro-choice" stand, and White answered from the perspective of a would-be legislator who is also the father of two adopted children.
The question was posed in writing by a member of the audience who asked how the two candidates would vote if confronted by a bill that would affect a woman's right to choose.
"I'm pro-choice," Fetcher said. "Government shouldn't be involved."
White said he wished the abortion issue was not politicized and added that as the father of two adoptive children, he's unable to hug them and look into their eyes without being thankful their mothers didn't end their pregnancies.
"I will not impose my will on somebody else, but I would legislate my conscience," White said.
White said he won't promise that he has all the answers to the problems of the 56th District or that he will always please all of his constituents, but he promised an open-minded approach to government.
Fetcher said he's running for the Legislature because "agriculture matters" and "education matters."

To reach Tom Ross call 871-4210 or e-mail tomross@amigo.net

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