Legislator: ‘I don’t fit’ with Dems
Pressure over votes led to her switch in affiliation
DENVER — There wasn’t any one thing that led Rep. Kathleen Curry to make her bombshell decision to leave the Democratic Party this week.
Instead, the decision was based on the culmination of five years of constant pressure to vote as the party wanted, even if it went against her district’s interests, the Gunnison lawmaker told The Daily Sentinel on Wednesday.
“There were a series of things that finally added up to me just needing to face the fact that I don’t fit, that I shouldn’t be in the party,” Curry said. “I know deep down that I’m out of step with them. I know that I’m not with them on the things that I should be, especially if you’re in leadership. It’s a soft approach on the pressure, and there’s been five years of it. I just don’t want it anymore.”
Last year, Curry tried to become speaker of the House, but lost out to Rep. Terrance Carroll, D-Denver. As a result, she ended up being named speaker pro tem, the second-ranking leadership position but one that comes with little authority.
Her departure from the party means she will lose that post, but it’s unclear whether she’ll no longer be allowed to serve as chairwoman of the House Agriculture Committee, a position that affords her more control over the environmental issues she often champions.
Regardless of her departure from the party, some Democrats are encouraging Carroll to keep her in that job.
Rep. Joe Rice, a Littleton Democrat who represents a moderate district not unlike Curry’s, said he understands her decision, even though he doesn’t agree with it.
“There’s pressures, and people ask you things all the time, but you still have to stay true to your beliefs, and I think she has,” he said. “I think another solution would be to just give up the speaker pro tem position.”
Still, Rice said he’s urging the speaker not to replace her on the agriculture committee in part because it sends a message that party affiliation doesn’t matter when it comes to choosing leaders.
“I really think we are the bigger tent party, the more accepting party, so I see nothing wrong with us being the party of Democrats and independents,” he said. “We can leave the highly partisan Republicans to be the highly partisan Republicans that they chose to be. They tend to drive people out if you don’t meet their litmus test.”
Sen. Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction, said Curry’s defection from her fellow Democrats will send ripples through the state in a way that he hopes will help the Grand Old Party win back a majority in the Legislature during the 2010 elections.
Curry’s plan to run her final re-election bid as a write-in independent candidate will make her Western Slope district vulnerable to a GOP pickup, Penry said.
If she attempts to run such a campaign, she could end up splitting the Democratic vote and make room for a Republican to win the seat, which serves Gunnison, Hinsdale, Pitkin and parts of Eagle and Garfield counties.
More immediate, though, is the message it sends to others around the state, Penry said.
“If I were Scott McInnis and standing on a stage with (Gov.) Bill Ritter, I would certainly point out that he has moved the party to a point where not even Kathleen Curry could be under their tent, so it’s very important, it’s very significant,” he said.
The last time a state legislator left a party while still in office was in 2007, when then Rep. Debbie Stafford of Aurora switched from the GOP to the Democrats because of similar party pressures.
Joining the majority party helped Stafford get some measures passed, but Curry isn’t sure if her departure from the same party will help or hurt her chances at getting some of her measures through the Legislature, which begins the 2010 session Jan. 13.
In her five years in office, Curry has become known for carrying numerous controversial bills, and next session isn’t expected to be any different.
In addition to a proposal to slow speed limits and increase fines through wildlife corridors to cut down on animal roadkills, her measure to allow commercial rafting companies to float through private land is sure to attract statewide attention.
But because of the party switch, Curry said she might not carry those measures after all. She has told supporters of those ideas she’ll back off if they choose to have someone else carry them.
“One of the reasons I did this now was to make sure that we were well in advance of the January bill introduction deadline, so we could get this worked out if they didn’t want me to run their stuff,” she said.
Curry said only time will tell how the switch will affect her ability to represent her district during the coming session, much of which will depend on how others treat her. In time, Curry said people will realize she still believes in many of the Democratic Party’s ideals and intends to vote with them most of the time.
As for Republicans, Curry said many she had spoken to were a bit too gleeful about the matter.
“A couple of them have called because they’re happy, and I reminded them that I didn’t morph into a Republican,” she said. “There’s a reason why I’m declared independent. I’m not going to be in their camp, either.”