Brenner vs. White: A heated race for Eagle County’s state Senate seat
ASPEN ” Ken Brenner hopes that running as a Democrat in this election helps him wrestle away a Eagle County’s Colorado state Senate seat, which has long held by Republicans.
His opponent, Al White, hopes that his name is familiar enough in places such as El Jebel, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs, and that his record is solid enough that he can overcome running as a Republican in an election when Democrats overall are thought to have an advantage at the polls.
The incumbent state senator, Jack Taylor, has to step down due to term limits. White currently serves Colorado House District 57 but must step down after eight years because of term limits. Much of the House district he currently represents overlaps with the Senate district he wants to represent. Therefore, he has quasi-incumbency working to his advantage.
Brenner claims that White is a carpetbagger who moved to be eligible to run for the district. White, a longtime resident of Winter Park, moved to Hayden 2 1/2 years ago.
Winter Park isn’t in Senate District 8; Hayden is.
“I won’t say it wasn’t a consideration,” White said of the move. But rather than being a carpetbagger, he said he can offer his constituency an intimate knowledge of the district and experience at the state capitol.
White, 58, is stressing that legislative experience in the campaign. He is a member of the Joint Budget Committee, a crucial deliberative body grappling with Colorado’s chronic state government funding crisis. He claimed there is a “95-plus percent” chance he could keep that appointment even if he switched from the state House to the state Senate.
White said he will continue to promote spending state funds to market tourism if he wins election. He owned ski shops, a bike shop and a mountain lodge during his 25 years in Winter Park and understands the importance of maintaining strong tourism, he said.
Upon joining the Legislature, he co-sponsored a bill that established the marketing funds for tourism. Some Republicans criticize using $20 million in public money on marketing. White considers it a wise investment that generates significantly more in sales tax revenues for the state.
White said it will take a “champion” to keep that funding in place beyond 2008-09. He labeled it his top priority.
“If we lose our tourism marketing funding, we’re really in trouble,” White said.
The Senate district would benefit from his knowledge and name recognition in the Legislature and suffer by electing a newcomer, White said.
Brenner charges that the district can’t afford White’s experience. He accused White of doing too little during his eight years in office to secure West Slope water from Front Range interests. He also said White was too cozy with the oil and gas industry.
Front Range developers and the energy industry are just two of the special interests that White is beholden to, Brenner charged. He said he would go to the state Senate with no such strings. Once there, he would act to protect West Slope water.
Rivers in the Senate district, such as the Yampa near Steamboat, have a bulls-eye on them, Brenner said. Some Roaring Fork Valley residents believe that namesake river also is highly coveted for more diversions east.
While complex water rights laws dictate use, there are steps that local governments can take to secure those rights and, thus, protect water from diversion, Brenner said.
He said he helped fight a court battle to establish water rights for recreational uses. As a former councilman in Steamboat Springs, the board took the legal steps necessary to protect its watershed.
Brenner said he has an even greater difference with White on oil and gas issues.
Brenner supports Amendment 58 on the Colorado statewide ballot. If approved, that measure would end a $320 million tax credit for the oil and gas industry and produce more revenues for the state. The measure isn’t perfect, Brenner said. He preferred it was written so local communities in areas impacted by gas drilling would get more revenues than provided by Amendment 58.
He also supports new rules being contemplated in the state to make the oil and gas industry more accountable for its impacts on owners of surface rights on lands where companies drill.
Brenner said that White spent eight years doing too little to make sure areas like Rifle and Garfield County received adequate funds to deal with the impacts of the energy boom. White also failed to represent his constituents affected by the energy industry, Brenner said.
White said he opposes Amendment 58 because “it is poorly written.” The ballot measure identifies a formula for how the state will spend the extra revenues from the energy industry. White wants that formula altered, in ways such as returning more revenue to local communities.
“I’m not opposed to asking the industry to pitch in more, to pay more taxes,” he said. “I think we can afford to go higher” without driving business out of state, he added.
White wants to defeat Amendment 58, then “invite” the industry to sit down and write a new proposal that would go before voters as soon as legally possible. He said he believes the gas companies are being “more attentive” to the rights of surface owners these days.
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