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Roberts and Whitehead: A civil campaign for a Senate seat

In a midterm election cycle that has seen extremists on both sides in numerous races, Archuleta County voters will be offered a choice between two avowed moderates for the District 6 State Senate seat: Republican Ellen Roberts and Democrat Bruce Whitehead.

The incumbent Whitehead, appointed to his seat last year when Jim Isgar stepped down to take a position with the USDA, currently serves as vice-chair of the Senate Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resource Committee. Other committee assignments include chairing the Interim Uranium Mill Tailings Radiation Control Act Oversight committee, the Transportation committee and the Senate Agriculture committee representative on the Inter-Basin Compact committee.

Whitehead also serves on the Interim Water Resources Review committee, bringing an extensive background in Colorado water issues. Prior to taking his State Senate seat, Whitehead was the executive director of the Southwestern Water Conservation District and Animas-La Plata Water Conservancy District and spent 25 years with the Colorado Division of Water Resources. Whitehead has also served as division engineer for the San Juan River and Dolores River for the state, director on the Colorado Water Conservation Board representing southwestern Colorado and continues to serve as an engineer advisor for the Upper Colorado River Commission.

Roberts has served as State Representative for House District 59 since 2007 (her seat being sought by Republican J. Paul Brown and Democrat Brian O’Donnell), gaining a reputation for bipartisan cooperation in the statehouse. During her tenure in Denver, Roberts has had tremendous success at getting almost every piece of legislation she has introduced signed into law — despite being in the minority party.

In 2007, Roberts sponsored legislation, authored by her and several college students, for the formation of a legislative Youth Advisory Council, a bill that was signed into law the following year.

Currently, Roberts serves as the ranking Republican member on the House Health and Human Services Committee and the House Judiciary Committee. Roberts has also served on the Colorado Youth Advisory Council as co-chair, the Joint Legal Services Committee and the Colorado Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice. Last year, Roberts was appointed to a Republican task force assigned with providing recommendations on resolving the state’s projected budget shortfall.

Aside from success in sponsoring legislation and bridging partisan gaps, Roberts has been known as an advocate on health care issues, education, juvenile justice reform and environmental issues.

Both Whitehead and Roberts have been on record opposing Amendments 60 and 61 as well as Proposition 101. Both have also stated opposition to Amendment 62.

Both candidates answered questions for SUN staff on Tuesday.

Will you be working to address the disparity in education funding for Archuleta County K-12 students?

Roberts responded, “I am going to work with your folks at the local level,” stating she is awaiting a report from the state on how the funding formula is applied and what might be done to address the disparity in how state money is disbursed.

“It’s been a many-months process getting to the bottom of it,” Roberts added.

Whitehead responded, “I have been working with legal services at the state,” and likewise referred to the report that Roberts said was pending.

“It’s definitely a high priority for me,” Whitehead concluded, adding that he, like Roberts, had been addressing the problem for some time.

What will you do to bring more jobs to your district and Archuleta County?

Whitehead stressed the need to focus on continued development of the “green energy economy” and pointed to his co-sponsoring House Bill 1001, which would increase the renewable energy standard to 30 percent for investor-owned utility companies.

“We should bring green jobs to District 6 and Archuleta County,” Whitehead said. “We have ample resources for solar, wind and especially, geothermal.

“I’m a proponent of any jobs, but green jobs, especially,” Whitehead added.

For her part, Roberts said, “We need to reduce the amount of regulations and fees.”

Roberts added, “I’ve heard it’s (regulations and fees) been driving many business owners and companies out of state ... I’m focused on making Colorado a more business-friendly state. Also, we need to be focused on cutting the budget.”

Regarding green jobs, Roberts said, “We need to let the technology catch up, as well as the market.”

On the topic of regulation, since no federal regulations currently apply to fracking (hydraulic fracturing) for oil and gas extraction, are state regulations sufficient for protecting water resources?

“It’s been a hot topic,” Roberts said, “and I would refer to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission as far as what is appropriate and science-based. Any further regulations need to be data-driven as opposed to, if I may say it, sexy headlines.”

Whitehead responded, “I do think it needs to be looked at more closely. There can be a balance between oil and gas development and protecting our water resources. We definitely need to look more closely at state resources. It’s a balance and I think both can be achieved.”

It should be noted that Roberts and Whitehead co-sponsored HB 1365 this year, a bill that would retrofit Front Range coal-fired power plants to burn natural gas.

As the November election grows closer and, too often, more contentious and rancorous, the race between Roberts and Whitehead appears to be a model of civility, the choice between two moderates, both of whom have not been afraid to cross party lines in order to achieve what they feel is best for their districts.