The race for District 8
It was easy to pick Colorado State Senator Jack Taylor out of the crowd. There’s the bright yellow truck, for starters, with his name spelled out across the bug guard attached to the hood. And the signature rancher’s shirt, vertical stripes, blue jeans, white hair, and watery blue eyes.Once inside the Eagle Diner he was instantly recognized by the head waitress, who had been preparing for his arrival for the better part of the afternoon. After loading up an iced tea with several packets of sugar, Taylor looks well-prepped for discourse on the reasons why he should be re-elected to the state senate.Taylor has become a familiar sight around Eagle County especially around campaign time. In his 12 years in the Colorado legislature, the Steamboat businessman has had plenty of time to come and meet the people of Eagle County. He was in the Colorado House of Representatives for eight years, and has held his Senate seat for the past four.Eagle County, he says, has been an important force behind putting him in office, and he’s hoping the county will back him once again when election results for the District 8 Colorado Senate seat come in this November. If the primaries are any indication (which, often times, they’re not), Taylor should do well: 1,024 voters gave Taylor a vote in the primaries. His opponent, Jay Fetcher, gleaned only 666.Fetcher, however, has been running a non-stop advertising and canvassing blitz since those elections, working his way into the forefront of the voter’s mind by hounding the idea that he’s a strong voice for Western Slope interests in an otherwise Front Range leaning senate. As a full-time rancher he certainly has the edge when it comes to agriculture interests, and he has the backing of the Colorado Conservation League of Voters as well making him a shoe-in for environmentally minded voters.Beyond that, Fetcher seems to be appealing to the good-natured side of District 8 voters (which, after re-districting in 2002, includes Eagle, Rio Blanco, Jackson, Routt, Moffat, and most of Garfield counties).At first glance, there seems to be little difference between the two candidates: they both claim they represent West Slope interests, they both claim determination to keep West Slope water on the West Slope, they both have strong commitments to better K-12 education, and they both make an appeal to common sensibility. They dress somewhat similarly, in the humble, quasi-rancher style common in the Steamboat area, and they even have that same, watery-blue-eyed look when they make their appeals to voters.And there are close ties between the two: Fetcher’s father, John, was one of the first people to welcome Taylor to the Steamboat area when he arrived in 1969. And Fetcher sees Taylor’s wife, Geneva, every Wednesday at Rotary Club.”It’s real important to me that we keep this campaign clean,” Fetcher said. “We live in a small town, we’re from the same town, and I don’t want to be in a position where Geneva feels awkward or I feel awkward because of negative campaign tactics.”With all this in common, it may be hard to tell the two apart: but the answer begins somewhere in that blue-eyed look. Fetcher, for his part, presents his points in a gentle way, counting on the voter to see him as a rancher, and his opposition as a coal-miner and real estate moneymaker. Fetcher and his family have worked with water on his ranch in Clark since 1949 and Fetcher has learned the ins and outs of water as part of his lifestyle since birth. And as he points out, he still drinks directly from the stream which runs through his ranch.If elected, Fetcher would be one of a very small handful of true-blue ranchers in the Colorado Legislature. He has also been on the Steamboat Springs School Board for nine years (four of those as president), and believes that school districts should have the right to tax themselves and keep 100 percent of the money rather than being forced to share it with other school districts under Colorado’s constitutional directive to keep schooling “fair and equitable.”Bring these issues up with Jack Taylor and suddenly his blue eyes become hardened and stubborn in a way that may seem mulish but, no doubt, can be useful in the trenches of state-house political warfare.With this look in his eye, Taylor begins teeing off on Fetcher’s campaign claims and outlining his own platform.On education: “I got the endorsement from the Colorado Education Association, (Fetcher) wanted to get it but I got it.”On water: “(Fetcher has) never had to vote in a legislature. All he has is that he was on the Reapportionment Commission Map (to re-district Colorado) and he voted for the party line, and the first thing he does is he takes the headwaters of the Colorado River and puts them in a district that is represented by (a Front Range politician).”On TABOR: “TABOR gets us into a downward spiral when there’s a deficit. What I argued for was that you set a trigger point where TABOR changes until we’re out of the deficit.”On crossing the isle: “My party gets mad at me but I don’t care. You don’t tell me how to vote for the people of my district.”On tourism: “I’m on the tourism board and this year we found funding for tourism of about 3.5 million bucks.”And on environment: “I’ve never gotten my due from the environmental community,” and Taylor points to a piece of legislation that, since 1995, has helped clean up over 4,300 contaminated petroleum storage sites in Colorado. (Taylor has, however, been declared by the Colorado League of Conservation voters to have the worst environmental voting record in the senate).By the time he is finished speaking, Taylor has unloaded about 35 packs of sugar into several iced teas. When he leans back into his chair he takes on a more relaxed tone, begins delving into his business experience: first as a real estate broker and later as a coal man.The coal and real estate has hurt his environmental image, and given some reason to suspect that he has ulterior motives when it comes to water as well. But Taylor has something Fetcher doesn’t: a clear voting record that dates back to 1993 and although he hasn’t been the most stalwart environmental steward, he has been far more earth-friendly than his detractors may wish. As a youth growing up on a farm in Iowa, he says, he learned how important it is to take care of the land and water around you.And in the end, Taylor points to his experience.”I’m the Western Slopes senior legislator,” he said. “I can go around and count votes, and tell if we have the votes to kill (a bill). This takes confidence, respect, and time, to be able to go and count votes in the senate. Fetcher wouldn’t be able to count votes for two or three years. That’s just the way it works.”This kind of experience, Fetcher says, is exactly what needs to change in the Colorado senate. His redistricting vote, he says, was made primarily to avoid handing over Western Slope areas to Front Range politicians. He sees a senate that coddles the coal and gas industries, and puts the interests of ranchers on the back burner. He also says the number one complaint from people he’s spoken with is health care, and he believes the state senate can help build programs and work with the federal government to make sure the people of district 8 don’t face more skyrocketing health insurance dues.And, while Senator Taylor looks to his past to show his experience and mettle, Fetcher (not surprisingly) looks to the future.”People will look five, ten years ahead,” he says. “I look 50 years. I don’t think we’re looking far enough ahead.”The race ahead is one of the closest in the state, and it could make the difference in a tightly contested senate. Right now there are 18 Republican senators and only 17 Democratic. Fetcher is hoping to swing that balance. Taylor, of course, wants to keep his seat and maintain the course he’s held for the past 12 years. VTContact Tom Boyd at (970) 390-1585 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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