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Rematch: State House District 61

Oct 6, 2014

Colorado State Capitol

In some ways the election in state house district 61 is a rematch.  The district includes Summit, Lake and Pitkin counties and parts of Delta and Gunnison counties. Democrat Millie Hamner won the district two years ago beating, among others, Debra Irvine.  Despite that loss, this year, Irvine, a Republican, is back to challenge Hamner.

Irvine – “Well, its not about me and if it was about me I probably wouldn’t because it is very difficult.  Its hard to put yourself out there.”

Especially hard she says when her campaign manager husband returns from the post office with negative mailers in support of the incumbent.  APR's Roger Adams talked with Irvine and Hamner and has this report.

Colorado HD 61 Republican challenger Debra Irvine
Credit Debra Irvine

Debra Irvine  is running for House District 61 because of what she hears from people about issues in the district.  Irvine says people remain concerned about the economy.  They tell her there is too much government regulation on business and that they don’t feel heard in the state legislature by Representative Hamner.  And, topping the list of reasons she decided to run again was the defeat of the school funding measure Amendment 66 which Irvine says Millie Hamner ignores to keep the measure alive.

“That is a very strong indication that they’re not, she’s not listening.  When every county in our district overwhelmingly defeated 66 to say, ‘You know I’m not listening to you. We want to put it back on because she thinks its important.”

Irvine says - I think there should be greater autonomy in the school districts because the demographics are so varied across this district and certainly across this state.

National debate over the so-called common core curriculum has also rattled conservatives in the district.  Irvine says they don’t want a one-size-fits-all education program.

“I think there should be greater autonomy in the school districts because the demographics are so varied across this district and certainly across this state.  So, what works in Summit County is not necessarily going to work in Lake, or Pitkin, or Delta, or Gunnison.”

It is little wonder education is the top issue in this race.  Incumbent Millie Hamner is a life-long educator.  She has served as a teacher and a district superintendent and in the state house she chairs the education committee.  Education is the largest single item in the Colorado budget and, despite the defeat of Amendment 66, Hamner says the biggest issue facing K through 12 schools is finding sustainable funding.

“Going into next session, I’m going to continue the focus on bringing the interest groups together.  We need to really think through what the right solution is to K-12 funding.  Clearly Amendment 66 last November wasn’t the right solution.  We went back to the drawing board this past session and go some good progress underway but, we’re not finished yet.”

Colorado HD 61 Representative Millie Hamner
Credit Millie Hamner

Hamner points to bills she sponsored this year that will bring 500 million is funding for schools.   Interestingly both Hamner and Irvine cite too much testing in the classroom as a problem.  Not surprisingly they also come at it from different positions.

As we heard, Debra Irvine would reduce the testing burdens by giving school districts more autonomy. 

Millie Hamner, the former teacher, doesn’t object to the goals of student assessments so much as she does the workload it has created for educators.

“We’ve put a lot on our teachers to improve the quality of public education and for good reason; we want to see improved student outcomes.  We want to see more students reading at grade level in 3rd grade.  We want to see more students entering kindergarten ready to learn.  We want to see more kids graduating from high school without remediation ready to continue their education path.  But, we also have to provide the supports we need for our teachers to be able to get this work done.”

Hamner also sits on the Business, Labor, Workforce, and Economic Development Committee and Appropriations Committee.  Her website lists many pieces of legislation she has sponsored since 2011 they range from tax issues to, most recently, efforts to reduce wildfire risks in the state’s forests. 

Hamner on education funding - We need to really think through what the right solution is to K-12 funding we are not finished yet.

Project Vote Smart shows a lengthy list of interest group ratings for Millie Hamner.  She score high among more liberal organizations and low among groups like the American Conservative Union.  She gets a zero from the NRA; the only group to rate Debra Irvine.  Irvine received an NRA score of 92 percent.

Hydraulic Fracturing regulations and questions about whether local communities can add their own controls will not be on the ballot this fall but both candidates have differing stands.  Debra Irvine believes there are already sufficient regulations.

“If you start to fragment it and you have those regulations and then on top of that another area or district ha their regulations placed on top of it I think that’s when you have a problem.  Colorado has some of the most stringent regulations in the United States and I think we do a good job monitoring we should continue to do that.”

For her part, incumbent House District 61 representative Millie Hamner says the once proposed ballot measures would have been to divisive.

“I am really relieved there has been some work done to bring the interests together through the formation of the task force.  And, I think this issue is going to consume us in the legislative session next year so, I do appreciate this opportunity for good minds to come together for good recommendations.”

Our full interviews with Millie Hamner and Debra Irvine are below.

Debra Irvine unedited interview is here:

Project Vote Smart ratings survey for Debra Irvine is HERE

Millie Hamner unedited interview is here:

Project Vote Smart ratings survey for Millie Hamner is HERE.