Craig When asked how she spends her free time, Jean White laughed.
“Well, first of all, I don’t have free time,” the Colorado state senator from Hayden said. “But if I did, I have a little bit of an artistic bent to me and … I enjoy just practicing watercolor painting and other types of art.”
White also enjoys reading — “I love Steinbeck,” she said — but finding time to get into a good book is no easy task, either. It’s no wonder.
The first-term Republican senator has her hands full, and her schedule isn’t likely to relax now that she’s running for re-election.
She’s scheduled to face fellow Republican Randy Baumgardner, the current Colorado House District 57 representative, in the primary election closing Tuesday.
Senate District 8 encompasses Moffat, Routt, Summit, Grand, Jackson, Rio Blanco and Garfield counties and offers a diversity of industries and people, she said.
“I just love getting out and meeting people throughout the district,” she said.
As the primary election nears, White paused to reflect on energy development, education and other issues along the campaign trail.
White outlined limited government as a key to maintaining the local energy industry.
Her role would be “to try to keep government regulation out of the way of development at all levels,” she said.
“I think that we already have some of the strictest rules and regulations in place in the state, and I just don’t want to see government increasing those regulations on energy companies.”
Clean Air, Clean Jobs Act
White wasn’t in the legislature when Colorado House Bill 10-1365 passed in 2010, but she would have voted against it had she been in office, she said.
“The bill that I did oppose was the state implementation plan, which imposed stricter regulations than the federal standards,” she said. “I opposed that bill because of the potential cost to our power plants.”
The bill was crafted to convert three coal-fired power plants on the Front Range to natural gas by 2018.
White stood in defense of local coal-fired power plants and area mines, which produce clean-burning coal, she said.
“I think we all want clean air and clean water, but the thing we have to recognize … if you’re speaking specifically about the power plants in Routt and Moffat counties, they are already some of the cleanest plants in the nation,” she said. “I think that they are good stewards and are doing an excellent job of making sure the emissions are as minimal as possible.”
Sage grouse conservation
Protecting sage grouse and leaving the door open to energy production requires careful balance and input from all stakeholders, White said.
Still, she thinks conservation shouldn’t come with rules and regulations that would put a damper on energy development, she said.
“It’s not that I’m against sage grouse, but I would prefer to see it in a balanced way,” she said.
Funding for education
As a former teacher, White can empathize with school districts that have seen declines in state funding.
“I’m glad that K-12 (funding) has not had to suffer any more cuts because I know what it does to the schools, and it puts them under a real strain when funding is cut,” she said.
Although the state has stabilized its funding for public education during the past two years, she thinks Colorado should pitch in more.
School districts also should secure funding at the local level, she said.
“I applaud several of the local districts for being in charge of their own destiny” through sales tax increases, mil levies and other means, she said.
Improving student scores
White thinks preparing students to read early is critical to improving scores on state standardized tests, such as the Transitional Colorado Assessment Program students took this spring.
“I think early childhood literacy is the best investment we can make in assuring that students achieve higher scores as they go through school,” she said.
Early reading education, like the kind fostered through the Colorado Early Literacy Act passed this year, also could impact dropout and graduation rates, she said.
“If we invest in early childhood literacy, I think it pays big dividends down the road,” White said.
Although White has taken criticism for her support of same-sex unions, she stood by her position that the state should allow civil unions for heterosexual and homosexual couples alike.
“I support civil unions,” she said. “I believe it’s a civil rights issue of our time.”
White stressed that civil unions, which give couples’ rights regarding property and other legal issues, are different from marriage, primarily a religious rite the state constitution defines as between a man and a woman, she said.
“I am being beat up really bad about it, and my opponent calls it same-sex marriage, and that is not true,” she said. “It’s a civil union, and it is clearly different.”
A drought coupled with beetle-kill trees makes forest fires a looming threat, White said. “I’m very concerned about that just as a safety issue,” she said.
Yet, in her view, the greatest issue facing the region boils down to jobs and economy.
“That’s the way it is throughout the entire state, and it’s no different here in Northwest Colorado,” she said.
She thinks job creation is critical, as is protecting existing jobs in the coal, oil and gas industries.
“I want to see people getting back to work, and I think the best way to do that is … to try to get government out of the way of businesses so they can thrive,” she said.