Gloves come off in District 61 race
The man trying to unseat Glenwood Springs Republican Gregg Rippy in the state legislature sought to draw sharp distinctions between them during a debate Saturday in Grand Junction.
Rick Davis, a Democrat and Glenwood Springs City Council member, criticized state Rep. Rippy’s positions on education, water, transportation, women’s and children’s health issues, affordable housing, “and the list goes on,” he told members of the Club 20 Western Slope lobbying group.
“I would vote contrary to the way our current representative votes,” Davis said.
Rippy countered that he has been a strong advocate for western Colorado in the legislature, serving on numerous legislative committees to provide a voice for this part of the state.
“I interject myself everywhere I can to represent western Colorado,” he said.
Rippy and Davis are squaring off in the House District 61 race. The newly redrawn district includes eastern Garfield County, starting just west of Silt, and also includes all of Pitkin, Gunnison and Hinsdale counties.
Rippy formerly was the 57th District representative, prior to redistricting following the 2000 census.
In introductory remarks, Davis immediately went after Rippy’s record in several areas. He said the incumbent voted for bonding for “unspecified reservoirs in unspecified areas” in this drought year, for more roads and not mass transit, and for charter schools over public education.
Davis and Rippy differed on the idea of creating a statewide water plan. Davis said one is needed, and that the state needs to set basic mandates regarding growth and use of natural resources.
“The Western Slope shouldn’t suffer for uncontrolled Front Range growth,” he said.
But Rippy contended that a statewide plan wouldn’t be workable, and would prove to be a “de facto growth plan.”
“When a state plan directs growth, we have winners and we have losers,” he said.
It’s better to have plans within individual watersheds, and then let watersheds come together to work on a broader-scale basis, he said.
Rippy added, “We have a court system that works very well on water in western Colorado. Let’s not forget that, let’s not shunt it aside; let it do its job.”
On education, Davis called for putting more money into classrooms by cutting class sizes, increasing salaries and improving curriculum.
He deplored the fact that Colorado has one of the highest dropout rates in the nation, and ranks 44th in teacher wages.
“Is this acceptable to you? It’s not to me.”
He expressed concern about “the movement to privatize public schools.”
“The public school system is our birthright, and we must protect it, preserve it and keep it public,” he said.
He said what funding increases public schools have been receiving have been due mostly to Amendment 23, and not legislative action.
But Rippy said Gov. Bill Owens has been fully funding education. Last year, per pupil funding went up 5.7 percent, he said.
While every other department in the state suffered budget cuts this year, education dollars increased, said Rippy.
“We’ve made the commitment above and beyond Amendment 23,” he said.
But he added, “We can’t solve all the problems with checkbooks.”
Parents are needed in the classroom, and must make their children accountable and properly discipline them, he said.
He said Meeker “far outperformed Cherry Creek” in student testing.
“Do you think it’s because they pay their teachers more? … No, it’s because their parents are involved.”
Defending his record on education, Rippy called himself “very much a public education proponent.”
On health care, Davis said he has been personally affected as an employer by continually increasing insurance rates.
“Our deductibles are higher than ever and our coverage is less than ever,” he said.
But he added, “I’m one of the lucky ones because I still have insurance on the Western Slope.”
Some others, he said, must choose between buying health insurance and buying groceries.
Colorado’s car insurance rates are high as well, he said.
“Who is working on this? Who are the leaders leading the charge on this? I say none.”
He said that so far the legislature has reformed health care insurance by tweaking it.
“Every time they tweak it, it gets worse,” he said.
The problem, he said, is that the insurance industry is being allowed to drive any new legislation, when more widespread participation is required for true reform.
Rippy said he, too, recognizes the extent of the problem, having once provided insurance for more than 100 employees before he sold one of his companies.
“I know the pain, I felt it,” he said.
But already, he said, “stakeholders” representing public employees, Rocky Mountain HMO, Valley View Hospital in Glenwood and others are meeting monthly to address the problem.
It’s not just a local or even state problem, he said.
“We are seeing this nationwide.”
But part of the problem is the high amount of use of the health care system by patients, he said.
“We are all at fault here. Insurance companies aren’t the bad guys.”
The challenge is how to split up the available pool of money for health care, said Rippy.
“That’s not an easy thing to do,” he said, but he promised that a solution will be found.
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