A vacancy committee selected Hayden Republican Jean White as Senate District 8’s next state senator Monday, after five secret ballots. Seven members of the nine-member committee voted. White recused herself, and Eagle County Republican Party Chairman Randy Milhoan was hospitalized and unable to vote.
Here’s how the ballots broke down:
Candidate/ Ballot: 1 2 3 4 5
Jeff Fry / 1 0 0 0 0
Bob McConnell / 1 0 0 0 0
Kay Meyring / 2 2 3 2 2
Shannon Stowe /0 0 0 0 0
Jean White / 1 2 2 3 4
T. Wright Dickinson /2 3 2 2 1
Source: Vacancy committee members Phil Vaughan and Jack Taylor
Steamboat Springs Jean White received just one vote on the first of five secret ballots last week being cast to fill the vacancy in state Senate District 8. But by the fifth ballot, she had picked up three more, enough to eke out a majority of the vacancy committee’s seven voting members and earn a seat at the Capitol in Denver for the next two years.
Jean White, a Hayden Republican married to the man whose seat she’s filling, left Hayden for Denver early Tuesday, the morning after the contentious selection process at the Moffat County Courthouse in Craig. A busy week followed and was capped Friday when White learned about her appointments to two Senate committees: Business Labor and Technology and Health and Human Services.
She said she hasn’t yet nailed down what bills she might put forward or co-sponsor in the upcoming legislative session. Ideas on the table, she said, include a bill to keep more severance tax dollars in Northwest Colorado and work to expand learning options for students in rural areas. Jean White said she fielded numerous phone calls and appointments last week about potential legislation — particularly from people who initially were talking with her husband, outgoing state Sen. Al White.
“Al had committed to some bills, so I am speaking to people who were wanting him to carry those bills and I’ll be deciding if it’s a good fit for me,” she said. “I’ve got so much to get done.”
Just like that, Routt County’s first female legislator since at least 1964, if not ever, is on the job. She’ll officially begin work when the state Legislature convenes Wednesday.
And she strongly rejects the idea that her selection to the Senate seat was a shoo-in from the start. Questions arose given her marriage to Al White and the fact that she’s a member of the Senate District 8 executive committee, which joined with leaders of regional county Republican parties to fill the vacancy. Jean White recused herself from vacancy discussions and votes.
“After 5 1/2 hours of proceedings, and five ballots with six candidates, I don’t see how anyone can say this was some kind of an inside deal. This was not a slam dunk,” she said last week. “The very first ballot, I had one vote. … It was an absolutely fair, open and transparent process.”
White recused herself and Eagle County Republican Party Chairman Randy Milhoan was hospitalized and unable to vote Monday, leaving seven voting committee members.
Bob McConnell, of Steamboat Springs, and Jeff Fry, of Hayden, each received one vote on the first ballot but none during the rest of voting. Former Moffat County Commissioner T. Wright Dickinson and Kay Meyring, of Jackson County, were early leaders, but while their vote counts dwindled or stayed flat through the ballots, White’s increased until she had the necessary four.
Retired state Sen. Jack Taylor, a Steamboat Springs Republican who held the Senate seat before the Whites and served on the vacancy committee, noted that state statutes set the vacancy selection process. There was neither sufficient time nor money for a district-wide vote, Taylor said, even if statutes allowed such a process. Taylor said if the seat had not been filled within 30 days of Al White’s resignation, it would have fallen to Colorado’s governor to fill the vacancy.
“It wouldn’t be good to have a newly seated Democrat appoint our next senator for Northwest Colorado,” Taylor said, referring to Gov.-elect John Hickenlooper, of Denver.
The day after Jean White’s selection, McConnell sent out a mass e-mail titled “Why I Am No Longer a Republican” (that message also appears as an op-ed submission on page 6 of today’s Steamboat Pilot & Today) and detailing his dissatisfaction with the party on national, state and local levels.
McConnell is a fiery military veteran who used tea party energy to fuel a campaign for Congress that died in August when he lost the GOP primary to Scott Tipton, of Cortez. Tipton defeated incumbent Democrat John Salazar and now is at work in Washington, D.C. McConnell wrote that he was sure “liberals celebrated with Champagne when they heard” of Jean White’s selection. Al White was at odds with his Republican Party several times during his legislative career.
The use of Champagne is uncertain, but active Routt County Democratic Party member Lynn Abbott wasn’t shy about expressing her support for the eventual selection.
“I’m very pleased. I have felt like Al did a really good job and I am thinking that (Jean) will carry it forward,” Abbott said. “Out of everybody who was applying, that’s who I was hoping for.”
Taylor said the political similarity between Al and Jean White may not be as close as some think.
“Jean White is her own person. She’s not Al White, she’s Jean White, and she has her own mind and will certainly tell you, if you ask her, that she doesn’t always agree with her husband,” Taylor said. “I think she will truly be an independent person.”
Jean White said “there are definitely differences” between her and Al, but said supporting tourism and small businesses are common goals.
“I have a real interest in education and I would like to stay involved in that,” she added. Jean White is a former middle school and high school teacher.
She said her years of working as an aide and campaigning with her husband give her confidence for the five-month legislative session that begins next week.
“I have a good healthy respect for (the job), but I can’t say I’m terribly nervous, no,” she said. “I’ve been watching for a long time.”