Kerr takes circuitous route to political world

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By Emile Hallez

State Rep. Jim Kerr calls his path to politics a chance event, one he did not foresee during his lengthy career in the automotive service industry. The House District 28 incumbent is up for re-election this year, and he says he holds an edge over Democratic challenger Steve Harvey, citing his voting history as a “common sense” legislator.

Kerr, 66, who was initially appointed by a vacancy committee to replace outgoing Rep. Don Lee in 2005, said he developed a taste for local politics after attending a caucus.

“I got involved with politics accidentally. … My wife was out of town. My daughter was down in a study-abroad program in Costa Rica. I was working in Nolan’s RV, and I saw a thing in the paper that said ‘Caucus at Columbine High School,’ ” said Kerr, who was elected in 2006 and re-elected in 2008 in the historically conservative district. “I went to my first caucus and got elected as a delegate. And I thought, ‘My goodness, is this interesting.’ Next thing I know, I have people calling me, wanting my vote.”

Kerr’s background prior to elected office includes work in various auto industry capacities as well as a job as an appraiser with the Jefferson County assessor’s office.

“I did everything from change oil … to service manager at a tire store,” said Kerr, who added that he worked as a factory representative and contractor for an engineering company.

His interest in politics led him to other candidates’ campaigns, including that of Jefferson County District Attorney Scott Storey, as well Kerr’s predecessor, Lee, for whom he served as campaign manager.

“I was the guy who would knock on doors and show up to parades,” said Kerr, a South Jeffco resident since 1974. “Basically my claim to fame was that I was Scott Storey’s campaign chair when he ran for district attorney.”

Kerr, who claims to have a 2,800-vote edge over Harvey, is already making plans for his next term.

“I feel pretty confident, because people know me,” he said. “I’m not the new guy. I’m predictable.”

He is likely to reintroduce at least two previously unsuccessful bills, if re-elected. One bill would create new guidelines for the state’s Public Employees’ Retirement Association board, and another would potentially give police greater authority in detaining graffiti suspects.

“One thing that I wish could’ve done differently is the bill that I carried pertaining to the PERA board. It goes back to … trying to be a common-sense legislator,” Kerr said of the previous legislative session, explaining his measure would require the majority of the PERA board to be composed of members who do not receive the state benefits. “PERA is at some point in time going to go bankrupt, because there’s no way you can possibly keep going the way it is.”

Kerr’s graffiti bill was previously halted in committee.

“If law enforcement finds somebody that has paraphernalia that is primarily used for graffiti, they have probable cause to think that maybe that they’re painting walls,” he said. “Law enforcement likes it. The DA’s office liked it. … The legislators didn’t like it.”

In addressing the state’s education-funding calamity, Kerr said he is unaware of a direct solution, though repealing energy regulations that would supposedly boost the state’s economy could prove helpful, he said.

“I don’t know how to address it 100 percent. … The best way to deal with the problem that we have right now funding schools is get the economy back on track. When the economy is percolating, there’s plenty of revenue,” he said. “In Colorado we have an opportunity like probably no other place in the United States. We have large reserves of natural gas, which have been locked up, basically by the regulatory programs that have been implemented over the last four years. … We have the resources that can build the economy of the future.”

Part of that energy future, he said, would ideally include the construction of nuclear power plants.

“I think we should consider a nuclear power plant in Colorado,” he said. “It’s the ultimate in clean energy.”

Concerning social issues, Kerr is aligned with traditionally conservative platforms. He is anti-choice on abortion, opposes marriage equality for same-sex couples and favors stricter immigration enforcement.

“I’m a traditionalist,” he said on his view of marriage as exclusively between a man and a woman.

“There’s already legal methods for people that have rights, so that they can, if somebody goes to the hospital, (and if) they’re a partner, they can say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to somebody’s medical conditions. We already have that in play,” he said of medical powers of attorney, which he said provide rights equal to those enjoyed by married couples. “What people do in their bedrooms is their own business. I don’t care. But marriage is kind of a traditional thing that goes back thousands of years — called ‘the original woman’s right.’ ”

And regarding women’s reproductive autonomy, Kerr said he opposes abortion in all cases, except as a last resort that would save a woman’s life.

“I’m pro-life,” he said, “unless the pregnancy is going to lead to the mother’s death.”

And concerning immigration, Kerr said he strongly supports Arizona’s contentious new law, which allows police to verify the immigration status of people detained for unrelated reasons. A similar measure in Colorado would be welcome, he said.

“I think it’s great, personally,” he said of the Arizona law. “There’s a net cost to our state … because of illegal aliens,” he said, adding his concern about “anchor babies,” or infants born domestically of undocumented immigrants.

“Once the coyotes get the illegals up to a certain point, they just disperse. We are a conduit state. They can go almost anywhere in the country, and they know it.”

On health care, Kerr said he opposed the recently passed federal overhaul. No ideal system is possible, he said, though an exclusively market-based approach would be an improvement.

“Eighty-five percent of the people in the United States are satisfied with health care they have. … We’re going to reconstruct health care for 15 percent? That’s just illogical,” he said. “Business is more efficient than government. It’s just the way things are.”

Kerr has raised more than $12,000 for his 2010 campaign, though he said he could easily raise much more if he is inclined.

“If I want to raise a lot of money, I can. Right now, I have a 2,800-vote advantage,” he said.

Kerr, who was born in California, attended Denver Public Schools. He attended West High School before entering the workforce. He currently lives in South Jeffco with his wife, Patsy. The two have three adult children and eight grandchildren.


Contact Emile Hallez Williams at emile@evergreenco.com or 303-933-2233, ext. 22. For updates, check www.ColumbineCourier.com.