Steamboat Springs The economy was the focus of a forum Tuesday featuring candidates for the Colorado Legislature during the Rotary Club of Steamboat Springs' weekly meeting at The Steamboat Grand.
The forum featured House District 26 candidates Diane Mitsch Bush, a Steamboat Springs Democrat, and Chuck McConnell, a Steamboat Springs Republican. They are vying for the new house district that will represent Routt and Eagle counties. Democrat Emily Tracy, of Breckenridge, and Republican state Rep. Randy Baumgardner were in Steamboat trying to win over votes in their Senate District 8 race. The district is vast, representing seven counties in Northwest Colorado.
Glenn Gallegos, a candidate for the 3rd Congressional District seat on the University of Colorado Board of Regents, also attended the forum. His opponent, Jessica Garrow, was not able to attend.
Tuesday’s event largely was an opportunity for Rotarians to get to know the candidates. With limited time allotted to each candidate, they spoke about their backgrounds and provided a bit of insight on key platform issues.
Baumgardner, of Hot Sulphur Springs, told the audience he has been a strong voice for Northwest Colorado during the past four years as the House District 57 representative. He emphasized his support of private property rights, the Second Amendment and water rights, the latter of which he said Front Range interests are trying to take from the Western Slope.
“They’re after our water,” Baumgardner said. “I’ve always tried to protect our water.”
On the economy, Baumgardner said regulations need to be eased on businesses to help put Coloradans back to work.
“We have to get business going,” he said. “That’s how we’re going to get our economy going.”
Baumgardner said he stands for limited government, fiscal responsibility and free-market enterprise.
Tracy, a former Cañon City City Council member who lives in Breckenridge, said she had been listening to voters as she goes door to door throughout the district. She said the top concerns she hears from residents relate to the environment, the economy and student loan debts. Tracy said her priorities are sustainable tourism, a strong agricultural industry, protecting Western Slope water, nurturing a strong business environment and ensuring quality education for children.
She told forum attendees that folks value local and state governments, but they expect them to function well. She also stressed the need to sort through conflicting constitutional constraints — alluding to the Taxpayer Bill of Rights and Amendment 26 — that continue to hamper Colorado's budget.
Tracy emphasized that the district's people are what is most important. She said partisan bickering must end for the interests of Senate District 8 to be served best.
In the House District 26 race, McConnell said he wants to bring leadership to the Legislature. Despite his background in chemical engineering, McConnell said his professional experience proved that when there are problems to be solved, it simply takes a common-sense approach.
“Strong common-sense leadership for Colorado,” McConnell said, adding that government is not working as efficiently as it could.
For Colorado to prosper in the future, McConnell said, encouraging small businesses to grow is essential. He said he found it unacceptable that 41 offices and storefronts were vacant in Steamboat Springs earlier this summer. He also said it's reasonable to be able to protect the environment while allowing for responsible energy development.
McConnell’s opponent, Mitsch Bush, a current Routt County commissioner, said she has worked hard to balance the county’s budget during five budget cycles, has advocated for water-quality monitoring on the Yampa River and has encouraged energy-efficient technologies in the county’s buildings that would save taxpayer dollars. She said she has balanced fiscal discipline with compassion and has helped secure transportation funding for projects throughout the region.
“The environment, our people and our infrastructure are our three most important economic assets,” Mitsch Bush said.
She also emphasized her ability to work across the aisle and across the Continental Divide to get things done.
Perhaps the starkest difference among the candidates came to light when they were asked by an audience member about Colorado's Health Benefit Exchange Program, which is set to come online in October 2013 and provide a marketplace for Coloradans and small businesses to shop for health insurance plans by quality and price.
McConnell and Baumgardner said that they are against any intrusion by the government into health care and that the free market is the answer to lowering insurance costs.
Mitsch Bush and Tracy countered that the Health Exchange isn't a government health care program, and they lauded it for its ability to help consumers save money on health insurance by providing a one-stop shopping experience.
Gallegos, a Grand Junction resident whose family operates a large construction company, said his priorities for the CU Board of Regents include keeping tuition affordable, ensuring that CU remains a quality public university and funding and balancing the university system's budget.
He said significant funding cuts to higher education in recent years mean the CU system needs to do more with less. New strategies and new funding sources will be needed to keep higher education institutions healthy, he said.
To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247 or email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com