Former Steamboat Springs City Council president Ken Brenner on Monday announced he is running for the state Senate.
Steamboat Springs Former Steamboat Springs City Councilman Ken Brenner formally announced his candidacy for Senate District 8 in a tour of Northwest Colorado on Monday that concluded in front of supporters at the old Routt County Courthouse.
"I know I can do a great job representing this area," Brenner, a Democrat, told the crowd in an announcement during which he touted himself as the candidate who will take a balanced approach toward energy development and "who believes in preserving our natural resources."
Brenner, a strength and conditioning coach and owner of a sports medicine clinic, said public service is about "hard work and long hours," values he said he learned growing up on the family ranch south of Steamboat. Brenner, a third-generation Routt County resident, also spoke about the tragedy that led him in to politics. In 1991, Brenner's sister Patty was killed while jogging when she was hit by a group of teenagers in a pickup.
"My first response was to put 'Share the Road' signs around Steamboat Springs, alerting motorists to bicycles and pedestrians," Brenner said in a news release announcing his candidacy.
Brenner said he went on to lead a committee that worked with local, state and federal agencies to improve the road where his sister was killed. He said the experience led him into politics because it taught him that partnerships can be made, and so can a difference.
"That ruined me," Brenner joked at the courthouse.
Seventeen years later, Brenner is staking much of his campaign on vows to protect the Western Slope from interests of the Front Range, where the majority of the state's population resides.
"They live there because we're here," Brenner said. "You need a senator in Denver that makes sure we remind them at every opportunity to look out for our best interests."
After the rally, Brenner joined other Democrats at the Steamboat Smokehouse, where he expounded on the importance of preserving Western Slope lifestyles.
"We are Colorado's playground," Brenner said. "Protecting our natural resources is really about being a guardian of our outdoor-recreation lifestyle. That's why we're here. It's the one thing, regardless of your affiliation, that we all have in common."
In the race for Sentate District 8 - which includes all of Moffat, Routt, Jackson and Rio Blanco counties, as well as parts of Eagle and Garfield counties - Brenner faces a formidable opponent in Al White, R-Hayden. After first being elected in 2000, White has won the past three campaigns for House District 57, which includes Routt, Moffat, Grand, Garfield, Rio Blanco and Jackson counties. In November 2006, he won a strong victory against Democratic challenger Andy Gold of Tabernash, despite an election that saw widespread victories for Democrats across the county, state and nation. White has won majorities in Routt County in at least his past two elections.
Senate District 8, where Brenner and White are looking to replace term-limited Sen. Jack Taylor, R-Steamboat Springs, may prove a more competitive environment. In the last election, Taylor barely hung on against Democratic challenger Jay Fetcher, a rancher who coordinates U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar's visits to Routt County. Taylor won by a slim margin of 28,521 votes to 26,896 votes.
On Monday, White said the seven years he already has spent at the state Legislature would prove advantageous.
"I think what gives me an edge is eight years of proven leadership and accomplishment representing Northwest Colorado," said White, who said he has "brought home the bacon for tourism" and been a champion for education. "There's a big difference between making the statement and creating the reality."
Brenner has criticized a proposal White floated last year to help fund education with federal lease revenues from energy development on the Roan Plateau. Brenner has said such revenues need to stay in local communities. White, who has abandoned the proposal in favor of one that would increase state gambling revenues, said Brenner distorted his position and claimed his proposal would have increased revenues to impacted communities first.
"I hope in the campaign, as it moves forward, he relies more on fact and less on misleading information and innuendo in characterizing my position," White said.
White called Brenner's stance on the Roan Plateau - one that calls for directional drilling that would preserve the surface - "radical" and one that puts him at odds with a plan being pushed by Colorado Democrats in the U.S. Congress.
Brenner said Monday that he didn't know enough about the plan being promoted by U.S. Reps. John Salazar and Mark Udall and Sen. Ken Salazar to take a stance on it.
In response to White's experience at the state level, Brenner touted his 10 years on the City Council and other local experience.
"We deliver services in Colorado at the local level," Brenner said. "That's where I've spent my last 10 years. I guarantee I know more about that job."
Pat Waak, chairwoman of the Colorado Democratic Party, called Brenner a "good, experienced candidate" who she doesn't expect to be challenged in a primary.
"In general, we're very happy he's stepping forward and running," Waak said. "I think Ken will be a fine candidate."
Despite her party's recent lack of success in Northwest Colorado, Waak said Senate District 8 is winnable.
"I think this is a new day," Waak said. "There's all kinds of possibilities out there. : I think the most important thing for all of us is to make sure whoever's running is out listening to the voters. Republicans don't feel they've been responded to."