Craig If state Sen. Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction, conveyed one message to 14 local residents who gathered Friday to hear him speak, it was that he wants to bring the Republican Party back to its roots.
"We don't win by being Democrat-light," he said about America's political conservatives. "The truth is freedom is better, lower taxes are better and capitalism is better than socialism."
Penry, who at 33 is Senate minority leader in the Legislature, announced his candidacy for Colorado governor July 11 in Grand Junction and appeared for a brief campaign stop at the Holiday Inn of Craig before touring The Memorial Hospital construction site on the west side of town.
Voters still have time to decide whether to support Penry, as the election is not until November 2010.
The senator, who came to town alone without any aides or his campaign manager, addressed a group of mostly self-described conservatives.
Several questions addressed how Penry would govern differently than current political leaders, such as Gov. Bill Ritter.
Al Cashion, who said he was a "recovering Republican" and now a Libertarian, wanted to know whether Penry would protect Colorado's autonomy from the federal government or give in to more federal control to receive more recovery funds.
"I look at all these things going on as whether they increase freedom," Cashion said, referring to the federal recovery package, which gives extra funding to states, but sometimes attaches requirements. "As you said, Republicans have lost their way. What would you do different?"
Penry said he would work to turn back recovery funds if and when they came with restrictive strings attached.
"The worst part of the stimulus bill is not the $1 trillion it puts on top of the $13 trillion of debt already there, it is the evisceration of the states' ability to control their own budgets," he said. "We need governors to step back and say, 'No, we don't want your money. We'll balance our own budgets.'"
Penry later added he would like to see a lot of the recovery funds go toward paying off the national debt instead of starting new government programs or bailing out state budgets.
He lumped Colorado in with the problem.
"The money included for transportation, I thought was a good investment," Penry said. "The $800 million in bailouts (for Colorado), I don't think future voters should be required to bailout bad budget decisions. I don't think the federal government should bail out California for their mismanagement, and I don't think Colorado is different."
At his appearance at the Holiday Inn, Penry said the federal government already controls too much of Colorado's budget and pointed to mandated Medicaid expenses as an example.
"If you look at it, if you came from outer space and landed, you'd think government was trying to make it worse," Penry said. "Why are we piling things on local government during a recession? Why are we piling things on energy?"
Although Penry has opposed several parts of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission's new drilling regulations, he said Friday that some portions of the rules are good, such as noise restrictions and other quality of life protections for communities located near development.
However, he doesn't think the state as a whole has a balanced perspective on energy development across the state, such as in the Roan Plateau and Vermillion Basin areas.
Part of that problem, Penry said, comes back to Harris Sherman, Colorado Department of Natural Resources executive director.
"It wouldn't take me too long to ask the head of the DNR to head for greener pastures and take a new job," Penry said. "It's going to be a busy first day if I'm elected."
He added that Northwest Colorado will be an important part of his campaign, and he will be back as it gets closer to the November 2010 general election.
"Ritter has not been particularly kind to rural Colorado," Penry said. "A Republican victory starts with rural Colorado. But, as a state, we have more in common than not. At the end of the day, people work toward compromise. That's the kind of governor I want to be for the whole state."
Another candidate for governor has made a commitment to appear in Moffat County.
John Ponikvar, Moffat County Republican Central Committee chairman, said Republican candidate Dan Maes, of Evergreen, plans to appear at the Moffat County Fair community barbecue from 4 to 6:30 p.m. Aug. 8 at the fairgrounds covered picnic area.
Ted Crook, Moffat County Democrats chairman, said no Democratic candidates had established visit dates.