J. Paul Brown
Candidacy: House District 59 Colorado State Representative, Republican, Incumbent
Education: Graduated from Farmington High School in 1971, earned a B.S. in animal science from New Mexico State University in 1975
Occupation: Sheep rancher/business owner
Family: Wife and four sons; lives in La Plata County
Prior Government Experience: Colorado House of Representatives 59th District, 2011-2012; La Plata County Commissioner, 1989-1992; Ignacio School Board, 1993-2005; La Plata County Planning Commission, 1986-1988
By Samantha Wright
Sipping iced tea on the rooftop patio of the Ouray Brewery shortly before a candidate forum in early October, State Representative J. Paul Brown said that he is proud of what he has accomplished over the past two years.
“We passed an honest, responsible budget that increased funding for education and cut taxes for Colorado seniors,” he said. “We repealed the Dirty Dozen tax increases. We also set up a commission for the newly formed Division of Parks and Wildlife. It is very well balanced commission and I am very proud of that; it was my biggest goal and I think we did a good job.”
Some of the legislation Brown has introduced or co-sponsored this year has won strong bipartisan support, including a bill to criminalize the dangerous synthetic drug bath salts, and another which allows Native American language experts without teaching certificates to teach classes on Native American language and culture.
Other bills of his did not fare so well, like one that would have allowed small counties to elect their commissioners by district, rather than countywide. The bill was widely opposed by county commissioners across the state, but did not whip up the kind of negative publicity garnered by another failed bill from Brown’s freshman year, which would have overturned a 1996 ballot initiative banning bear hunting in the summer and spring.
Brown says the statute is misguided, and that the Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife is the right entity to decide how to manage problem bears.
“I’d like to try it again,” he said of his bear legislation. “It is not my intention to kill mommas and baby bears. But I know that we’ve got a problem and if we don’t do something, someone is going to get killed.”
Brown’s opponent, Mike McLachlan, has steered clear of the bear issue. He prefers to attack Brown on his voting record from the most recent legislative season. In a couple of well-publicized cases, Brown cast the lone dissenting vote on bipartisan legislation that was supported by every other Democratic and Republican lawmaker at the Capitol.
He voted against a bill requiring FBI background checks for childcare workers, and another which streamlines services available to homeless youth and makes state statute compliant with the federal Runaway and Homeless Youth Act.
Brown defended those votes as examples of his continual mission to reign in the unnecessary expansion of government and promote individual responsibility.
“The FBI background check was something already done; it seemed like this bill was adding to bureaucracy and I didn’t feel it was needed,” he said.
As for the homeless youth bill, Brown said, “They were doing it to satisfy the federal government. I hate being held hostage by the federal government. I want to help homeless kids but I don’t want to just expand programs at the expense of other programs.”
One of Brown’s core guiding principles as legislator is that “our country must turn back to God.” He doesn’t talk about it much. But Durango Herald government reporter Joel Hanel, who closely observes each legislative season at the Capitol, described in a May 2012 article how Brown “prayed at the National Day of Prayer that a House panel later in the day would defeat a bill for civil unions for gay and lesbian couples.”
The bill died.
Brown was born into a ranching family and raised in the Four Corners and Farmington area. Love of the mountains runs deep in his blood. His earliest memory is riding up the trail on a sheep drive on Kendall Mountain near Silverton in the summer of 1956. He still runs sheep in the area in the summertime, a practice that lately is not so popular with many in the area, due to perceived problems with vicious sheepdogs, flies and overgrazing. “It’s part of the culture of Silverton,” Brown said. “If there’s one animal that doesn’t hurt the ground it’s sheep. God made them for that high country.”
The reapportionment of HD 59 happened midway through Brown’s first term. “I love the district,” he said. “It’s absolutely the most beautiful district in the United States.” But, he allowed, “It has made it more difficult for me to get around.” The reapportionment swapped nearby Cortez, on Brown’s home turf, for far-away Gunnison.
“It makes it more difficult to know the people; they either love you or hate you,” he said. “I am learning the issues. I’m happy. I’m getting to where I’m used to driving over Red Mountain Pass.”
In spite of the steady stream of attacks coming from opponent McLachlan, Brown says he’s trying to run a clean campaign.
“I’m just going to talk about my positives, and let the chips fall where they will. I’m not an attorney; I’m just a common-sense rancher. And ranching is not that easy. And sometimes government is not that easy.”