WESTERN SAN JUANS – Former State Rep. J.Paul Brown is making a bid to reclaim the Colorado 59th House District seat in 2014.
The Republican sheep rancher and businessman from Ignacio marked his announcement by touring the sprawling 59th District last Saturday, with stops in Durango, Pagosa Springs, Lake City and Gunnison. Planned stops at the Ouray Christian Fellowship and Hardrock Restaurant in Silverton were postponed due to travel delays.
Brown previously represented Colorado’s HD-59 from 2011-2012, but lost to Durango Democrat Mike McLachlan in the 2012 election by two percentage points – the narrowest margin of any House race in the state – after the district’s boundaries were redrawn to make it more competitive for Democrats.
The district now encompass Archuleta, La Plata, Hinsdale, San Juan and Ouray counties, and the southern half of Gunnison County – including the City of Gunnison.
Rep. McLachlan, who survived a failed recall attempt last spring over his votes in favor of gun control legislation, is now halfway through his first term and has filed papers to run again in 2014.
“I feel I would represent the 59th District better than the current representative, who voted with the Front Range liberals 99 percent of the time,” Brown said.
Issues of particular concern to Brown include gun control and health care legislation.
“We would have never heard of gun bills going through the legislature if Republicans had been in control, because those bills would never have been run,” he said of the controversial gun control legislation passed last spring by Colorado’s Democratic-controlled House and Senate in the wake of the Sandy Hook School shooting last year. “It’s very important for us to be able to protect ourselves and our country.”
Brown also disparaged Colorado’s new health insurance exchange, created in anticipation of the new federal Affordable Care Act, saying would probably dismantle the exchange if he had the choice.
“I think one of the issues we will face in Colorado is a lot of people that will not be able to afford health insurance,” he said. “The premiums are going up, deductibles are going up and some people’s insurance is being taken away. I haven’t been afraid to take on tough issues; that is one we will have to address.”
Brown, who served on the Transportation Committee during his two-year stint in the Colorado legislature, also cited the condition of Colorado’s highways as an area of concern.
“We need strong leadership to convince folks we have got to maintain our highways,” he said.
As a rancher, Brown said, water rights and conservation are of particular importance to him. If re-elected, he said he would fight to keep the Western Slope’s water on the Western Slope.
“The Front Range wants our Western Slope water,” he alleged, advocating for more storage capacity, both on the Western Slope and Front Range. Referring to the record-breaking floods in Colorado this fall, he pointed out, “If we could store that water on the Front Range, that would relieve demand for a transcontinental diversion of Western Slope water.
Brown added that he will be watching the formation of the new Colorado Water Plan mandated by Gov. Hickenlooper “very carefully; I do not want the federal government to have anything to do with our water plan,” he said. “I have heard they want to be involved; we have Colorado water and I don’t want the feds messing with it.”
Brown, who served for 12 years on the Ignacio School Board, was opposed to Amendment 66, the recently failed ballot measure that would have brought $1 billion annually in new funds for public schools through a statewide income tax hike. If it passed, the amendment would have allowed for the implementation of the new Public School Finance Act, SB213, passed by Democrats last spring and signed into law by Gov. Hickenlooper, that sought to implement a profound overhaul of the way education is funded, and money delivered, to Colorado’s public schools.
“Education is the biggest portion of our state budget; the main thing I did not like about Amendment 66 was that it went into the state’s constitution and guaranteed that 44 percent of the general fund would go to public education,” he said. “There are too many variables; if you put it in the constitution, it’s not flexible enough. Budgeting for K-12 education belongs in the legislature with the joint budget committee. When times are tough, we have to tighten our belts; all departments have to do that, including K-12.”
As for the “gerrymandering of the 59th” that led to the previously Republican-dominated district becoming more competitive for Democrats, Brown said, “It definitely was done purposely to see that I wasn’t re-elected. But we came very, very close – less than 2 percent, even with that. We have a real good chance to take the District back.”
As he toured around HD 59 last Saturday, Brown said, “We had a great reception. Folks were so kind. My wife and I were very very pleased and thankful for the reception we received. I want to try to restore trust in the government. You may not agree with me, but you know where I stand, and I will do my best.”
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