The race for the District 57 seat in the State House of Representatives pits a Republican incumbent with designs on the position of majority leader against a little-known man from Parachute. The men's backgrounds and points of view are as different as the corners of the district from which they come.
Democrat Sam Robinson is running because he "didn't say no" when he was asked to run by the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance, a group concerned mostly with protecting the surface rights of land owners against oil and gas drilling.
With a campaign budget of less than $600, Robinson is an underdog against incumbent Al White, R-Winter Park, to represent Garfield, Grand, Jackson, Moffat, Rio Blanco and Routt counties in the House. As of the end of September, White had raised more than $10,000 for his campaign.
Robinson does not support the death penalty and is for abortion rights, and White is anti-abortion and supports the death penalty.
At 75, Robinson is a retired civil engineer making his first bid for public office.
Robinson is on the board of directors for the watchdog GVCA. In past years, he said, he watched oil and gas drilling near Rifle balloon from a spacing of one oil-rig per 160 acres to one per 10 acres.
"It's a dramatic change," he said.
If elected, Robinson would work to change the makeup of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. The majority of commission members are "industry people," he said. Robinson would like to see environmentalists and land owners, with and without mineral rights, join the commission.
Although he began on a platform of changing the makeup of the Oil and Gas Commission, he has learned that not all members of his constituency are affected by the same issues, and he has broadened his perspective since leaving the gate.
Talking to voters across District 57, Robinson said he realized most people are concerned about health care costs and lack of insurance.
As he learned while walking in the Oak Creek Labor Day parade and talking to people there, even people with insurance have to pay such high deductibles that they avoid going to the doctor for preventative care, he said.
"I started out with a major concern for the lack of respect from Oil and Gas and their disregard for surface-right owners," Robinson said. "And when I got up into the Steamboat and Meeker area, I realized people there aren't affected by it."
Robinson attended several forums and fielded repeated questions about health insurance.
If elected, Robinson plans to pursue a state-sponsored health care plan much like the one enacted by Vermont and Hawaii.
"There are people who are in really bad physical condition, but can't change jobs because they are afraid of not being insured because of a pre-existing condition," Robinson said.
On the issue of tourism promotion, Robinson promised to support the hunting and fishing industries if elected, but has yet to formulate a plan.
As a little-known candidate with limited funding, Robinson is not a favorite to win.
He campaigns mostly through newspaper interviews, attending forums and purchasing advertisements in the local papers. On Robinson's $600 budget, Routt County voters are not likely to see "Vote Robinson" yard signs or receive a Robinson direct mailing. Robinson is trying to raise the money to pay the rest of the advertising bill he has accumulated during the campaign.
"In the last couple months, I have been learning to enjoy the political process," Robinson said. "And I'm learning a lot about it that I had no idea about.
"The more I get into it, the more I realize that the Republican Party is dominated by corporate leaders who are getting things their way. To fight that, people like me have to get involved. If you don't participate, you're part of the problem."
The state House of Representatives is split 37 to 28 in favor of the Republicans, and if re-elected, White plans to compete for the majority leader position.
As majority leader of the House, White said he would focus on tourism funding.
If re-elected, White plans to sponsor a bill that would generate $18 million to $25 million in permanent funding for tourism promotion. His plan would be modeled after the marketing funds charged in agriculture. Cattle owners have to pay a mandatory amount per head sold for slaughter to be used for campaigns such as "Beef: It's what's for dinner," White said.
Similarly, the hotel, restaurant, transportation, activity and ski industries would pay a fee for services sold, with the collected fees going into a tourism marketing fund.
"I'm looking for 0.2 percent of taxable revenue (or two cents on $10) to be charged to the industries that will benefit," White said. "Tourism is the No. 2 economy in Colorado and the No. 1 economy in my district."
White, 54, lives in Winter Park, where he spent 25 years as the owner of a ski shop and a 25-bed lodge. He was elected to the House of Representatives in 2000 and again in 2002. He currently serves as the assistant House majority leader.
During his last term, White was a primary sponsor of the law creating the Colorado No-Call List.
Of 2.3 million residential phone lines in Colorado, 1.6 million people registered for the No-Call List, White said.
He also sponsored legislation that created a financing mechanism for multijurisdictional housing authorities in an attempt to address the affordable housing crisis throughout Colorado.
"This is a concern here in Routt County, where the workers cannot afford to live in the same community as the people with their palaces who they serve," he said. "Winter Park has the same issues. I experienced the problem as an employer. I could find people to work, but housing was a problem."
White also carried a piece of legislation that allowed citizens in high cost-of-living areas to vote to commit money to their school districts so teachers could be paid more.
"Those districts that qualified were able to go to a vote to close the disparity between the state-paid cost of living and the actual cost of living," he said.
Steamboat Springs received about $800,000 a year from the measure, he said.
"I've had four years to learn the process," White said. "It's not rocket science, but it's a steep learning curve on the front end. I haven't mastered it, but I have a good grasp of the process, which makes me a good advocate for the citizens of my district."
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