Tom Dittemore has been the Democratic candidate in state House District 28 in every election since 2002, and he’s making his fourth bid for the seat this November. Standing in his way is Republican incumbent Jim Kerr, who is seeking a third term.
The two men say they like each other, but Dittemore says Kerr needs to step up a bit more.
"He's done several bills, but most of them are housekeeping-type bills," Dittemore said. "He's not really out in front on immigration, as far as that goes. He's not taking the lead with health care or education, any of the three. He's my opponent; he's not my enemy. But I think more can be done, and we need a voice in South Jeffco, down in House District 28 especially."
"I get along with Tom," Kerr said. "He's a good guy. He's been around for a while."
Kerr cenceded that his legislative career got off to a slow start — he was appointed to fill a vacancy left by the resignation of Rep. Don Lee in 2005. But, Kerr said, now that he has some experience and has introduced more than 30 bills and resolutions since 2005, South Jeffco voters will be well served by sending him back for another term.
Kerr says his hallmark is "clean up, clarify or make go away," and he wants to continue those efforts if re-elected. When asked what his main focus would be in a fourth term, Kerr said he wants to combat the unforeseen impacts of Amendment 41.
Amendment 41, approved by voters in 2006, bans gifts to public employees worth more than $50, and bans gifts from lobbyists altogether. Kerr said the concept is good, but a practical effect of the law has been to limit interaction among legislators.
"It deprives us of an opportunity to build relationships with the other side of the aisle," Kerr said. He explained that when he first arrived at the legislature, policymakers from both parties would attend retreats and discuss issues.
"That's how you find out about those people," Kerr said. "You find out they're real people." That doesn't happen anymore, he said.
"Fifty dollars right now is not that much money if you'd go to a retreat somewhere, which is what we would do, and get a chance to interact. Those days are over."
Dittemore, a carpenter by trade with military experience, said health care is the most important issue for South Jeffco residents, based on his door-to-door campaigning. He wants to get more eligible Jeffco children enrolled in the state’s Children's Health Insurance Program, and have health care providers and insurance companies focus more on preventive measures than treatment of full-blown problems.
Dittemore said that, if elected, he wouldn't necessarily write new laws — he would work to improve previous legislation without raising taxes or imposing any mandates.
"Every time (legislators) want to do something, they want to raise the tax for it," Dittemore said. "We're already spending money for SCHIP, Medicare and Medicaid. I think we can find a way to bring those all together."
Kerr, the ranking Republican on the House Health and Human Services Committee, agrees that health care is a big issue. He opposes universal health care because an undetermined percentage of people without insurance are that way by choice, and said most people have some form of coverage.
"At some point, I think we can come up with some comprehensive solutions," Kerr said. "And that will be one of my goals. I know it will be incredibly difficult, but it's one of my goals at least to come up with some better solutions for the (percentage) who don't have health care."
Dittemore cited jobs as the second most important issue facing South Jeffco and House District 28.
"The biggest thing is to make sure that we don't get passed any legislation that's going to force companies out of business," Dittemore said. A big focus for everyone, Dittemore added, should be on defeating a group of amendments on the ballot that he said would severely hurt Colorado workers and businesses.
He was referring to Amendment 47, the "right to work" amendment that would prohibit workers from being required to join a union to get a job; Amendment 57, which imposes stricter workplace safety requirements; Amendment 55, which would ban at-will employment; Amendment 56, which forces businesses with 20 or more employees to offer health care; and Amendment 53, which would make corporate executives criminally liable if they break the law or allow employees to commit fraud.
"Don't misunderstand me," Dittemore said. "I think those are issues that need to be addressed — each one of them. But I'm opposed to mandates, period, whether it be for the taxpayer or business."
Dittemore would also like to work on veterans' issues and education.
"We need to do something as far as prepping kids for college," Dittemore said. "What we're doing is training them to fail at the next level. We need to reinforce our trade schools, and teach kids a profession."
Dittemore has a distinct fund-raising disadvantage in the race. At the end of August, he had about $2,200 on hand, while Kerr had more than $12,000. He admitted that he's a bit concerned.
"Maybe there's a little skepticism about my ability to win," Dittemore said.
But Dittemore has a lot of campaign materials left over from his previous races, and will continue to walk door to door to get his message out.
"That's what really excites me," he said.
Kerr said he could have raised more money, but "I don't know that I need to." He said he's not taking anything for granted in the race, and thinks his record and an effort to get out and talk with voters should carry him to another term.
"I think I have a proven track record," Kerr said. "I've demonstrated my ability to work with both sides of the aisle. I carry what I consider common-sense legislation, I work with my constituents, and I work with the other entities of government in Colorado.
“It's been a great ride, one of the most challenging jobs I've had in my life, but also one of the most rewarding jobs I've had in my life. It's the hardest job I've ever loved."
Jim Kerr, Republican
Education: West High School graduate
Experience: Worked in the automotive service industry, "from turning wrenches to running my own business." Has been a manufacturer's representative, factory representative, technical trainer, and spent three years as a residential appraiser in the Jeffco assessor's office.
Tom Dittemore, Democrat
Education: Two years of college at the Kearney State Teachers College (now known as the University of Nebraska at Kearney).
Experience: Joined the National Guard in 1965, went on active duty in the Army in 1968 and served two years in Germany. Came back to the Army Reserve and left the service in 1979. Has been a carpenter by trade ever since.