Steamboat Springs The political match between Incumbent State Rep. Al White, R-Winter Park, and Democratic challenger Terry Carwile of Craig would never have taken place had it not been for the 2000 Census.
The two men are in a race to see who will represent Northwest Colorado, including Routt County and Steamboat Springs, in the Colorado House of Representatives. But until this year, they didn't appear destined to become political opponents.
Legislative redistricting mandated by the latest population count resulted in the old House District 56 being morphed into the new House District 57. The new district puts Grand, Jackson and Routt counties together with Moffat, Rio Blanco and the portion of Garfield County from Rifle west together for the first time in many years.
In effect, redistricting transformed the district from one characterized by ski areas to one with greater emphasis on agricultural and mining interests. Eagle County, with the colossal Vail and Beaver Creek ski areas, was excised from the district when the old 56 became the new 57th.
White owned a ski shop in Winter Park for many years and won his seat in the Legislature in 2000 after a tight race with rancher Jay Fetcher of rural Steamboat Springs. Carwile is a longtime employee of the Trapper Coal Mine near Craig. He says he's a Democrat in the tradition of organized labor.
"I identify with Harry Truman and Jack Kennedy," Carwile said. "That's more a reflection of who I am. I'd have to call that my roots as a Democrat."
Carwile is optimistic the transformation of the district will play to his strengths.
"The demographic makeup (of the district) I think changed dramatically," Carwile said. "When you come from Winter Park this way, it's a transition from resort to ag and mining."
White is a Republican who demonstrated in his first term he's not afraid to buck party leadership. He disgruntled some Republican veterans by sponsoring legislation that could be construed as tax increases.
A self-described moderate Republican, White had the distinction of being the only state representative to see all of the bills he sponsored in the last session (7) passed.
He said several of his measures would not have passed without substantial support from Democrats.
White pushed an amendment to an existing law that allows the creation of multijurisdictional housing authorities for the first time and provides them with means of raising revenues.
White also takes credit for an amendment to the state school finance act, which prodded the state to live up to its obligation to readjust the finance act and the amount of money it sends back to the state's 176 school districts. The adjustments are required to take inflation and the cost of living into account. White says the state was conveniently overlooking its obligation in that regard.
Carwile said he would work very closely with local governments in his district to ensure any legislation he supports is a good fit for the communities he represents.
"I would be very careful that what I carried as a legislator did not hurt the local tax base," Carwile said. He describes himself as an advocate of local control.
For example, Carwile said he differs sharply from Gov. Bill Owens over the CSAP tests given to Colorado schoolchildren. He believes teachers in Craig are forced to teach to those standards, denying the local school district the ability to give its students the education they believe is appropriate.
"I know two teachers in Craig who have Ph.D.'s," Carwile said. "I don't want to see that talent pool circumvented by the governor or the Legislature. The attempt to increase centralized control makes me jittery. Let's get rid of the CSAPs. It's a legislator's job to facilitate local management."
Although he says he finds tax cuts appealing, Carwile also disagrees with the governor on the permanent tax cuts he pushed through the Legislature. In light of the $800,000 in tax anticipation notes the state is confronted with borrowing this year, those tax cuts went too far, Carwile said. And the $12 million in interest the state would pay on that loan "won't pave one foot of road or put one computer in a classroom."
Carwile says he would also work to promote legislation to fund the repair and modernization of rural school buildings in Colorado.
White said one of his major focuses if he is returned to the Legislature will be an effort to restore funding to the statewide tourism marketing effort. He is testing the waters to see if there is support for a bill that would claim the vendors fees currently paid to merchants by the state as compensation for collecting sales taxes.
White says the state took a huge economic hit when it cut funding for tourism marketing, and he would like to see it boosted from the present $5.5 million into the range of $16 million to $18 million annually.
That could be accomplished with the vendors fee, he believes.
"It would be business paying for marketing business," White said. "That's not a new tax. It's charging a fee, and it can be done by changing the statute."
White is also intent on beefing up the "no-call legislation" he successfully sponsored during his first legislative session. The original bill allowed Colorado residents to ask to be placed on a no-call list that would protect them from telephone solicitations from for-profit companies. White believes now he didn't anticipate the impact telephone solicitations would come to have on cell phone users. He wants to expand the protection into that area.
Carwile said he differs from his opponent's support for a failed bill that he says would have taken a share of oil and gas royalties away from local property owners and diverted them to the energy producers to offset production costs.
White says he can represent Northwest Colorado most effectively, and his opponent would never be able to land the influential committee assignments he occupies in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.