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59th state House race rises to a boil

Political ad leads to testy debate

McLachlan Enlarge photo

McLachlan

Just weeks before voters go to the polls, Colorado’s 59th District House of Representatives race – one of the state’s most competitive – is newly confrontational, with incumbent Republican J. Paul Brown and Democratic challenger Mike McLachlan phrasing their political differences in the boldest terms yet last night in a packed candidate forum at Durango City Hall hosted by the La Plata County League of Women Voters.

In his opening remarks, McLachlan, a Durango-based lawyer, came out swinging, decrying an ad that Brown ran in The Durango Herald during the weekend that called McLachlan a liar, in reference to McLachlan’s accusation that Brown nefariously benefited from a wildlife program Brown had arranged while serving as La Plata County commissioner.

Though the moderator cut off McLachlan, he continued criticizing Brown, attacking his legislative record as narrowly ideological and lacking common sense. McLachlan cited Brown’s support for the “personhood” amendment, which would criminalize abortion, his opposition to background checks for teachers and his casting the sole vote against a bill that would streamline services for homeless youth and expand the state’s definition of “homeless youth” – from a person between 15 and 18 years old to one between 11 and 21.

Ignacio’s Brown, a rancher, spiritedly defended his record, pointing to his collaboration with Gunnison’s Democratic senator Gail Schwartz in successfully renaming Western State College as a university and reminded the audience of his leading role in getting bath salts, an addictive synthetic drug, banned. He defended his vote on the homeless youth bill, saying, “it had a hefty price tag on it, and it was just more government. I felt like we had sufficient programs to take care of homeless children, and I didn’t want to take money away from K-12.”

Brown said his priorities were K-12 education, Western Slope water, the Second Amendment, restraining health-care costs, improving highways, and making the district “more business-friendly so that we can improve the business climate in Colorado.”

Both Brown and McLachlan seemed to agree funding for K-12 education in Colorado was in crisis. But Brown said McLachlan’s favored plan – increasing revenue by tying it to Colorado’s natural resources – was “counterproductive.” “We need to work hard at reviving the economy in Colorado,” and excise superfluous regulations that might be discouraging business, thereby expanding the tax base.

Both Brown and McLachlan said they supported gun rights, but McLachlan said in some contexts, he believed people and institutions should be able to forbid concealed weapons, for instance if they were attending class, in a science lab or a wedding.

Debate became heated when it came to the environment, with McLachlan bringing up that the national League of Conservation Voters, a powerful environmentalist lobby, named Brown to its “Dirty Dozen” list, which designates twelve of the most anti-environment state-level candidates throughout the country.

Brown said he had been named to its list because the 59th district race was the apple of many groups’ and both major political parties’ eye, and therefore, he had been “targeted.”

In their closing remarks, McLachlan pointed to his experience successfully defending Republican Governor Bill Owens from lawsuits brought by fellow Republican Doug Bruce as evidence he could work effectively with Republicans if elected to the Legislature.

Brown said when Democrats controlled the state House of Representatives, they took away tax exemptions for seniors, increased taxes and engaged in actuarial shenanigans to convey the appearance of having balanced the budget.

He ended with a ringing recitation of his philosophically “pro-business” credentials.

cmcallister@durangoherald.com

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