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Linda Powers and Ken Chlouber vying for our senate seat

Article by Ed Quillen

1996 election – November 1996 – Colorado Central Magazine

For the Statehouse…

by Ed Quillen

Central Colorado doesn’t fit well into any known political subdivision. It is in one congressional district, the third, but that stretches a long way past Central Colorado.

In the third, Republican incumbent Scott McInnis of Grand Junction is seeking his third term. The Democratic candidate, Al Gurule of Pueblo, has apparently decided to stay invisible.

That means he doesn’t have any money, which means the state Democrats aren’t putting any resources into this congressional race.

Intuition and gossip paint this scenario: The Democrats see McInnis as a shoo-in, and don’t want to waste resources on this district. They’re biding their time for 1998.

In 1998, Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, who was elected as a Democrat and then changed parties, will be up for re-election — but there’s plenty of talk that he’s ready to retire from public life.

So, Campbell steps aside. He and McInnis are good friends, and McInnis, with Campbell’s blessing, runs for the senate. That leaves the house seat open in 1998. That’s when the Democrats will make a serious run for it, and that’s when you might well see Ken Chlouber run for the Republican nomination for congress.

Now you know why you’ve heard so little about our congressional race this year, and why it will be a hot one in ’98.

On the statehouse level, there’s an open seat in House District 61. The Republican incumbent, Ken Chlouber of Leadville, is running for state senate.

The house race is between Carl Miller, a Leadville Democrat, and Bruce Brayton, a Buena Vista Republican.

Brayton’s propaganda seems to assume we’re pretty stupid. To wit, he’s a “former Vice President at AT&T,” so he “knows what it takes to create jobs and stimulate our local economy.”

Isn’t AT&T the outfit that just laid off about 40,000 people? That’s not my idea of creating jobs. And our local economy needs nurture, not stimulation.

Miller was a Lake County Commissioner during some tough times — he was among those who lost his job when Climax closed. He also runs the National Mining Museum and Hall of Fame in Leadville.

I like Carl. I frequently disagree with him, but I know he works hard and tells you what he believes, rather than what he thinks you’d like to hear. So voting for Carl will be my easiest decision on Nov. 5.

A tougher one comes in the state senate race between Ken Chlouber and incumbent Linda Powers, a Crested Butte Democrat.

My problem is that I tend to vote by personalities, not politics, and I like them both. Ken and Linda are both animated and intelligent people, interesting to talk with about a lot of things besides politics, and we’ve been blessed to have them both in Denver looking out for us on both sides of the aisle and in both houses.

Neither is exactly what comes to mind first when you think of a state legislator. My younger daughter, Abby, once participated in a program called “Colorado Close-up,” which involved high-school students traveling to Denver to watch the legislature at work.

“You should have seen it, Dad,” she said upon return. “There were all these guys in suits from the rest of the state. Then there was our state senator, Linda Powers, in cowboy boots and this long bright flowery skirt. And our state representative, Ken Chlouber, with his hair over his shoulders and a red shirt and a little bitty string tie. I felt so proud of our area for sending real people, instead of penguins, to the state capitol.”

I share that pride. As I once told a Denver political columnist who was inquiring as to why we send offbeat types to the statehouse, “There are a lot of us in the mountains that are half a bubble off plumb, and aren’t we entitled to some representation?”

So on that account, I’m dismayed that this election will force us to choose between them. Ken represents one deviation from the white-bread mainstream, and Linda another.

When I talked to Ken, he had a Harley parked out front, and wore leathers to the table. I wondered about this Republican biker phenomenon. “Sort of hard on the bikers,” Ken said. “They had a bad enough reputation, and now politicians are on motorcycles.”

Ken may be the only Republican in the statehouse who carries a union card, or who ever drew unemployment checks. “We sure needed them after Climax shut down and I got laid off,” he said.

So Ken isn’t an anti-government fanatic — in fact, he seems to fit the traditional meaning of “conservative,” in that “things are working pretty well now in Colorado, and I don’t see a need for much in the way of change.”

First elected to the legislature in 1986 after serving as a Lake County commissioner, Chlouber said the best part is “helping people get things done.”

He points to the Arkansas River Headwaters State Park and to improved staffing levels at the Buena Vista Correctional Facility. One of his biggest triumphs came during the construction of the Colorado Convention Center in Denver. “They were going to import marble from Wyoming,” he points out, “when there was a marble quarry right here in this district that could supply what they needed.”

What’s the low point of life in the legislature? “Well, the miners I worked with had a lot more integrity than most of the lobbyists around the legislature. They don’t exactly lie, but they seldom tell the whole truth. You’ve got to be very careful.”

Colorado legislators have no staff, and find themselves relying on lobbyists for research information. “But we don’t need to add staff. The system works. Not perfectly, of course, but about as well as any system can,” Chlouber said.

