Stumping through town two weeks ago, the Durango attorney apologized in advance for not being able to appear with local Democrats in Ouray’s Fourth of July parade. He’ll be making tracks elsewhere that day in the sprawling, recently reapportioned HD 59, which he described as the “the most beautiful district in the state.”
His day starts with a pancake breakfast at 7 a.m. in Durango, then it’s off to the Bayfield Parade, the Pagosa Red White and Brew community picnic, and back again to Durango for a rally at the Southwest Center For Independence and an evening appearance in the Durango Parade.
“I promise you, when I get elected, I will come back and I will be in your parade next year,” he told the small crowd of supporters who had gathered to hear him speak at Ouray’s Secret Garden Bed and Breakfast.
But first, there’s the small matter of unseating conservative Republican incumbent J. Paul Brown. McLachlan painted his rival as a narrow-minded, anti-government ideologue who “represents only a few,” and drew a stark contrast between himself and the Hermosa sheep rancher on such diverse issues as civil unions, reproductive rights, public education and the environment.
HD-59 was redrawn last December in a reapportionment process that ropes tiny, mountainous Hinsdale, San Juan and Ouray counties together with Archuleta, La Plata, and the southern half of Gunnison counties while leaving conservative Montrose and Cortez out of the picture.
“The consequence of the reapportionment is that this is a very winnable race,” said Ouray County Democratic Chair John Hollrah. State and local Dems alike have rallied behind McLachlan as the man for the job. The 38-year resident of La Plata County earned his stripes as La Plata County Attorney, and served as Colorado's Solicitor General under then-Attorney General Ken Salazar.
McLachlan announced his candidacy for HD 59 on Feb. 6, 2012, immediately after the Colorado Democratic Party disqualified former contender Pat Swonger of Silverton for having missed the eligibility deadline to affiliate with the Democratic Party. Swonger, who for a time said he would run as a write-in, has since quit the race.
McLachlan ran unopposed in the June 26 Democratic primary. His appearance at the Secret Garden marked the third time he’s campaigned in Ouray County, but his first stump speech in the town of Ouray.
The hallmark of Swonger’s short-lived candidacy was his quest to improve regional broadband capacity. McLachlan has picked up on this theme as well. “It is a compromise to economic development to not have good broadband,” he said, adding that he supports Ouray County Commissioner Lynn Padgett’s advocacy efforts on the matter.
Ridgway resident Sally Swartz wondered what McLachlan might be able to do to help jumpstart the stalled San Juan Mountains Wilderness Act. McLachlan acknowledged that the state legislature has only a small role in shaping Wilderness policy. But his campaign manager Matt Sheldon, who formerly worked for wilderness advocacy groups in Washington, D.C., stressed the importance of having state legislators who are willing to testify in favor of Wilderness legislation, serving as a counterpoint to conservative voices “who say Wilderness areas are going to destroy our economy.”
McLachlan pointed out there is already a preponderance of public land within the district he hopes to represent, including the almost half-million acre Weminuche Wilderness. “We have to be advocates to make sure the federal government does its job and protects our federal lands which belong to everyone,” he said.
McLachlan’s overarching message was that of a centrist. “I’m 66 years old. I’m not a revolutionary,” he said. “I just want to make government work, and I want to make it work for everybody. There’s a certain voice that wants to make you afraid of everything and stir up animosity between the public and the private sector.... Thank you for helping me restore common sense to HD 59.”