Cole Buerger touts policy experience in race to represent Colorado House District 57
Editor’s note: This is the first of two stories on the two Democrats seeking election in the June 28 primary for the right to face Republican state Rep. Perry Will in the Nov. 8 general election to represent the new Colorado House District 57. A story on Elizabeth Velasco is set to appear in Monday’s Post Independent, and online at postindependent.com.
Garfield County native and Glenwood Springs resident Cole Buerger spent much of his early career holding up American democracy as an example in his global work with the National Endowment for Democracy.
So, when protesters of the 2020 presidential election barged through barriers, assaulted security officers and stormed the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., he said he heard a call to action for himself politically.
“It broke my heart as somebody who has spent most of the early part of my career talking about the power of the American example and the power of self-government, to see a direct attack on our democracy,” Buerger said. “That really inspired me to dip my feet in the domestic political space as a candidate.”
Initially, he set his sights on the race for the Democratic nomination to run for the 3rd Congressional District seat.
“I wanted to make sure that part of the conversation was talking about democracy and protecting it, because I think we sometimes forget that, without democracy, a lot of the other stuff doesn’t matter,” he said.
As that race became crowded with other Democratic candidates lining up to be the party’s nominee to face a likely challenge against conservative firebrand Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., in the general election, Buerger decided to turn his attention closer to home.
He faces fellow Democrat Elizabeth Velasco, also of Glenwood Springs, in the Colorado House District 57 primary on June 28. Ballots for both the Democratic and Republican primaries are to be sent out next week.
The candidates are set to meet in a primary election forum at the Glenwood Springs Library, 815 Cooper Ave., from 6-7 p.m. June 7.
The primary election, which is open to both registered Democrats and unaffiliated voters, will determine the Democratic challenger to face incumbent Republican state Rep. Perry Will, R-New Castle, in the November general election.
Will is not contested for the Republican nomination, though the Republican primary ballot does include decisions in the 3rd Congressional District, U.S. Senate, Colorado governor, Secretary of State and other state offices.
House District 57 was re-configured with last year’s legislative redistricting, and now includes all of Garfield and Pitkin counties, and the Roaring Fork Valley portion of southwest Eagle County.
“At the end of the day, the goal of my campaign is to rebuild trust and faith in our democratic system,” Buerger said. “We need leaders at every level who are focused on getting problems solved.
“Here in the 57th District, we have some very specific problems, whether that’d be affordable housing, or access to health care, or protecting our water; just to name a few,” he said.
Buerger, 39, grew up on the family ranch south of Silt, spending his childhood raising steers and pigs for the Garfield County Fair 4-H shows and attending Rifle High School his freshman year before moving to Colorado Springs and graduating high school there.
After college, his early career connected him with the National Endowment for Democracy, where he worked abroad to help strengthen democracy in Asia and other parts of the world.
He went on to earn a master’s degree in public policy at the University of Chicago, and re-joined the National Endowment working on anti-corruption and transparency initiatives around the world.
For the past nearly 10 years, Buerger has owned a small communications firm, working with local, state and national organizations on issues such as educational funding equity, women’s rights, mental health initiatives and human trafficking.
He views HD57 as a diverse district politically as it stretches from Aspen to western Garfield County.
“That doesn’t really shift a lot of the issues we face, as we talk about things like affordable housing and being able to live where you work,” Buerger said. “Everywhere in Colorado, we talk about the importance of protecting our public lands and our water, especially in western Colorado. The job of the next representative will be to bring people together from Aspen to Parachute to solve problems that are confronting our district.”
Buerger says he’s the candidate with the experience on the policy-making and legislative front to best represent HD57.
“Growing up in Silt, I know intimately the needs of western Colorado,” he said. “My mom still lives on the ranch, and knows that we have to rely upon snowpack to irrigate the fields. My brother is in Glenwood Springs and is deeply affected by the need to have to commute up and down the valley for his work.
“So it’s a connection to the full spectrum of issues and knowing how to get things done.”
In the state Legislature, it’s also about being a voice on broader issues and standing up to things like LGBTQ bigotry, he said. Buerger is gay and a vocal advocate on LGBTQ issues.
“I spent 15 years of my career working on behalf of people who have been left out or disenfranchised or oppressed,” he said. “I think that speaks volumes to what I’ll be able to do in Denver.”
When it comes to addressing the main issues impacting the house district and the state as a whole, Buerger said they fall into three buckets — “our quality of life, sustainability and protecting our democracy.”
“For me quality of life means making sure people can live where they work, addressing the housing affordability crisis and ensuring that we’re not paying a 20% premium for health care,” he said.
“Sustainability is about protecting our water and our public lands, and ensuring that we’re addressing climate change,” Buerger said. “Whether you’re a resort resident or rancher, we all depend upon the snow that falls on our mountains, and we’ve got to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to protect our winters and to protect our climate and be a leader in that field.”
When it comes to protecting democracy, politics needs to move beyond the current system that he says incentivizes extremism and division.
“We can do things in the state house, whether it be cumulative voting, or rank-choice voting, that takes some of this toxic extremism on both sides out of the equation,” he said.
At the same time, there are opportunities to work across the aisle on those same issues, Buerger said.
“A lot of that is just about showing up,” he said, referring to recent visits he had with the Holy Cross Cattlemen’s Association and with leaders in the local Latino business community.
”You have to show up and listen to every voice in our district, and then find where you have common ground,” Buerger said. “If we can be respectful and reach out and listen, I think we can move good policy. We can’t continue to divide people into ever smaller groups or representation.”
Recently, Buerger earned the endorsement of the Colorado Chamber of Commerce, and has lined up the endorsements of several elected officials from within the house district.
“Making sure that we have a thriving community means making sure that we have a good business climate,” he said. “I will always be on the side of higher wages, great jobs, benefits that mean people can live and exist where they work.
“But if we are going to diversify our economy further and make sure that we are not a boom and bust economy, we’ve got to make sure that the business climate is good for small businesses and medium-sized businesses alike.”
On the housing front, Buerger said the state can assist by creating incentives and eliminating revenue limits for municipalities to raise funds to complete public-private partnership projects.
“That would allow them a much more sustainable revenue stream than having to wait on the next grant,” he said.
When it comes to water policy, the key is working with downstream users in the Colorado River Basin to renegotiate the Colorado River Compact, he said.
“We have to work with downstream states like California and Arizona to embrace new sources, including desalination projects,” Buerger said. “With the growth that we’re seeing in the southwest, there simply isn’t enough water in the Colorado (River), and we’ve got to figure out ways to add additional water supplies to these downstream systems.”
Senior Reporter/Managing Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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