House majority leader makes Steamboat stop

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— Alice Madden meant what she said.

A Democrat from Boulder, Madden is the majority leader in the state House of Representatives. When she announced Wednesday that she will not run for governor to replace term-limited Bill Owens -- ending speculation that heated up after Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper decided not to run two weeks ago -- Madden cited a need to spend time with her family as a reason for the decision.

Three days after the announcement, Madden was on the slopes in Steamboat Springs with her husband, sister and two teenage sons.

"The boys were building a ramp to jump off of when I left," Madden said Saturday at the Steamboat Yacht Club, where she met with area residents for about an hour after a day of skiing.

About 10 people attended the meeting, including City Council President Ken Brenner and Craig City Council member Terry Carwille. Over coffee and pastries, Madden discussed immigration, health care, taxes and the current legislative session, which began last month at the Capitol in Denver.

"Immigration has become a political tool, and it will continue to be," Madden said about the increasingly divisive issue, saying House Republicans this session have frequently attempted to place immigration-related amendments onto non-immigration bills.

A Republican-sponsored immigration bill that she could support, Madden said, is an undrafted proposal by Rep. Bill Crane, R-Arvada, which would prevent illegal immigrants from working on state-funded construction projects. Madden said Speaker of the House Andrew Romanoff, a Denver Democrat, is working with Crane to draft that bill.

Several people at Saturday's meeting asked Madden about health care issues.

Tom Gangel, division director for Colorado West Regional Mental Health, expressed concern about the rising costs of maintaining online health services -- or "telemedicine" -- for people in rural areas, such as parts of Routt and Moffat counties.

"We have a great telemedicine system set up," said Gangel, whose division serves five counties in Northwest Colorado. "But keeping bandwidth open costs $10,000 per county. If we could make bandwidth cheaper or get state help with that, it would make telemedicine skyrocket throughout Colorado."

Madden said two bills proposed in the Senate would, if passed, help fund telemedicine throughout the state. The bills would use funding from Referendum C, a voter-approved measure that will allow the state to keep more than $3.5 billion in surplus taxpayer refunds during the next five years.

"If not for Ref. C, we wouldn't be thinking about that (bill)," Madden said.

Democratic lawmakers plan to place a health care bill vetoed last year by Gov. Owens onto statewide ballots as a referendum next fall, Madden said. The referendum, tentatively titled "Colorado Cares Rx," would enter Colorado in a multi-state purchasing pool for prescription drugs, she said.

"It would allow anyone in Colorado to go into a drugstore and purchase prescription drugs at a discounted price," Madden said.

Madden praised legislation co-sponsored by Rep. Al White, R-Winter Park, and Rep. Tom Plant, D-Nederland, to increase funding to the state's tourism department from $5 million to $20 million.

Plant said the bill, which passed through the House Finance Committee on Wednesday, would add $3 billion to the state's economy.

"We all know tourism is a huge economic driver in Colorado," Madden said. "I think Owens will sign (White's bill)."

This weekend, Madden got a break from the Capitol and a chance to enjoy some tourism herself.

"We ski up here a couple times a year -- we love Steamboat," she said.

With Madden not in the governor's race, the two Democratic candidates are former Denver District Attorney Bill Ritter and state Rep. Gary Lindstrom of Breckenridge. Republican candidates are U.S. Rep. Bob Beauprez of Arvada and former University of Denver president and state technology director Marc Holtz-man.

Ritter will be in Steamboat on Saturday and will visit with residents from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Yacht Club.

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