Legislator has stake in La Plata County lawsuit

The Gunnison legislator who may be faced with the difficult challenge of running a re-election campaign as a write-in candidate has one final chance to get her name on the fall ballot.

Rep. Kathleen Curry left the Democratic Party late last year, knowing she wouldn’t see her name printed on the November ballot for her final re-election bid for House District 61.

That’s because Colorado law requires independent candidates not to be affiliated with a party for at least 17 months before a general election.

Now, all her hopes rest on a lawsuit that a similar Democrat-turned-unaffiliated filed in federal court last fall.

In that case, La Plata County Commissioner Joelle Riddle is asking the court to rule that the law keeping her name off the ballot violates her First Amendment rights to free association and her 14th Amendment rights to equal protection under the law.

Riddle left the Democrats last year for many of the same reasons as Curry, which primarily center on disaffection with the party.

While Colorado law is strict when it comes to unaffiliated candidates getting on the ballot, rules governing the issue for the major parties leave the question up to them.

The Democratic Party requires its candidates to have been members for a year before a general election, while Republicans need to have been party members only two months before a general election, said Durango attorney Bill Zimsky, Riddle’s attorney.

“One of our arguments is the independents are being treated unfairly vis-a-vis the major party candidates, who can basically set their own dates,” he said.

Ballots for the Nov. 2 election are to be printed by Sept. 11, but Curry and Riddle need to know long before then so they know how to focus their campaigns.

The two need to turn in the needed petitions of registered voters, something they both are working on right now. For Curry, those signatures need to be turned in by June 15. Last week, she turned in about 800, twice what she needed to make the ballot.

“I wanted to send a message to the judge that I’m serious about trying to petition on,” she said. “The attorney will file a document to let her know that.”

Curry briefly thought her problems were solved when the Colorado Senate amended a bill days before it adjourned the 2010 session last month. A bill she had introduced that would change the date for unaffiliated candidates to qualify for a general election ballot was set to go into effect Jan. 1, 2011. The Senate changed that to be effective this year, but then it changed back. That measure, House Bill 1271, awaits Gov. Bill Ritter’s approval.

If Curry does make the ballot, she’ll join two others: Republican Luke Korkowski of Crested Butte, who jumped into the race in February, and Democrat Roger Wilson of Glenwood Springs, who was nominated by his party last month but has yet to file an affidavit with the state officially entering the race.

Curry said rumors that she would drop out of the race if a Democrat entered it are untrue. Even if the lawsuit fails, she’ll mount a write-in campaign, something the Secretary of State’s Office said has never been done successfully.

“The candidate that decided at the 11th hour to get into the race, I have to question how badly he really wants it,” she said. “If they had really wanted to put somebody forward, they should have started six months ago, when I gave them notice. So we know which candidate has the fire in the belly, and that would be me.”


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