The first of this election season’s local debates took place on Wednesday night at the Summit County Community and Senior Center, run by Krystal 93 and moderated by local news director Phil Lindeman.
While local candidates received mere minutes to respond, state representative and senate candidates held the floor for an hour and a half on Wednesday, Oct. 5 to share their priorities with the public. Housing, mental health, the environment and education were pressing topics of the debate.
In attendance, running for Senate District 8, were Dylan Roberts, the Democratic candidate that currently represents House District 26 in the Colorado House of Representatives. The Republican candidate, Matt Solomon, is a business owner and was a twice-elected council member for the town of Eagle.
Running for House District 13 were Democratic candidate Julie McCluskie who currently represents House District 61, and Republican candidate David Buckley, who currently works in Grand County’s road and bridge department.
The first question asked of all candidates was their positions on ballot measures 124, 125 and 126 concerning the sale of liquor in Colorado.
According to past reporting, if passed, these ballot measures would allow grocery stores and gas states with beer licenses to sell wine on March 1, allow third-party distributors to deliver alcohol to homes and allow retail liquor chains to open multiple locations.
All candidates were opposed to the ballot measures. Each candidate cited the importance of small businesses that would likely be negatively affected by the legislation.
“I’ve had several sessions of education with local liquor store owners and employees on the impact that would have on them,” Solomon said. “And it would be detrimental.”
Next, candidates were asked their stance on Colorado Proposition 123, which, if passed, would dedicate a portion of income tax revenue to be put toward affordable housing projects.
Solomon did not speak directly if he supported the measure but did express interest in supporting “the voice of voters” in the case it is passed. Senate candidate Roberts, on the other hand, spoke fully in support of the proposition — with a caveat that some changes need to be made so mountain communities will have access to the funding.
“This is part of the solution to create a sustainable source of funding for affordable housing,” Roberts said. “We’ve got to do a whole lot more, but Prop 23 is a good start.”
McCluskie openly shared that she had not yet decided her stance, while representative candidate Buckley had a similar answer to Solomon. Buckley did not speak for or against it, but did say, that if it passed, “We have to make sure we remove the barriers of bureaucracy to putting it in place.”
The moderator then moved on to education. “I want to hear what else needs to be done right now for education at the state level,” Lindeman said.
Buckley focused on the need to fix the state school debt that he said has held back funds from Colorado schools for over 10 years. McCluskie, who is the current chair of the school finance interim committee, agreed that paying off the state’s debt regarding public schools should be a priority.
Roberts agreed that funding is an issue and schools need more money. He also said the school finance formula should be rewritten, and finally that Colorado teachers should be paid more. As with the other candidates, Solomon also spoke in favor of more funding, but he also advocated that affordable housing should be expanded to support teachers.
Candidates then explained their hypothetical plans to lower the impact of inflation on high country residents and the workforce.
Solomon believed that supporting small businesses and a plan to prevent the cost of energy from rising would help to offset the effects of inflation. Roberts insisted that legislation was the best solution.
“I’m offering specific solutions to save businesses, to save families and individuals money,” Roberts said. “It takes a bipartisan effort in the state legislature to do that.”
Buckley proposed to cut taxes, including gas taxes, grocery taxes and property taxes. “There are three low-hanging fruit items that we can do right now,” Buckley said.
McCluskie focused on a very different approach. McCluskie said affordability includes housing, healthcare and child care. Therefore, she spoke about how she pushed for free full-day kindergarten, universal preschool, investments in housing and reductions on property tax.
Lindeman’s final prompt asked candidates their stance on drought and how Colorado should “take charge” on the multi-state concern that is water availability.
McCluskie believes water will be “the centerpiece policy for us at the legislature this next year.” She then addressed that the lower basin states have been using a “tremendous” amount of water, so it’s important that Colorado have “tough” conversations about conserving water.
“We’re going to have to show the other states the waves, and we’re gonna have to demand that they follow our lead because the headwaters are here in this district, in Grand County, in Summit County, and we are critical for the future of water in Colorado,” McCluskie said.
Buckley responded that property rights are incredibly important to uphold, and also that the East may be an “out of the box” solution to our water crisis. “When we see what’s happening in Florida, look at all that excess water,” Buckley said.
Negotiation and investment into water conservation is the most ideal and effective solution, according to Dylan. He echoed McCluskie’s point that Colorado should be an example for the West.
Lastly, Solomon answered that the West should invest in a desalination project to correct the water deficit that has occurred, especially at Lake Powell.
The forum opened the floor for public questions, including ones directed toward education, reproductive rights and gun control.