A county divided
Local voters' views on candidates differ in upcoming gubernatorial election
Paul Epley and Rick Akin are co-chairmen of the Beauprez campaign in Routt County.
Call Epley at 870-1970 or 276-2050; call Akin at 870-0541
Catherine Carson and Sally Claassen are co-chairwomen of the Ritter campaign in Routt County.
Call Carson at 870-2896; call Claassen at 879-8405
Steamboat Springs — The choice for governor is clear in the minds of Routt County residents. Of course, that choice depends on whom you ask.
As the campaigns of Democrat Bill Ritter and Republican Bob Beauprez storm into October – with new advertisements and press releases bombarding voters like the recent rainfall – local residents are lining up behind their candidate of choice.
While an informal Steamboat Pilot & Today poll showed Friday evening that Ritter has a local lead of about 17 percent – the same percentage lead Ritter held in a Rocky Mountain News/CBS 4 poll earlier this month – Republicans in Routt County say they are unfazed and confident of a Beauprez victory in November.
“My feeling is that if we can get out the Republican vote, we can win it,” said Paul Epley, co-chairman of the Beauprez campaign in Routt County. Epley said county donors have raised about $20,000 for Beauprez, a U.S. Representative from Arvada.
Sally Claassen, co-chairwoman of the county Ritter campaign, declined to estimate how much money Ritter has received in local donations. But Ritter is enjoying a significant fundraising lead statewide, with a total of $3.1 million raised compared to $2.4 million for Beauprez. In the most recent reporting period, from Aug. 31 to Sept. 13, Ritter, a former Denver district attorney, raised $197,000, while Beauprez raised $99,000.
“What that means to me is there are a lot of people who see (Ritter’s) promise,” said Lynn Abbott, secretary of the Routt County Democrats. “I hate the fact that money is used as a gauge in campaigns, but it does mean there are a lot of people out there who feel he has promise for Colorado.”
If there’s one thing both parties agree on, it’s that the choice for governor is clearly defined when it comes to the issues and beliefs of each candidate.
“There is a huge philosophical, fundamental difference between the two candidates,” said Jennifer Schubert-Akin, chairwoman of the county Republican Party.
Abbott, who said she was speaking for herself rather than for the county Democratic Party, singled out one issue as the most important.
“I’m most excited about health care,” Abbott said. “I know one of Ritter’s goals is to make sure every child in Colorado has health care, which I think is critical.”
During an August visit to Steamboat Springs, Ritter told a small crowd at the Tread of Pioneers Museum on Oak Street that Massachusetts is a model for providing universal health care to residents.
In April, Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney signed into law a health care plan that aims to insure more than 500,000 uninsured state residents in three years, through a multi-faceted system requiring employers to contribute to health care funds and giving state aid to residents on a sliding scale based primarily on income.
“We’re committing to a Colorado plan,” Ritter said in Steamboat.
Beauprez’s health care goals are outlined in his recently released Colorado Accountability Pledge, a plan of action on several key issues.
“We will provide better health insurance coverage to more low-income families in Colorado by combining Medicaid and CHP (Child Health Plan) programs for eligible children – giving seamless, less bureaucratic health care to our children who need it most,” the pledge reads.
Routt County Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak, a Republican, said cost is a key component to providing health care.
“I think health care needs in rural areas are no different than health care needs in metropolitan areas – and that need is the affordability to get good insurance,” Stahoviak said.
Ritter and Beauprez differ on whether Colorado should explore purchasing prescription drugs from Canada at a lower cost to the state and to buyers. Ritter supports the concept, while Beauprez has expressed concerns about a lack of quality control for medications coming over the northern border.
Beauprez and Ritter also differ about two ballot initiatives regarding education funding.
Beauprez says he is “championing” Amendment 39, which, if approved by voters, would require school districts to spend “at least 65 percent of (their) operational expenditures on classroom instruction.” According to the amendment, such expenditures include activities dealing directly with interaction between students and teachers, special education instruction, tutors, books, computers, libraries and class activities.
Beauprez says he supports the amendment because it will reduce bureaucratic and administrative spending in school districts.
Ritter supports Referendum J, which also includes a 65 percent requirement but allows more flexibility in spending. Unlike the amendment, Referendum J allows the 65 percent to include spending on principals, assistant principals, food and transportation services, school support staff and student medical services.
While local educators including Kelly Reed, superintendent of the South Routt School District, say both initiatives are too restrictive on school district budgets, Schubert-Akin said she agrees with Beauprez.
“How can 65 percent be too much to spend in classrooms?” she said. “If a nonprofit put 65 percent into their programs and 35 percent into administration and other overhead, I wouldn’t give them a dime.”
Six weeks to go
Ritter selected Barbara O’Brien, president of the nonprofit group Colorado Children’s Campaign in Denver, as his running mate and potential lieutenant governor in January.
Beauprez selected Mesa County Commissioner Janet Rowland as his running mate in August.
The two duos have six weeks of campaigning before an election that will shape Colorado’s future. That means six weeks of talking about issues including illegal immigration, water, energy development and the economy.
Epley said he is glad Beauprez opposed Referendum C, an initiative approved by voters in 2005 that allows the state to use nearly $5 billion in surplus tax refunds for transportation, education, and health care needs.
Epley said he feels Beauprez is a fiscal conservative.
“I think we better have a governor with a heavy-duty veto pen, or else we’re going to California-cate Colorado,” Epley said, referring to California’s budget problems.
Claassen and Ken Brenner, chairman of Routt County Democrats and president of the Steamboat Springs City Council, said they support Ritter’s message of environmental stewardship.
“We’re going to start seeing our environment being compromised,” Claassen said, citing booming energy exploration on the Western Slope. “Having a governor who protects our natural resources will be very important.”
Members of both county parties say they plan to soon begin door-to-door and telephone campaigning to raise awareness of the issues and increase support for their candidate.
“I think people are really energized,” Schubert-Akin said. “It’s going to be a frantic and crazy final six weeks.”
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