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District-wide listening tour most helpful

Since the Colorado House of Representatives adjourned on May 8, I traveled throughout our beautiful district for a listening tour. I held town halls in every county of House District 59, including Silverton, Lake City, Ridgway, Durango, Gunnison and Pagosa Springs. We did our best to promote these events as much as possible without using taxpayer dollars. At these meetings, I discussed my first-year experiences at the State Capitol, detailed the highlights of the legislative session, focused on the 10 bills that I carried successfully that became law and asked the audiences about their questions and concerns. I want to thank everyone who took the time to come out and engage with me at these meetings. My job is to listen and represent you and good or bad, I value your feedback.

Overall, the people of the 59th District share many common concerns, many specific to the Western Slope. These include the ongoing drought, wildfire protection, education, transportation, agriculture, oil and gas production, our beautiful environment, tourism, the economy, water and small business support and development. Many counties had specific concerns.

The people of Silverton remain concerned about the economic impact of their underfunded local schools and the underservice of broadband and cell phone service in San Juan County. San Juan remains the only county with no significant Internet service because they were omitted by Quest/Centurylink when all courthouses and schools were upgraded. This disappoints me, and I have pledged to make this a high priority next year and get involved with the telecommunications modernization discussions that are happening.

Like San Juan, Hinsdale is one of the least populated counties in Colorado. I appreciated all the questions about legislation, and specifically about SB13-213, the Future School Finance Act that will be submitted for voter approval this November. I voted for these reforms because our current system is outdated and severely underfunded, and if approved by voters in November, will benefit our rural counties tremendously.

In Ridgway, we discussed education, broadband and cell phone service. Ouray is also drastically underserved and its effects on tourism, the economy and local schools is another issue I plan to address next session. Fracking was also a topic of concern, and I repeated my pledge to continue to monitor fracking to ensure that it is done properly and with the highest safety standards for our air and water.

In Durango, we had a lively and significant conversation about education, the environment and the pending Future School Finance Act initiative this November. I also received great questions from a local plumber on plumbing inspection fees, the real cost to federal licensed firearms dealers and sentencing of sexual predators that I will research and bring back to the Capitol with me.  As always, I will continue to decide public safety issues based on what is best for our entire community and will ensure we have safe neighborhoods and safe schools for our children.

In Gunnison, I was joined by Sen. Gail Schwartz, who chairs the Senate Agriculture and Energy Committee and Rep. Millie Hamner, who chairs the House Education Committee. What I heard from the people of Gunnison is they are most concerned about education, water policy, agriculture, and wildfire prevention, similar to the other counties. These continue to be my areas of interest as well, and as a member of the House Agriculture, Livestock & Natural Resources Committee, I will be working on all issues  related to agriculture, water and responsible development of our natural resources.

My final visit was to Pagosa Springs. I truly enjoyed this event because the citizens, some who disagreed with my gun-safety votes, asked good and thoughtful questions and kept the conversation very civil even if we completely disagreed. This kind of dialogue really leads to the most thoughtful and productive discussions, and I appreciate their candor and respectful discourse. Most people in Pagosa Springs said they are concerned about tourism, water, education, transportation, renewable energy and the environment. Pagosa is also poised to become a center of geothermal research and application and many people, myself included, expressed their excitement about that future development. I left the meeting and arranged to return for their pending geothermal summit.

Throughout the tour, there continued to be discussion surrounding the failed recall attempt and my support for the common-sense gun safety legislation passed last session. With most constituents, this was a respectful and robust debate, but there were occasional moments of personal attacks and outbursts that disrupted the meaningful dialogue that everyone else was there to have. Let me assure you, we may have our policy disagreements, but as a proud Marine Corps veteran, I remain committed to upholding the Constitution that I fought for.

In addition, as a veteran, I also know firsthand the damage guns can inflict in the wrong hands. That’s why I supported common sense efforts to prevent and reduce gun violence — like limiting high-capacity magazines and requiring background checks to keep guns out of the hands of criminals, the dangerously mentally ill and violent domestic abusers. I appreciate everyone’s feedback, whether you agree with my positions or not, and encourage we continue this dialogue in a respectful manner.

Overall, the tour was a meaningful learning experience. I received tremendous feedback that I will take back with me to Denver next session, and I got to travel our beautiful corner of the state, which is always an added bonus. Again, thank you to everyone who came out to participate in these discussions — your participation in the democratic process is why I do what I do. I remain honored to be the representative of the most beautiful district in Colorado and will continue to strive to fight for our families, our land, our water and our great future.

This story was posted on June 27, 2013.