Long accustomed to looking eastward for representation in the Colorado General Assembly, Cortezians now turn north.
As usual, the most recent U.S. Census in 2010 prompted redrawing of district boundaries for the state Senate and House of Representatives. Cortez and Mancos were excised from their former home in Colorado's 59th House District and shifted to the 58th, meaning locals will now be represented by Don Coram, a Republican from Montrose.
Except for Cortez' own Mark Larson (1999-2006), all prior 59th district representatives since the 1970s had hailed from La Plata County.
Redistricting is done to reflect population changes, but the process often descends into bitter quarreling as political parties maneuver to shape the electoral map to their advantage.
The new maps that emerge from negotiations and court battles can carry real world implications.
J. Paul Brown, the Ignacio sheep rancher who formerly represented Cortez in District 59, lost to Democrat Mike McLachlan in November. The swapping of Cortez, a conservative bastion, for more liberally-inclined Gunnison was likely a contributing factor to his defeat.
So, enter Coram, whose revised 58th District encompasses about 6,000 square miles - 1,000 fewer than the old one - and includes a unified Montezuma County.
Coram is a businessman whose professional career has spanned several industries including ranching, environmental reclamation and mining - he owns Gold Eagle Mining, Inc. In the late 1990s, he also cofounded The Coffee Trader, a buzzing Main Street café in Montrose, with Phuong Nguyen and son Dee Coram.
Don Coram says representing Cortez won't require much adjustment because of similarities with his hometown. Both places revolve around agriculture - where water issues are paramount - and hands-off, small government sentiment runs deep.
"Basically the needs are very similar," he said.
Coram describes himself as "well-acquainted" with the concerns of rural Coloradans who make a living off land and livestock.
"I grew up in a farm and ranch operation. My dad ran a stockyard for cattle. I grew up that way," he said.
Coram also touted his working familiarity with Montezuma County, having visited more than 100 times since he was first elected in Nov. 2010. Because of the way the county was bisected before, he had already been representing Dolores, Towaoc and the northern unincorporated areas.
"I've kept a log," he said. "We put another notch on the barrel every time we visit."
As a legislator, Coram's approach is "constituent-driven": he casts votes based on what the majority of voters in his district want.
And rather than passing a large volume of bills, his first priority is responding promptly to bureaucratic hurdles faced by constituents. When the historic Hollywood Bar in Dolores was gutted by a fire last August, for example, Coram helped to expedite the demolition permit for its owners.
"I try to be a liaison between the individual and the agency. I think constituent services are the most important thing you do as a legislator," he said.
Coram welcomes comments and concerns from voters, either by mailed letters or email. In the interest of being accessible, he freely gives out his personal cellphone number, which, for the record, is 970-596-2425.
NEW COMPLEXION, SAME AIM
After the November elections, Coram finds himself in uncharted territory: a member of the minority party. Democrats won back control of the House, strengthened their hold on the Senate, and have the benefit of a Democratic governor to set the agenda. But Coram says his mission stays the same regardless.
"Last session I brought 16 bills to the House floor, and 11 carried a Democratic co-sponsor. Added together, my vote count in the House was 866 yes to 166 no," he said. "I don't see that changing. I will continue bringing common sense bills that are good for Colorado and seek bipartisan support in doing it."
Coram finds common cause with Gov. John Hickenlooper in supporting "safe, responsible" fossil fuel extraction and trimming obsolete regulations to spur business growth.
Not so with civil unions, an issue sure to resurface in the coming weeks - or days. As part of the State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee - coined the "kill committee" for its reputation of strict party line votes - Coram played a central role in thwarting last year's edition of the civil unions bill during a special extended session.
After some speculation that family ties might soften his opposition to civil unions - his son is gay - Coram ultimately sided with his Republican colleagues.
But any rumors of his vote being up for grabs were misplaced, Coram said: "There was never any intent of voting yes."
He explained that most of his 75,000 constituents were not on board. In addition, he felt the bill encroached too far on the 2006 voter-approved referendum that banned same-sex marriage in Colorado. He saw little distinction between the two.
"It was a same-sex marriage bill. It referred to a 'spouse' 29 times. I felt the citizens of Colorado had already spoken," said Coram, who believes a 2009 law establishing "designated beneficiary agreements" affords sufficient legal protections.
Democratic control of the State Assembly this session makes passage of civil unions a near certainty.