Candidates weigh in on early childhood during annual First Impressions forum | SteamboatToday.com

Candidates weigh in on early childhood during annual First Impressions forum

— Candidates who attended First Impressions' annual candidates forum Wednesday agreed the area's high cost of living is the most significant issue affecting young children.

According to self-sufficiency standards widely reported by Routt County's social service agencies, a family of four with an infant and a preschooler needs $92,000 a year to make ends meet.

"That's not including running over to Starbucks for your daily coffee or planning a trip to Mexico for Blues Break," said Stephanie Martin, program administrator for First Impressions of Routt County, at the start of Wednesday's forum.

Martin helped facilitate the event while Steamboat Springs City Council member Jason Lacy moderated.

Routt County Board of Commissioners incumbent candidate Tim Corrigan said because of the area's high cost of living, he would continue to advocate for county funding to support programs helping young families if re-elected.

"Cost of living, that's clearly the biggest challenge facing families," said Corrigan, who added that he would push for funding to support the Child Care Assistance Program locally, which helps working parents afford childcare.

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Corrigan's Republican challenger for District 1, Bob Dapper, said if elected, he would push for more public education and encourage more students to pursue early childhood development degrees and become childcare providers themselves.

Commissioner candidate Doug Monger, who is running unopposed for re-election in District 2, said the area's high cost of living could be pushing young families out of the county.

"We're actually driving young people out of here by not being able to find daycare or housing," Monger said.

Colorado Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush, D-Steamboat Springs, said if re-elected she would work to continue educating her fellow legislators on the benefits of focusing on early childhood development, which is proven to save money in the long run when it comes to educating kids.

"Much of the public doesn't know the return on investment," said Mitsch Bush, whose challenger Michael Cacioppo, R-Avon, didn't attend the forum.

Colorado State Senate District 8 Candidate Emily Tracy, D-Breckenridge, commended Mitsch Bush for advocating for early childhood programs at the state level.

"It takes a few strong voices to really speak up," said Tracy, who along with other candidates at the forum, said they supported increasing wages for childcare providers.

"If elected, I would definitely work to support this idea," said Tracy, whose challenger, incumbent Randy Baumgardner, R-Hot Sulfur Springs, also didn't attend the forum.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet sent Routt County Democratic Party Chair Catherine Carson as a proxy for Wednesday's forum, and Gail Schwartz, a candidate for Colorado's 3rd Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives, sent Jane Toothaker as a proxy.

Carson spoke about many of Bennet's accomplishments and future priorities, including his work expanding the Federal Summer Food Service Program, which provides meals for students during the summer.

"Michael knows that kids need resources to succeed," Carson said.

Toothaker said Schwartz is also a big supporter of early childhood programs, and she worked on programs that supported children while living in Aspen, another high-cost mountain community.

Bennet's challenger, Republican Darryl Glenn, and Shwartz's challenger, Republican U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, did not attend the forum.

According to Martin, all the candidates were invited, and Martin invited local party affiliates to coordinate with candidates to provide proxy speakers for candidates who couldn’t attend.

To reach Teresa Ristow, call 970-871-4206, email tristow@SteamboatToday.com or follow her on Twitter @TeresaRistow

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