8th Senate District is race to watch on Western Slope
The two state Senate candidates are ready to square off in the boxing ring of the 8th Senate District election. Rep. Al White (R-57) is in the Republican corner and former Steamboat Springs City Councilman and Democrat Ken Brenner is his Democratic challenger. Republicans have traditionally held this seat, but the Democrats came close in 2000. This race, too, may go to the 10th round before the Election Day bell rings.
After serving eight years in the House of Representatives and eight years in the Senate, Republican state Sen. Jack Taylor is term-limited this year. Four years ago he beat his Democratic challenger, Jay Fetcher, a rancher from the Steamboat Springs area, by a slim margin — winning by only 1,625 votes. When the final tally was in,Taylor’s bested Fletcher 28,521 to 26,896.
With SD8 an open seat and unaffiliated voters comprising the majority voting sector in a geographically vast district that includes much of central and western Colorado, this race could be highly competitive.
SD8 includes Routt, Moffat, Jackson and Rio Blanco Counties and most of Eagle and Garfield. Dotted with ski areas and ranches, and no towns over the size of 11,000 in population, the district is also home to the one of the more active oil-and-gas and oil-shale development areas in the United States. Most of the lands are under the auspices of the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and contain perhaps the largest elk and deer herds in the nation.
Canvassing this district as a candidate is no small trick. Besides the thousands of miles a state Senate candidate could travel from one end of the district to the other during a campaign, White and Brenner have to be well-versed in grazing rights, water issues, gas well production, downtown economic development, the ski industry, tourism, pine beetle kill, transportation and wildlife management. Plus, this rural region is facing very urban problems such as a proliferation of meth use, traffic congestion, air pollution and rapid growth.
Marketing a candidate in this district is challenging as well. There are no major media organizations that cover the whole district, but rather, most of the burgs scattered throughout the district has its own hometown newspaper and radio stations with limited signal range. Going door-to-door is tough because population centers are spread out, yet rural voters still expect candidates at their doorstep.
The Secretary of State’s office latest voter-registration figures from April shows there are 29,104 Republicans, 19,827 Democrats and nearly 32,155 unaffiliated voters.
White, a former businessman, is term-limited in his House District 57 seat in 2008. White has been active in recent oil and gas legislation and on state tourism committees. He changed his residency to SD8 in Hayden in November 2006. He and his wife also own homes outside the district, in Denver and Winter Park, spending a third of their time in each location, according to White. He describes his no-call list legislation, support of tourism funding and increase in teachers’ salaries as highlights of his longtime legislative career.
Brenner’s family has been in Routt County for three generations. He owns a sports-medicine clinic, catering to athletes with pain management and injuries. Brenner served on the Steamboat Springs City Council from 1998 to 2007. He was also the Routt County Democratic Party chair for five years. Brenner considers water, energy development, education and health care as the major campaign issues for his campaign.