House District 61 candidate profile: Kathleen Curry stands center
Ryan Summerlin October 21, 2012
Editor’s Note: The five House District 61 candidates’ profiles will run in alphabetical order. Debra Irvine, Robert Petrowsky and Ellen Temby’s profiles will run in Tuesday’s SDN.
FRISCO – Kathleen Curry was into her third term in the state House of Representatives when she realized she no longer saw eye-to-eye with the Democrats.
“I decided I could better represent the district as an independent,” she said. “I had a different perspective on the financial issues from the Democratic Party, and that’s really where the split came from.”
She left the party, but not soon enough to get her name on the ballot as an independent for the next election cycle. She ran as a write-in and lost her seat.
Two years later, she’s trying to win it back.
“This district is very diverse,” Curry said. “I’m in a good position to represent diverse points of view.”
Curry is one of five candidates vying for the House District 61 seat she conceded to Democratic Rep. Roger Wilson in 2010. Redistricting handed the district off to Rep. Millie Hamner (D – Dillon) who is defending the seat against Curry, Breckenridge Republican Debra Irvine, American Constitution Party candidate Robert Petrowsky, of Leadville, and Breckenridge Libertarian Ellen Temby.
When Curry left the Democratic Party in 2009, she told The Denver Post she was, “still going to vote my conscience, which the majority of the time is with the Democrats.” But today she bills herself as a “center-right” independent.
She received only a 28 percent rating from the Colorado Union of Taxpayers – a generally pro-conservative group that rates lawmakers based on their record of opposing new taxes and limiting government spending. But Curry sided with the GOP in 2010 to approve almost $500 million in mid-year spending cuts.
Heading into this year’s election, she says the budget is a question she’s given a great deal of thought and is prepared to cut funding for higher education if further spending reductions are necessary.
“We have to balance our budget in Colorado,” Curry said. “The choices are terrible.”
The big discretionary items in the state budget are social programs for the disabled, the judicial system and higher education. Curry said she’s prepared to send higher education to the chopping block in an effort to safeguard the other two.
But she says it’s time for the Legislature to confront the underlying budget problem that lies in three conflicting Constitutional amendments: the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, Gallagher and Amendment 23.
“All three are problematic in the way they interact,” Curry said. “It’s incumbent upon this Legislature to step up and provide leadership.”
Curry comes from a water-rights background, with a master’s in water resources from Colorado State University and experience working for the upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District in the late 1990s.
“The main issue facing the Gunnison Basin is trans-mountain diversion – the transfer of water from the Western Slope to the Front Range,” Curry said. “It was my inspiration to run for office, to try to keep water on the Western Slope.”
While in the House she sponsored a controversial bill allowing rafters the right to float whitewater rivers through private property. The bill passed on a party line vote in the House before, but died in the Senate.
Curry, now 52, was born in Denver and spent her childhood all over the country with a father who frequently relocated for work.
“When I got old enough to control where I lived, I moved back to Colorado,” she said.
That was after she got her undergraduate degree in agricultural and resource economics from the University of Massachusetts. She returned to Colorado for her master’s degree and relocated to Gunnison to take a job in water resources management.
She was first elected to the state Legislature in 2004 and ran unopposed for the following two terms.
With one year left in her third term, Curry split from the Democratic Party and became the only independent lawmaker in the Statehouse, a move that made her something of a maverick among her compatriots.
“I’m at the leading edge of this,” Curry told The Denver Post at the time. “I’m literally plowing new ground here. There’s no road map.”
Her departure from the left lost her the chairmanship of the agriculture committee and her position as the speaker pro tem of the Democratically controlled House. She was dismissed from the House Appropriations Committee a week before the budget bill was set to be discussed there in 2010.
Now, she’s a contender in a new, competitive West Slope district where her affiliation lines up with the majority of voters.
More than 38 percent of the district is registered unaffiliated, 32 percent is Democratic and 27 percent is registered Republican.