KEYSTONE - Republican Rep. Randy Baumgardner admits he may be a little rough around the edges, but says people accept that because he's also up-front and down to Earth.
"I tell people what I think," Baumgardner said. "I respect you and I respect your opinion. At the end of the day, I hope you respect my opinion as well. We will not always agree, but I do what I feel like is best for the district and the voters put their faith in me to make those decisions."
For the last four years, Baumgardner has been making decisions on behalf of the rural state House District 57. After being drawn out of the district during last year's reapportionment process, he's now challenging Democrat Emily Tracy for state Senate District 8, representing a similar cross section of northwestern Colorado.
Baumgardner bills himself as a water and agriculture advocate, a defender of gun rights and a constitutionalist, and his record as a lawmaker largely agrees.
"If there's something that is constitutional it is very, very hard for me to overlook it," Baumgardner said. "I see a lot of things in black and white, and I know that once you get to the Capitol there's a lot of gray areas. You have to learn to navigate them. But in my realm right's right and wrong's wrong."
During his terms in the state House, Baumgardner sat on the state Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee as well as the House Committee on State, Veterans and Military Affairs.
His first four years of voting earned him high rankings from business organizations and taxpayer watchdog groups, including the Colorado Union of Taxpayers, the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce and the Colorado National Federation of Independent Business, but he's consistently gotten low scores from labor, environmental and women's groups for his votes in Denver.
On the campaign trail this year, Baumgardner's taken heat for a vote against forest health funding, but he's defended the decision saying it would have meant pulling $750,000 from water infrastructure projects.
Water issues have consistently made Baumgardner's short list in terms of priorities as a lawmaker.
"Anything that we work on in terms of water, I'm proud of those bills," he said.
A member of the Colorado Tourism Office Board of Directors, Baumgardner helped preserve $15 million in tourism funding for the state when the agency's budget was in jeopardy.
"I'm going to try to make sure that we keep the funding," he said. "There's talk of legislation this year that would increase the amount of tourism money to try to make it a set limit to where it can't be affected in the future."
Baumgardner said he would support such a measure.
Baumgardner has worked for the state of Colorado, either at the Statehouse or the Department of Transportation for more than 10 years, but he started his career and his family in the Midwest.
Baumgardner was born in Bedford, Ind., and grew up on a dairy farm in the same state. For nearly 20 years he worked in industrial maintenance in Indiana, where he married and had two children.
He first came to Colorado in the 1980s. In the early 1990s, Baumgardner's 7-year-old son, Charlie, died and he lost his job. Looking to start his life over, he bought a share in a friend's cattle ranch in western Colorado and relocated.
Baumgardner would later get a job with the Colorado Department of Transportation doing maintenance work as his ranch was continuing to grow. He left the job in 2009 after he was elected to his first term in 2008.
"This job demands a great deal of your time," Baumgardner said. "It would be difficult to have a job where you have to be at a certain place at a certain time. Having the ranch is hard enough."
Baumgardner won the seat again in 2010, and decided to challenge moderate GOP incumbent Jean White for the state Senate seat earlier this year.
The primary turned ugly, and weeks before the election, it was revealed that a convicted sex offender was living at Baumgardner's house.
Michael K. Frierson, who pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of sexual assault in 2004 following an incident involving a 14-year-old victim, was listed as residing at Baumgardner's address in Hot Sulphur Springs.
"The boy's not been in trouble for eight years," Baumgardner told the Summit Daily of Frierson after the issue came to light. "He's trying hard to get his life back on track, and if I can help with that by some means, that's what I'm going to do."
Baumgardner won the Republican primary in June and will face off against Tracy Nov. 6.