Politicians often tout their life experience as a reason for voter support and Josh Penry, Republican candidate for State Senate 7 in Mesa County, is no exception-however, he does have a bit of a problem. His Democratic opponent, Dana Barker has been in the workforce longer than Penry has been alive. Penry is 30 and Barker will soon be 77.In fact, should Barker be elected this November, he could be the oldest “new” state senator in Colorado’s history. Although state records are incomplete, Barker believes the previous record-holder Democrat Lewis Boyd Walbridge was sworn in at 74 in 1933.
How does Barker, who has not run for public office before, feel about his “youngster” opponent? Stealing a line from a former Republican senior citizen, Ronald Reagan, Barker said “I don’t attend to make my opponent’s youth an issue in this election.”
Barker feels he has been blessed with good health all his life by exercising regularly. “I work out as if I’m going to compete in the Senior Olympics,” Barker joked. As a candidate, he has walked in all the local parades. His busy schedule includes the 7 a.m. breakfast meetings and late evening candidate forums.
While Penry was still in diapers, Barker was working as a U.S. Postal Service cost analyst. One of Barker’s duties was to explain and defend the Postal Service’s $50 billion budget, which at the time of Barker’s retirement, was seven times greater than the current state budget. Barker also advised the Postal Service to contract with private air carriers instead of purchasing a fleet of planes to transport mail. “I think I can put my 50 years of problem solving into good use at the state legislature,” Barker stated.
Barker is also concerned about the close ties Penry has with the gas and oil industry. “How can Penry honestly talk about saving municipal watersheds from drilling or land conservation,” Barker queried, “when he’s supporting proposals such as Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Beaprez’s plan to displace elks herds in favor of gas wells?”
Barker lives in one of the three precincts in Garfield County that are part of the SD 7, which includes all of Mesa County. “In Battlement Mesa where I live, we have seen gas well spacing go from 160 acres to 20 acres. I know what it is like to have the intrusion of a heavy industry in an agricultural and retirement community,” Barker noted. “We need to develop the gas and oil industry very carefully to preserve the environment, our watersheds and our social structure.”
He is also concerned that many oil and gas companies wanting to drill in sensitive areas do not have deep pockets should they destroy habitat and water quality. “If a city’s watershed is contaminated, the energy company LLC could file bankruptcy and where would that leave the town?” Barker wondered. “I don’t think Mesa County will be well represented on this issue nor its water protected should Penry be elected,” he claimed.