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Steamboat Springs Comments made by local candidates for the state Legislature here Thursday night reflected the cultural reality that the spine of the Rocky Mountains represents a divide greater than just the watersheds of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
Emily Tracy, the Democratic candidate for Colorado Senate District 8, said during a campaign forum Thursday at Colorado Mountain College's Alpine Campus that with the state’s population concentrated on the Front Range, Colorado’s statehouse is occupied by “very much an urban/suburban Legislature.”
She said that if elected, she would follow the successful path of legislators from the west side of the Colorado Divide who have come before her.
“The best Western Slope legislators over time have built coalitions and solved problems in a common-sense way,” Tracy said.
Her opponent, state Rep. Randy Baumgardner, of Hot Sulfur Springs, said he has learned during four years serving House District 57 that it’s not possible to accomplish goals at the state Capitol without collaborating with members of the opposing political party. Baumgardner also likened the residents of the seven-county Senate District 8 to an extended family.
“We’re family, no better than you are. I’m just like you are,” Baumgardner said. "I’m accessible. I may not get back to you the very day you call, but I’ll get back to you.”
In addition to Routt County, Senate District 8 also includes Summit, Garfield, Grand, Jackson, Rio Blanco and Moffat counties.
Baumgardner added that as a small-business owner and rancher, he understands the Western Slope, and also serves on the Colorado Tourism Office board of directors.
Tracy said she thinks Front Range legislators are prone to not understanding the importance of the Western Slope economy to the people who live here.
“I do not believe in the trickle-over-the-divide approach to" economic development, Tracy said. “We need high-quality technical assistance (from the state) to build on the jobs that are a good fit for the Western Slope. I will make sure the governor and the Legislature understand that it’s more than the Front Range.”
Diane Mitsch Bush, Democratic candidate for the new House District 26, said she thinks the importance of having good roads and highways on the Western Slope for statewide tourism, energy and agriculture also is misunderstood by Front Range dwellers. In her role as the chairwoman of the Northwest Colorado Transportation Planning Region, she said she has fought for funding of highway projects in the region.
“I have seen that our Front Range friends need some education,” she said. “They need to understand our transportation issues up here. I successfully negotiated across that partisan divide and Continental Divide to make sure we got our fair share.”
Mitsch Bush’s Republican opponent, Chuck McConnell, said he thinks Colorado and the Western Slope need to do more to conserve the water that pours off the Continental Divide.
“There is a constant push and pull between the Front Range and the Western Slope, including District 26, for water resources,” McConnell said.
Given the tourism in Routt and Eagle counties, McConnell said water is absolutely necessary for House District 26's existence and for its economy.
“We need to keep water in Colorado that is Colorado’s water and is flowing to other states,” he said.
To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com