In the future, the legislature is going to have to grapple “with the problem of the I-70 corridor. It’s crowded now, and it’s going to get worse. We can’t keep adding lanes.”

But that problem, like many others in the district, results from growth, “and I’d much rather face the challenges of growth than the devastation of poverty, and we’ve been through that here.”

As a Republican, Chlouber doesn’t always toe the party line. “I try to be a voice for education and labor, and for rural Colorado,” he says, “and that isn’t always part of the Republican agenda.”

He’s been accused of being too right-wing, as when he opposed a bill that would have allowed cities to ban guns from public parks — Chlouber said that if only the criminals have guns it could turn parks into “killing fields.”

He’s also been charged with being too liberal. He almost faced a challenge for the nomination from Ron Leyba, who said Chlouber was “advancing the radical homosexual agenda” because he opposed a bill which would have banned recognition of gay marriages performed in other states.

“It wasn’t a real issue anyway,” Chlouber says, “since no state now allows such marriages, and besides, what people do in their bedrooms isn’t any of the government’s business anyway.”

So Ken sometimes doesn’t sound all that Republican, “but there are very few rural legislators in the statehouse. The GOP is the majority party there, and you can get more done inside it than if you’re in the minority party.”

Chlouber’s term limits don’t run out until 1998, so he could run for another house term. But he’s running for state senate now, he says, because “Linda Powers has not been an effective senator, and this area deserves good representation.”

When I talked to Linda, she said “Ken Chlouber’s going to tell you that I haven’t been effective, and that’s just not so.”

She points to a successful fight against extreme “takings” legislation, and to helping kill a bill that would have limited counties’ zoning power. “You know the saying — our legislature believes in local control as long as it can control the locals.” She went to Park County to help it find ways to fight an Aurora water grab, and the list goes on.

Powers has served one term in the state senate, and the big disappointment is that “I thought we’d discuss major issues about what kind of state we want to live in, and instead so much of it is taken up with petty infighting about minor matters. I guess I was pretty naive, in that respect, when I went in.”

The legislature “spends so much time putting out fires, and you’re always busy fighting bad bills there that there’s not enough time or energy to look at where we’re headed.”

She is proudest of “the discussions we’ve had on growth. The last serious discussion the state legislature had was in the early 1970s when they passed HB 1041 and SB 35, giving counties land-use authority — if they want to use it.”

Powers sees a lot of problems ahead. “We’re addicted to cars, and that can’t continue indefinitely. We’ve got suburban sprawl spreading across rural landscapes, on account of growth that doesn’t pay its own way. We end up subsidizing things we don’t want, that aren’t good for our communities. We’ve got housing shortages, and no clear way to solve them. Rural jobs still don’t pay well enough.”

And no, the government can’t solve those problems, but it can help. “The important thing is to make sure that towns, cities, and counties have the ability to address their problems on the ground. If they don’t want to subsidize growth, they shouldn’t have to, and yet current state laws make it impossible to recover the costs of growth.”

Powers would like to see the legislature take a more active role in anticipating future state needs. “We always see these blue-ribbon commissions from the governor that study transportation or prisons or education. The legislature should be doing some of that, too — anticipating what the state’s needs will be and finding ways to deal with them. Instead, we seem buried in minor matters, reacting to the executive branch instead of acting on behalf of the people we represent.”

Being in the minority party, Linda hasn’t had much luck getting bills passed. She pushed for a state “rail-banking” authority to preserve railroad corridors after abandonments, and it died. She wanted to bring some free-market principles into Colorado water law — allowing the purchase of in-stream water rights, instead of requiring diversion to “beneficial use” — and got hammered on that, too.

In short, Linda often sees some ways that state government could serve us better, and Ken seldom does.

As a closet Libertarian, I’m pretty suspicious of government. But I look at Salida in particular and Central Colorado in general, and I think we get hammered by huge outside forces. Wal-Mart decides what kind of retail sector we’re allowed to have. Wall Street decides what kind of transportation we can have. Big-money developers can determine what sort of landscape we live in. And their hired lawyers can muzzle you with threats of lawsuits if you use private means — petitions, publications, agitation — to fight them.

Thus the only force that might be able to assert our interests is government, whether I like it or not. And Linda seems to see that, whereas Ken doesn’t. So she’ll get my vote. Moreover, Linda has gone that extra measure to meet with citizens to discuss local problems. She has organized meetings with rural residents to discuss problems with U.S. West, and with Park County residents to talk about Aurora’s plans for their water. In Colorado politics, there’s nothing more important than access to your legislator, and Linda’s one representative who goes out of her way to hear the citizens’ concerns.

But damn, I wish I didn’t have to choose between them.