She commutes hundreds of miles between home in Gunnison and to the State House in Denver. Plus, she doesn’t back away from controversial legislation for the sake of her constituents. It takes only a glance at Rep. Kathleen Curry’s life to make you want to ask, “Are you crazy girl?”Curry Balances Family with Work
Curry, 36, has a long drive to anywhere. The only thing convenient about Gunnison is it’s a handy pit-stop between Montrose and Crested Butte on state Highway 50. Agriculture still rules in her hometown, and it can get colder than your spouse’s feet in the winter.
“We’re about the only place that would embrace global warming,” Curry joked.
Like a typical rancher’s wife, she helps her husband promote their organic beef business. What is atypical, they were married for less than a year before she hit the campaign trail and won the State House District 61 in 2004. She has two athletic teen-age sons from her previous marriage.
“My husband is very understanding and he believes in what I’m doing,” Curry said, although she admits it’s difficult for her to help her husband on the ranch and participate in her kids’ school activities when she spends most of January through May in session under the Dome.
“When you live over three hours and 200 miles from Denver, one can’t exactly jump in the car and go home at night to the family after a day in the legislature,” Curry noted.
Then again, she’ll cut a meeting short to try. She still endeavors to put her family first. A recent trip to New Castle to tour a solar home had to end at noon because Curry didn’t want to miss her son’s football game that evening in Gunnison.
Rep. Bernie Buescher from Grand Junction, a colleague and mentor, sympathizes with Curry’s pull between home and public service. It’s more than an emotional cost to a family; being a legislator is part-time pay for full-time work.
“It probably costs me about $15,000 a year to be a Western Slope legislator with traveling expenses and all,” Buescher estimated, “and we make around $30,000…. that’s a tremendous financial sacrifice for a rural family.”
Curry has an admirable professional background and experience as a water engineer that eventually drew her from a Massachusetts public works department into her more recent position as the manager of the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District. That is, before she won her seat in the 61st District in 2004.
Curry’s Life on the Road
Representing the Western Slope is no small feat, especially if your district spans four counties, two-lane mountain roads and passes; boom towns; ski areas; oil and gas fields; and oh, yes, the headwaters for a thirsty Front Range.
When Curry is not in session, she’s often out in her district, which ranges from Lake City to Aspen to Silt.
It’s a two-day trip for Curry to visit her constituents in Glenwood Springs from Gunnison, partly because of the approximately four-hour drive in good weather, and mostly because she has a lot on her agenda.
Within a few years of entering the political arena, Kathleen Curry’s name is already in the top five Democratic candidate list should John Salazar ever vacate his Third District congressional seat.
Curry’s Has Made Her Mark in the Legislature
Curry’s extensive water expertise and ranching background have catapulted her into a leadership role on the House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources committee after only two years in the Legislature. She is also the vice-chair of the legislative Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee and standing Interim Water ommittee.
Another reason why Curry stands out: Oil and gas issues have monopolized her legislative life.
During her first term, 2004-06, the Republicans were in control, and Curry, a legislative plebe and Democrat, was trying to pass oil and gas regulatory legislation — drilling impacts were a tremendous issue in her area in Garfield County .
“I got beat up pretty bad,” Curry admitted.
That experience wasn’t wasted. This past legislative session she was more successful in forwarding oil and gas regulatory bills, (comma) and she has had Republican co-sponsor support such as from Sen. Josh Penry on some of those bills.
Her growing experience with oil and gas issues has made Curry a natural to serve as the vice-chair of the legislative Severance Tax committee since the session ended in May.
“It’s been an ambitious project,” Curry admitted. “One reason — some of the Democratic and Republican committee members have no sense about what it is like to live in energy-impacted areas.”
Governmental entities on the Western Slope have appreciated her resolve to protect severance tax funds that help impacted communities from other committee members’ apparent special interests.
“If it wasn’t for Kathleen and Sen. Jim Isgar, that committee would have gone way off track,” said Aron Diaz of the Associated Government of Northwest Colorado in Rifle.
“People in Western Garfield County who are concerned about drilling don’t go to their 57th representative Al White; they go to Kathleen because they know she will care,” Russi said.
Curry Won’t Back Away from Controversy
Curry could be a moving target if one of her draft bills actually lands on the house floor next year: it would make developers secure and prove permanent water resources for their housing and business developments.
“For instance, someone building a housing development in Aurora should be accountable for the water resources needed to support it,” she said. “I’m tired of ill-planned growth on the Front Range taking more and more Western Slope water.”
Another one of her proposed bills will help funnel more money into the state auditor’s office to increase the monitoring of oil and gas production.
“If I propose a severance tax hike and the measure gets on the ballot,” Curry said with a laugh. “I’ve been told the energy industry has set aside a $50 million advertising budget to fight it. I’ll admit the industry watches me pretty closely.”
Curry said Gov. Bill Ritter also has asked her to hold off on such a proposal, “but that’s about all I hear from my district,” she said. During one day, she counted two live interviews and four media calls, all about severance tax.
“I’m getting a lot of resistance on all levels to not forward a bill to increase the severance tax rate,” Curry said, shrugging, “but I have an obligation to my constituents.”
Top photo: Kathleen Curry; Curry with Rep. Bernie Buescher; Curry swims with the fishes; District 61 map