Our View: House District 57 deserves better debate

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Editorial Board, May 2008 to August 2008

  • Bryna Larsen, publisher
  • Brent Boyer, editor
  • Mike Lawrence, city editor
  • Tom Ross, reporter
  • Eric Morris, community representative
  • Paul Draper, community representative

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— The remarkably low number of voters in Tuesday's primary clearly showed that Northwest Colorado's race for state House has not inspired the public debate that residents deserve.

Action at the polls was so slow Tuesday that election judges at the Routt County Courthouse Annex wiled away the hours playing Sudoku. Three voters cast ballots at Centennial Hall on 10th Street. Moffat County saw a record-low turnout.

This year's primary had just one contested race, as Randy Baumgardner defeated Dan Korkowski for the Republican nomination for state House District 57.

If, right now you, are saying "Who and who?," you are not alone.

The two Grand County men did little during their summer campaigns to distinguish themselves, highlight actions they would take in the state House or voice opinions and plans that would have made Tuesday's county-funded primary worthwhile.

"I know I don't have any personal agendas here, so I don't have anything going on board to try to push," Korkowski told this newspaper in June. "I just want to do what's right for the people of the state."

Baumgardner has proved similarly vague.

"I feel that with my years, with my age, seeing the different changes in government and following the changes in the government, I could be an asset to help to look forward into the future and form a better Colorado," he said, also in June.

Northwest Colorado has just two state legislators - just two voices at the Capitol. Those voices cannot be passive or have undefined agendas. Residents of Routt, Moffat, Grand, Garfield, Jackson and Rio Blanco counties deserve better as the district confronts serious issues, including sweeping energy exploration and its associated economic booms and environmental concerns.

While Baumgardner and Korkowski were failing to make an impact on House District 57 - and very little also has been heard so far from Baumgardner's opponent, Phippsburg Democrat Todd Hagenbuch - oil and natural gas speculators were making their own impacts.

Earlier this year, a San Antonio company paid $30.5 million for mineral rights beneath 12 parcels of land south of Milner. Comet Ridge, the Australia-based company hoping to find 200 million barrels of oil in underground shale beds between Steamboat Springs and Hayden, announced June 19 that a New York private equity firm will infuse Comet's energy operations in the American West with up to $100 million.

And Thursday's auction of oil and gas leases on the Roan Plateau netted $114 million for state and federal governments, fueling the ongoing energy debate between, among others, Gov. Bill Ritter and the administration of President George W. Bush.

To their credit, Baumgardner and Hagenbuch have acknowledged issues associated with energy development, particularly potential conflicts with landowners.

"There are government entities that are telling private property owners they cannot have a gas well drilled on their properties or an oil well drilled on their property, because of possibly a mouse or a grouse," Baumgardner said.

Hagenbuch has stated that if elected, he will work to protect surface owners' property rights from oil and gas development.

Their first debate is from 11:30 a.m. to noon Sept. 6 at the Two Rivers Convention Center in Grand Junction, during Club 20's fall meeting.

HD 57 is dealing with water use, a bark beetle epidemic, affordable health care and many other enormous issues.

We hope the two candidates give voters reasons to pay attention.

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