Curry says debate over budget, drilling regs most influential in party switch

State Rep. Kathleen Curry Monday reiterated to the Colorado Independent that last week’s surprising switch in party affiliation from Democrat to Independent had nothing to do with “one event or person or bill or situation,” but she added that two particularly tough debates colored her decision.

Asked if the biggest reason for defecting from the Democratic Party was the ongoing fiscal battle over painful cuts needed to shore up the state’s budget shortfalls, Curry said, “Yeah, that’s where it boiled down for me, and then somewhat on the oil and gas rulemaking process last year. It was challenging to work with the administration on that, and that was difficult.”

Curry, a water expert and rancher who owns a natural beef operation in Gunnison, has been taking considerable heat — along with other Western Slope Democrats — for helping to pass more environmentally stringent oil and gas drilling regulations last spring.

Curry stands behind the new regs, which are being legally challenged by the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, but admits she was caught off guard last summer by the emotional response from industry backers. Still, switching party affiliation won’t make her re-election any easier this fall – even though no challengers have reportedly entered the fray.

“It’ll make it harder [to get re-elected], but at least the voters will know who they’re dealing with and where I’m at philosophically, and that way everything’s out on the table,” Curry said. “There’s going to be a whole lot of similarity. I’m going to vote the way I’ve always voted, which leans toward the Democratic caucuses’ general philosophy, but there are times when I’m a bit off the reservation, and at least this way they won’t be disappointed.”

Curry in the past has supported oil and gas production with legislation such as her coal-bed methane bill last session, but this session she was weighing a bill to boost staffing for the Colorado Department of Revenue to increase severance tax audits and bring in more revenues from the industry. Monday she said she’s dropping that effort because she didn’t think it would bring in enough in additional revenues to cover the costs of more staff.

“It wouldn’t hurt to do more, but the benefits didn’t outweigh the costs on that,” she said. She also added her new independent status has nothing to do with any partisan pressure to be more of a team player.

“Both parties are doing what parties do,” said Curry, who will now have to step down as the Speaker of the House Pro-Tem and must get on next fall’s ballot as a write-in candidate. “The Democrats haven’t done it in any way that was rude or out of line or any more excessive than anyone else. That’s the expectation of a two-party system and when you have a major party that’s doing its job, I just don’t fit in with that structure.”

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