Baumgardner, White face off in heated state Senate primary

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Randy Baumgardner, left, and Jean White

— As Republican legislators, Jean White and Randy Baumgardner have a lot in common.

They want to ease regulations on small businesses and cut red tape. They advocate for smaller government and support an “all of the above” energy policy.

But as voters in Northwest Colorado start filling out primary ballots this week to decide whom they want to send back to the statehouse to represent them, the Republican candidates for the Senate District 8 seat are focusing on their differences.

“The main difference between my opponent and me is he votes with his Front Range leadership and extremist groups, and I vote for Northwest Colorado,” White said Thursday.

She added that Baumgardner voted against restoring $54 million in severance taxes to impacted counties and $15 million for emergency fire mitigation.

“My votes for Northwest Colorado make him accuse me of being liberal, and that’s not true,” White said.

Baumgardner, a cattle rancher from Cowdrey, claimed Thursday that he is more conservative than White. He pointed to the Colorado Union of Taxpayers’ most recent report card as evidence.

The annual report card, which grades how well legislators vote to represent taxpayers, rated Baumgardner at 93 percent and White at 27 percent.

“That’s a huge gap of fiscal responsibility,” Baumgardner said about White’s rating.

The race between White — a Hayden Republican who was appointed to the state Senate seat last year to fill the vacancy left by the resignation of her husband, Al White — and Baumgardner, the state representative for House District 57, is one of the state’s most heated primary battles.

Last week, The Denver Post reported that third-party groups started mailing out negative flyers that attacked Baumgardner for his vote to raise vehicle-registration fees and attacked White for her support of civil unions.

Amid the mudslinging and attack ads, both candidates are crisscrossing the northwest corner of the state and telling voters how they would represent them at the state Capitol.

Pitch to voters

White said she is proud of her legislative accomplishments, including bills she sponsored that would make it easier for teachers to obtain their recertifications and easier for counties to keep the full amount of their federal mineral lease payments.

“I’m effective,” White said Thursday before she headed to a campaign stop in Grand Lake. “Being in the minority and being able to pass legislation that’s important to me shows I can get things done for my constituents.”

She said that if she is elected to continue serving as a state senator, she would “work as I always have on trying to cut red tape and remove regulations so that small business can thrive.”

Baumgardner said his first plan of action as state senator would be to reintroduce a bill that would capture methane gas released by coal mines and convert it into electricity. The bill died in the recent legislative session.

Like White, he added that he would focus on fostering the growth of small businesses.

“I believe we should look at every avenue to get business here to our state and bolster our economy,” he said. “I have talked to many small-business owners who tell me, ‘I would like to hire one more person, but I cannot afford to because of the taxes and the workers’ comp.’ We should take a look at the amount of taxes businesses have to pay and find ways to curtail that.”

Both candidates also have similar reactions to Routt County’s relationship with oil companies seeking to drill for oil and gas.

“I believe in local control, and I’m going to leave that up to the (county) commissioners,” White said.

Baumgardner agreed that counties should have some say over the energy industry, but he said a local government’s power should have a limit.

“I believe the county should have some say in what’s going on, but as far as stopping oil and gas production at the county level, I don’t think that’s the right approach,” he said. “What will happen then is we will have 64 different plans. I think before we look at (adding new rules), we should look at whether there are impacts (from oil and gas operations) in the areas before rule making goes into effect.”

Sprint to the finish

Both candidates said Thursday that the campaign has been intense leading up to the June 26 primary election.

White said that since May 15, she has logged about 6,000 miles driving to campaign stops across Routt, Garfield, Grand, Jackson, Moffat, Rio Blanco and Summit counties, which make up S.D. 8.

“My favorite part of the campaign is when people stop me on the street when they see my car, and they want to talk to me about issues they have or things they want done,” she said. “My motto is, ‘Making a difference in Northwest Colorado.’”

In between meetings focused on water issues, Baumgardner on Thursday denounced the role third-party groups have played in the campaign.

“Neither one of us have any control over those, and it has caused a lot of hard feelings,” he said. “I wish this could have been a little less painful. If I win, I’m sure Jean will put in her support for me, and if she wins, I’ll do the same and support her.”

Money race

According to the candidates’ most recent campaign finance reports, White easily is winning the cash race and has raised more than twice as much as her opponent. Finance reports filed June 4 with the Colorado Secretary of State’s office show that White’s campaign raised $42,773 through May 30 compared with Baumgardner’s $19,573.

White had $13,182 cash on hand, and Baumgardner had $6,361.

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com

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