Legislative candidates pitch qualifications and positions

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Six candidates running for seats in the Colorado Legislature pitched their qualifications along with their positions on a range of issues during a forum hosted by the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce.

The forum featured candidates in three races that will be decided in the November election — house districts 54 and 55 and Senate District 7.

Thea Chase, an independent from Palisade running for election in House District 54, faces Matt Soper, a Republican from Delta. In House District 55, Republican Janice Rich faces Democrat Tanya Travis. The Senate District 7 race pits Democrat Chris Kennedy against Ray Scott, the Republican incumbent.

The candidates cited their qualifications in opening statements.

Chase said her experience as executive director of the Business Incubator Center and Palisade town trustee gives her a familiarity with working with businesses and business organizations as well as a proactive perspective. “My approach is to get things done.”

A lawyer, Soper runs a professional research and writing service and also serves as an Orchard City trustee. He said his priorities include jobs and the economy.

Rich serves as Mesa County Treasurer. She also served as Mesa County Clerk & Recorder and owned a secretarial and business support service. She said she’s looking forward to serving in the Colorado Legislature. “I never shy away from a challenge.”

Travis said she’s worked as an artist,  preschool teacher and occupational therapist. She said it’s important to shore up the middle class economy while also ensuring affordable health care and housing and clean air and water.

A former Marine who operates a telecommunications services provider, Kennedy also serves on the Grand Junction City Council. Kennedy said he knows how to collaborate with people with diverse interests. “Let’s talk about what’s best to move this valley forward.”

Scott cited his leadership positions in the Colorado Legislature as assistant majority leader and committee chairman. That gives Mesa County a “greater voice” in the Capitol, he said.

Most of the candidates cited as their top legislative priorities economic development and funding a plan to address water needs in Colorado as the state grows.

Chase said more funding should be earmarked for rural areas to expand business. She also called for the creation of a task force to address the difficulties baby boomers face in selling their businesses.

Soper said the state general fund should be used to fund the Colorado Water Plan and efforts to bring back vocational education should be expanded.

Travis called for more transparency in health care billing.

Kennedy called for additional efforts to expand high-speed internet access in rural areas as well as mental health services.

Scott said the Jump Start program he helped establish to offer tax credits to new and growing businesses should be expanded. He also called for efforts to reduce waste and inefficiencies in the Colorado Department of Transportation.

The candidates were asked how they’d deal with the rising cost of health care and its effects on small businesses.

Travis said it will take more than legislative action given the economic, environmental and social factors involved. “I don’t have a silver bullet. It’s going to take a shotgun.”

Rich said she’d welcome an opportunity to meet with health care providers and insurers, but said she won’t support a single-payer system.

Scott said Colorado’s share of spending on Medicaid coverage has grown to 35 percent of the state budget.

Kennedy said more people, not less, need health care coverage. “Health care is a right. It’s a human right.”

Soper said part of the solution to rising health care costs would be to reduce redundancies and increase transparency.

Chase said public and private partnerships could play a role in reducing health care costs, as could a focus on wellness and managed care.

The six candidates were unanimous in their opposition to Proposition 112, a measure on the election ballot to limit new oil and natural gas development to no closer than 2,500 feet from occupied dwellings and vulnerable areas.

The six also said they’d support consolidating stormwater drainage efforts in the Grand Valley. Said Kennedy: “Let’s get together to fix this.”