House District 61: Three-way race between Curry, Hamner and Irvine

Call it the Curry Factor.

That refers to Kathleen Curry, the Democrat-turned-unaffiliated candidate who’s running yet again for public office.

The last time the Gunnison resident ran for the Colorado Legislature in 2010, she was trying to win her fourth and final term representing House District 61.

Because she left the party too late in the year, she was forced to run as a write-in candidate.

She lost by 359 votes.

This year, her name is on the ballot, but the district isn’t what it used to be.

Instead of stretching from Glenwood Springs to Lake City, it now goes from Delta County to the Summit Valley, cutting her native Gunnison County in half.

So instead of running against Rep. Roger Wilson, the Democrat she lost to in 2010, Curry’s vying for the seat against Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Frisco, and her GOP challenger, Debra Irvine.

“We’re both basically passing each other on the highway,” Curry said of Hamner. “She comes down here to Gunnison to meet people, I travel up there. The district has three new counties for each of us. We’re having to work for each vote, and that puts us on an even standing.”

Even though she’s been out of the Legislature for two years, Curry’s still subject to the state’s term-limit laws. As a result, if elected, Curry won’t be able to run again in 2014.

As a result, several Democrats — and Hamner has made a point of not being one of them — to accuse Curry of entering the race only because she wants to prove she can win.

That talk has not been very kind to their former colleague, and has gone something like this: Curry is a conniving, spiteful woman who only is in the race to be a thorn in the sides of both parties.

“Well, not quite like that, but I can imagine the talk,” Curry said with a laugh. “No. That’s not my thought process. I was inspired by the second-to-the-last day of the (2012) session when Frank McNulty recessed the House and the water projects bill died on the calendar.”

That happened because the GOP House speaker sacrificed that and 30 other measures in an effort to kill a civil unions bill to give same-sex couples similar rights as married, heterosexual couples.

That water bill included a much-needed project to purchase water gauges designed to better protect people’s water rights.

“That for me was about the last straw,” Curry said. “I said, ‘OK. You’ve got to be kidding me. You’ve got one job down there, and that is to fund things like enforcement of water rights.’ I decided at that point to keep trying to make the system work better.”

Curry is counting on others who feel the same way, particularly the unaffiliated ones who make up a majority of voters in the district.

As of Sept. 1, the most recent registration number available, unaffiliated voters make up about 37.5 percent of the electorate. Democrats and Republicans are nearly even, with 30.9 percent and 30.4 percent, respectively.

The seat is a crucial must-keep for the Democrats, who currently are only one seat away from gaining a majority in the House.

At the same time, because of an expectation that Curry’s former party ties could split the ticket, Republicans see it as a possible pick up.

Consequently, Democrats have poured a lot of money into the race.

To date, Hamner has raised more than $87,000 since the race began, $20,000 in the past two weeks alone.

That’s more than double what the other two candidates have raised combined.

“I’m hoping that’s a sign that they want to see me back,” Hamner said. “I don’t have an axe to grind, I’m not stuck to an ideology. I’ve been blown away by the level of support.”

McNulty, however, said that doesn’t mean the GOP isn’t backing Irvine in the race. Campaign finances go far beyond what a candidate raises, he said.

There are several GOP and Democratic groups operating independently of the candidates that have paid for campaign mailers and advertising, several of which have targeted Curry.

“We’re up to five fliers in the last week,” Curry said. “I know from having done this now for five election cycles, they cost a minimum $10-grand for each one. So it’s the flier onslaught right now.”


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