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Democrat Brian O’Donnell runs for House seat in District 59

Brian O’Donnell, Democratic Party candidate for House District 59 (currently held by Republican Rep. Ellen Roberts) said that, without a doubt, the economy is the biggest issue facing voters in southwest Colorado this election.

“We need to bring people together for a more prosperous southwest Colorado,” O’Donnell said during an interview at The SUN offices.

“I think a prosperous future starts with a good job and a strong economy,” he added. “I think we need to invest in the health and education of our citizens, and be a steward of our natural resources. I think that’s true prosperity, when we’ve got those things in hand.”

A Durango resident for 12 years, O’Donnell is executive director of the Conservation Lands Foundation and holds a degree in economics. Married for 12 years, O’Donnell is the father of a 2-year-old daughter.

This election is the first time O’Donnell has run for office. However, he stated that he felt that not being a career politician was not a hindrance. “I feel I now have enough experience (as executive director of the Conservation Lands Foundation) and know people well enough to serve.”

Identifying himself as a moderate, O’Donnell said he does not march in lockstep with the Democratic Party. “The debt at the federal level really bothers me,” he said, “and I think its something we need to immediately address.”

O’Donnell also stated, “As a gun owner myself, I’m a strong supporter of Second Amendment rights.

“I think this region has a history of electing representatives who are moderates,” he added.

Towards the pursuit of energy resources in southwest Colorado, O’Donnell agrees that development and extraction are important factors in strengthening the regional economy. “Natural gas has a big future in southwest Colorado.”

Pointing to a recent bill before the Colorado Legislature that would shift several front range power plants from coal-fired to natural gas-powered plants, O’Donnell said that wells in the Four Corners area would play an important role in cleaner energy for decades to come. However, O’Donnell stressed the need to diversify resource development. “As a nation, I think we’re going to need to shift over to renewable sources, in the long term and in the intermediate term.”

Mentioning the potential for renewable energy development in southwest Colorado — wind, solar and geothermal — O’Donnell said, “Those are things I think we should invest in and things I think we can be a leader, in that, rather than betting our whole future on importing oil from more and more unstable nations. I think it’s an important investment that we need to make.”

However, O’Donnell differs from his opponent (Republican J Paul Brown) in so far as respecting the sanctity of National Monuments. Stating that he did not feel energy development would be appropriate within the boundaries of a National Monument.

Two weeks ago, at a tea party rally in Pagosa Springs, Brown stated he did not support the National Monument system, calling it “a federal land grab.”

“I think Chimney Rock should be a National Monument and I support that,” O’Donnell said.

In addressing the economy in southwest Colorado, O’Donnell laid out a three-point plan to kick-start business in the region.

The first part, O’Donnell said, would be to expand the Colorado Credit Reserve Program — a small-business loan program. “Big business is having no problem getting access to credit. We need to expand the program to get loans into the hands of more businesses,” adding, “and we need to be better about getting the word out there for the program.”

Secondly, O’Donnell expressed the need for a “business incubator” program in which community development organizations would provide mentoring, technical assistance, low-cost office space and assistance in securing small business loans to facilitate the start up process.

Finally, O’Donnell’s three-point proposal dovetailed back to investing in renewable energy.

When asked if the Colorado Legislature considered an immigration law similar to the one recently passed in Arizona, O’Donnell said, “I’d vote against it.”

While acknowledging the need for federal immigration reform, O’Donnell said that the Arizona law, “Is going to promote discrimination. There’s families in this community who have lived here for generations. For those people to be treated unfairly ... we shouldn’t be promoting discrimination.”

Finally, on the issue of education, O’Donnell said, “We need to look at that, not on partisan lines but more regional.”

When asked about the disparity in per-pupil funding that Archuleta County receives relative to taxes the county provides to the state, O’Donnell said that, as a representative, “You need to go there (the Statehouse) and be a strong advocate. That’s one of the things I want to do.”

Returning to his campaign theme — bringing people together for a prosperous southwest Colorado — O’Donnell expressed a pragmatic approach, saying, “No one state representative can do that on their own or shouldn’t promise that they can. But they can certainly help be a catalyst for that and start a discussion about how we can get there together.”

jim@pagosasun.com