Coveted 59th District goes blue

McLachlan unseats Brown

Democrat Mike McLachlan celebrates his victory over Republican incumbent J. Paul Brown before a raucous crowd at the Strater Hotel Tuesday night. Enlarge photo

STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald

Democrat Mike McLachlan celebrates his victory over Republican incumbent J. Paul Brown before a raucous crowd at the Strater Hotel Tuesday night.

Durango Democrat Mike McLachlan emerged victorious over incumbent Republican J. Paul Brown of Ignacio for the 59th District state House seat, with 53 percent of the vote compared to 47 percent, according to unofficial results.

With most precincts counted, McLachlan had collected 18,316 votes to Brown’s 16,272.

La Plata County, home to both candidates, went for McLachlan 14,725 to 12,771 votes.

The two candidates offered a stark political choice, but were equally distinct in campaign strategy and personal demeanor. Brown was among the most conservative House members. During the 2012 legislative session, he was a vocal supporter of the anti-abortion “personhood” amendment, which ultimately did not receive enough signatures to make the ballot. He also cast the lone dissenting vote on several bills, including a proposal to streamline homeless youth services and another requiring background checks for school teachers.

McLachlan, a private practice lawyer who previously served as La Plata County attorney and Colorado solicitor general, styled himself during the campaign as a pragmatic Democrat who could work across the aisle. He repeatedly criticized Brown for narrow, rigid thinking that he said did not represent the diversity of the district.

“People in the 59th are interested in new leadership. Cooperative, centrist leadership. I can provide that,” McLachlan said while celebrating at the Strater Hotel Tuesday night. “One thing I stressed in the campaign is that I will listen to, reach out to and represent everybody, including those who didn’t vote for me. Finding common ground is the best way to represent a district like this.”

McLachlan complimented Brown as a dedicated opponent who “worked very hard.”

Brown was solemn but gracious in defeat.

“I wish Mr. McLachlan all the best. I think we ran a good campaign. We’ll continue to espouse the values we hold dear,” he said. “It was a great two years. Going into the capital … it’s something I’ll never forget. I met so many good people across the district.”

To the end, Brown continued his distinctive brand of old-school retail politicking. As late as Tuesday afternoon he could be seen staking out prime positions on Durango thoroughfares, holding a campaign sign and waving at passers-by.

Reflecting on his tenure, Brown touted his bill that banned bath salts, an addictive synthetic drug, and his commitment to “killing bills that hurt business.” He was sorry he didn’t have another term to address rising health care costs and deteriorating highway infrastructure.

The ample flow of money – and where it was coming from – became a major factor in the campaign’s tenor. Early on, Brown and McLachlan maintained a cordial tone and kept disagreements purely policy related. But the race turned in September as outside money began pouring into the district.

Over $1.2 million was spent on behalf of both candidates, making it one of the most expensive House elections in Colorado history and a far cry from the $233,739 spent in 2010, when Brown defeated Democrat Brian O’Connell. The pecuniary onslaught spoke to how much the state Republican and Democratic parties – and partisan interest groups allied to either side – desired control of the 59th.

About 80 percent of funds came from “independent expenditure-only committees” such as 527s and super PACs. The latter played a particularly acute role because the Supreme Court only affirmed their right to unlimited political donations in 2010, so long as they do not directly coordinate with campaigns.

McLachlan and Brown each expressed surprise and regret over the negativity cast by the incessant stream of mailers, television ads and radio spots.

“Campaigns have grown too long, drawn out and expensive. It’s outrageous. There are ample funds to get one’s message across (without outside money),” McLachlan said.

As state representative, he plans to concentrate on public education and veteran’s issues. McLachlan served in Vietnam with the U.S. Marine Corps from 1965-1967.

lgroskopf@durangoherald.com

Preliminary results showed incumbent Republican J. Paul Brown trailing in the race for the 59th District state House seat. Enlarge photo

JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald

Preliminary results showed incumbent Republican J. Paul Brown trailing in the race for the 59th District state House seat.

Election Judge Donna Burr rolls up a tally tape as the count of mail-in ballots continues in the La Plata County purchasing office building in Bodo Industrial Park. Enlarge photo

SHAUN STANLEY/Durango Herald

Election Judge Donna Burr rolls up a tally tape as the count of mail-in ballots continues in the La Plata County purchasing office building in Bodo Industrial Park.

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