During the course of my career as a middle and high school teacher, an entrepreneur and a small-business owner, I never expected to become a legislator. But now that I’ve represented Northwest Colorado in the state Senate for two years, I’ve found that my experience in business and education — where cooperation and hard work pay off — was quite useful. For the past two years, I’ve used the same approach to build consensus behind conservative, common-sense policies to create jobs and improve our schools.
The biggest challenge I faced as a legislator was helping get Coloradans back to work. Since the men and women who run businesses in Colorado have a better understanding of what needs to be done to get the economy back on track than anyone else, I went straight to them for ideas. They had some practical suggestions about changes the state could make to allow their businesses to operate more efficiently. For example, a bill I passed in my first year removed an obsolete state regulation that prohibited bars and restaurants from selling low-strength beer. This year, I successfully tackled another rule for restaurant and hotel licensing that was so poorly crafted that business owners didn’t even have clear instructions on how to comply with it.
In addition to bringing a dose of common sense to business regulation, I’ve focused on supporting the industries that Northwest Colorado thrives on. I’ve been a consistent advocate for tourism funding and was successful in creating a new private funding stream for grants to expand shooting ranges and fishing opportunities in Colorado. This year, I passed a bill that establishes a targeted set of job creation incentives for the film industry, including a first-of-its-kind financing program and an expansion of a tax rebate for productions that use local talent.
Education has been my other top priority in the Legislature. I have fought to raise awareness of the unique challenges that rural school districts face, successfully reformed the educator licensing process to allow teachers to become licensed more quickly, supported the expansion of educational opportunities for students in rural areas and voted for a budget that stabilized K-12 funding after several years of cuts. Last summer, I drove more than 12,000 miles to visit 23 schools in the district and was inspired by what they have been able to accomplish despite deep budget cuts.
One of my most rewarding legislative accomplishments was to secure additional funding for communities through two bills that allow local governments to keep more severance tax dollars through Federal Mineral Lease districts. I’m also proud to say that I voted for a state budget that gave communities their full share of severance tax and Federal Mineral Lease money for the first time in years. Even though the whole state benefits from energy development, the communities in Northwest Colorado pay a disproportionate share of the costs and deserve their full part of the proceeds to support infrastructure and emergency services in the areas impacted by energy production.
Just as rural Colorado leads the rest of the state in energy development, we bear a disproportionate share of the responsibility for protecting and developing Colorado’s water resources. I was a co-prime sponsor of a bill for water projects in Colorado, including $28.3 million for the coming year. Another bill I sponsored extends a voluntary donation program for the Colorado Healthy Rivers fund, which awards grants to Coloradans who are working on restoring or protecting natural resources within Colorado watersheds.
There is a clear difference between my opponent and myself. While I always vote in the best interest of Northwest Colorado, my opponent aligns himself with his Front Range leadership and special interest groups, often to the detriment of Senate District 8 constituents. Just this year, he voted against restoring $54 million in severance tax dollars to counties, against $15.5 million for fire mitigation, against $28.3 million for water projects, and against restoring the Senior Homestead property tax exemption. I supported all of these measures.
Overall, I’ve been humbled by the opportunities I’ve had to serve Northwest Colorado for the past two years in the Legislature. Although I’ve been able to make progress in supporting job creation and education, there still is a lot of work to be done. I would be honored to continue representing our district next year.
Jean White, R-Hayden, is running for Senate District 8.