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Steamboat Springs Democratic Routt County Commissioner Diane Mitsch Bush appeared headed to victory Tuesday for a seat in the Colorado House of Representatives.
Mitsch Bush was leading Republican opponent Chuck McConnell with 55 percent of the vote as of 1 a.m. Wednesday.
The newly-created House District 26 represents Routt and Eagle counties. Both Mitsch Bush and McConnell call Steamboat Springs home.
In Routt County, Mitsch Bush collected 7,287 votes to McConnell's 5,146. All but a couple hundred provisional ballots had been counted in Routt County. In Eagle County, as of 9:45 p.m., Mitsch Bush held a 8,055 to 7,235 lead over McConnell.
Mitsch Bush did not return messages seeking comment late Tuesday.
Routt County Democratic Party chairwoman Catherine Carson said voters are lucky to have Mitsch Bush headed to Denver.
“It’s a statement by our two mountain communities,” Carson said.
McConnell said he was disappointed by the results.
“I had a tremendous amount of supporters here and in Eagle County that worked very hard,” McConnell said. “We’re all very disappointed.”
McConnell said he thought he had the background and tools to help create jobs and economic vitality in Colorado.
“I guess it could be said that that didn’t resonate with voters,” McConnell said.
Before becoming county commissioner in 2007, Mitsch Bush spent her career teaching at Colorado colleges, including Colorado State University and Colorado Mountain College's Alpine Campus. McConnell is a retired chemical engineer.
Both candidates identified job creation as a top priority, but they separated themselves on their stances on regulations placed on energy companies looking to explore for oil and gas in Routt County and elsewhere across the state.
As a county commissioner, Mitsch Bush has pushed for monitoring groundwater quality around oil rigs, a policy not supported by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, the state agency that oversees the energy industry. Mitsch Bush has repeatedly said the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission’s rules are not good enough to protect the environment. McConnell, however, maintained that COGCC regulations were satisfactory for protecting the environment while allowing responsible energy exploration.
Mitsch Bush spent more than twice as much as McConnell during the campaign. Through Oct. 24 Mitsch Bush had raised $40,421 in cash and another $1,358 in non-monetary contributions. She spent $34,454.77. McConnell raised $19,000 in cash, $125 in non-monetary contributions and spent $16,806.
McConnell got some help from outside groups that bombarded Routt and Eagle counties with mailers critical of Mitsch Bush and complimentary of McConnell. The Denver-based Colorado Citizens for Accountable Government distributed mailers that it one case depicted Mitsch Bush as "an abominable tax monster" who wants to raise taxes on the middle class.
With the departure of Mitsch Bush from the three-person Routt County Board of Commissioners, the Routt County Democratic Party will appoint a replacement to fill out her term, which is up for election in November 2014.
To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247 or email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com