The aftereffects of last year's Referendum A campaign are still being felt within the Republican Party, which showed itself to be divided between its Front Range and rural constituencies over water issues. Having spent most of 2003 arguing that something needed to be done about water supplies, Republican leaders are under a lot of pressure to get something done this year. But Wednesday's meeting of the influential Western Slope group Club 20 showed Republicans still have basic disagreements over what should be done, including (1) should the current method of choosing members of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which guarantees Western Slope representation, be written into the state constitution, and (2) should the state enact "basin of origin protection," which would put limits on how much water could be moved from one drainage basin (e.g., the Colorado River) to another (e.g., the South Platte or Fountain Creek basins, where Denver and Colorado Springs are located).
Enter the Salazar brothers, Attorney General Ken and Representative John (D-Manassa), who is running for the open US House seat in the 3rd Congressional District. Ken Salazar told Club 20 it should make water its top priority issue for 2004, and John is carrying a water bill that includes a form of basin of origin protection, specifically, compensation for basins that lose water in an interbasin transfer. Rep. Greg Rippy, a Glenwood Springs Republican, says he will support John Salazar's bill, which is sponsored in the State Senate by Jack Taylor, a Steamboat Springs Republican.
As a San Luis Valley native, you would expect John Salazar to be a strong candidate in that region and probably in Pueblo as well. The big question marks for him are whether he can establish himself as a recognized candidate in the giant portion of the 3rd CD that lies west of the Continental Divide and whether in the general election he could attract enough independents or even Republicans to make up for the Dems' 5000 vote registration deficit in the district. Looks like he is skillfully using the water issue to make allies, including Republican allies, on the Western Slope, which won't hurt him at all.
But this race is still wide open and John Salazar isn't the only candidate working water issues. Rippy himself is a GOP candidate, and Rep. Matt Smith (R-Grand Junction) has his own water bill in the works. I wouldn't be surprised if this race ends up going down to the wire and maybe into the early morning hours of the Wednesday after the election.
Postscript: I've got to give some props to the Grand Junction Sentinel and their Denver reporter Michael J. Bender, whose state political coverage may be the best of any paper in Colorado.