A U.S. District Court ruling yesterday ensures that Kathleen Curry's name won't be on the ballot for her House District 61 reelection bid.
But unlike La Plata County commissioner Joelle Riddle, whose lawsuit she joined, Curry's not dropping out. Instead, she's moving forward with one of the most challenging chores in modern politics: a write-in campaign.
Curry had been a Democrat, but after a spat with the party, she decided to drop her affiliation in December. Problem was, she says, "there's a seventeen-month requirement for unaffiliated candidates to be registered" to run for election in Colorado, and she made the switch less than a year before the vote.
In contrast, the major parties are allowed to set deadlines for registration, and they're considerably less onerous than the ones unaffiliated candidates must face. For the latter, "it's the most stringent requirement in the nation," Curry says.
This situation will improve in the future thanks to a bill Curry backed that Governor Bill Ritter recently signed into law. However, the changes don't go into effect until 2012. That meant Curry's hopes to be listed on the 2010 ballot were tied to a lawsuit put forward by Riddle, who left the Democratic Party last August.
"She'd filed a suit in federal court saying the standard for unaffiliated candidates is significantly different than for affiliated candidates, and therefore that's unequal treatment under the law," Curry notes. "She claimed this was a violation of the 14th Amendment -- and I joined the suit in the Spring, because I agreed with that position."
U.S. District Court Judge Marcia Krieger didn't. In her ruling yesterday, she wrote that "the presence of independent candidates in an election has distinct benefits, but if it is totally unregulated, it can increase voter confusion and distraction, political opportunism and obscure rather than clarify the differences between policy positions."
The defeat didn't completely shock Curry.
"I was really fifty-fifty on it, because it's kind of been a roller-coaster ride," she concedes. "So I didn't have really high expectations, but I was disappointed."
At the same time, though, she emphasizes that "I'm not sitting here whining. The law is the law."
Riddle responded to the ruling by announcing that she won't seek reelection in November. But Curry is determined to make the best of it, despite an added level of difficulty.
"A write-in campaign needs to have two priority goals," she says. "One is to explain how to vote for me, and the other to explain why. So we're taking a two-pronged approach. And actually, I'm feeling energized right now. It was difficult to decide how to write a flier or what the yard signs should look like or how much money to spend on T-shirts if you don't know what your message is. So this gives me certainty, and that's a big relief."
Spreading the word via venues other than her own campaign website has been complicated by the fact that most newspapers in her district, which includes Gunnison, Aspen and Crested Butte, are weeklies whose deadlines had passed prior to the ruling. But the extra time will allow her to meet with her braintrust to develop new graphics and strategies. She also will be huddling with assorted county clerks to learn about their assorted ballot formats and other technicalities.
There's an additional fundraising kink, as well. The Colorado constitution allows candidates affiliated with parties to collect twice as much as unaffiliated hopefuls.
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The explanation, Curry says, involves the primary system. "Affiliated candidates can take a donation in the amount of $200 for each check before the primary and after the primary -- and that applies even if you don't have a primary opponent. It's just assumed that all major-party candidates will have to engage in a primary process. So even though I never had a primary opponent when I was affiliated, I was able to accept $400. But as an unaffiliated candidate, I'll only be able to accept $200.
"I don't think that's fair," she admits, "but it's in the constitution. It is what it is."
Nonetheless, Curry remains optimistic about her chances in November.
"The amount of support in the district is what's keeping me going," she says. "There's support not just from the over 40 percent of my district that's unaffiliated, but there's a lot of support from people in both Democratic and Republican parties, who are more concerned with who their representative is and less concerned about what party they're in. That's giving me the energy to take on the extra procedural aspect of this."