Meet the candidates: A Q&A with Colorado Senate District 8 primary hopefuls | PostIndependent.com
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Meet the candidates: A Q&A with Colorado Senate District 8 primary hopefuls

Colorado Senate District 8 candidates, clockwise from top left, Debra Irvine, Bob Rankin, Karl Hanlon and Arn Menconi.
Learn more about the SD8 candidates Bob Rankin: votebobrankin.com Debra Irvine: irvineforcolorado.com Arn Menconi: arnmenconi.com Karl Hanlon: karlhanlon.com

Voters in the seven counties included in Colorado Senate District 8 are currently deciding the Democrat and Republican nominees in balloting that concludes in one week on June 30. The primary winners will advance to the Nov. 3 general election.

Vying for the Republican nomination are incumbent state Sen. Bob Rankin of Carbondale, and challenger Debra Irvine from Breckenridge.

On the Democratic Party primary ballot are Glenwood Springs water and municipal attorney Karl Hanlon and former Eagle County commissioner Arn Menconi, both of whom reside in the Carbondale area.

Ballots should be in the hands of all registered voters at this time. Registered Democrats and Republicans may only vote on their party’s primary ballot, while unaffiliated votes must choose one or the other to complete and return by 7 p.m. on June 30.

The Post Independent requested a biography and statement from each of the candidates, and posed the following questions for each candidate to answer.

REPUBLICAN CANDIDATES

Bob Rankin: I’m asking for your vote and promising to continue to serve you with the same hard work and principled leadership that I’ve demonstrated in eight years of service to western Colorado. As an engineering student, Army officer, systems engineer, and corporate CEO, I learned that complex problems do not have simple solutions. Humans have tended to create more complex solutions to problems of governance and then struggle to make them work by adding more complexity. I find myself working on the state’s $34 billion budget and focusing on education reforms and health care affordability. That focus has had the result of turning a part-time legislative job into full-time labor. I’ll continue that level of commitment.

Debra Irvine: I am running to be of service. My family has a long history of military, diplomatic and community service. My work experience complements our district and a position as state senator. This includes work on a suicide hotline, administrator of a defense contracting firm where I held a top secret clearance, co-director of fundraising for an international school athletics program, foreign language instructor, professional ski instructor. For six years, my late husband and I represented our nation during his diplomatic position. Among my principles and values are quality education, personal responsibility, a free market, defending life, limited government and gun rights.

DEMOCRATIC CANDIDATES

Karl Hanlon: I was born and raised in Jackson County in a ranching family. In the ‘90s I was a park ranger who helped work on moose reintroduction. After attending law school in Portland, I made my home in Garfield County to work as a water attorney and live on a ranch, where my wife, myself and my children currently run a nonprofit called Smiling Goat Ranch, which works with kids with autism and vets with PTSD. In my legal practice, I serve as municipal attorney for several municipalities on the Western Slope — most recently helping them develop policies to mitigate COVID-19. 

Arn Menconi: As a progressive, I have never been a conventional politician; because conventional party politicians are failing us. I am a two-term Eagle County Commissioner from 2001 to 2009. I have a Masters in Business Administration from the University of Denver. I founded in 1993 a national sports-based youth development non-profit, SOS Outreach that is still running strong in over 22 ski resorts in America. I am blessed to be the father of a 15-year old daughter and 13-year old son. I have lived in the high country of Colorado since 1993 and live in Carbondale.

How would you work to help Colorado’s mountain resort communities recover from the coronavirus shutdown?

Hanlon: The most immediate hurdle is getting federal relief funds fully distributed to local governments and school districts. Next is working with local businesses to find creative ways to successfully reopen and keep locals and visitors safe. Engaging businesses and communities not only now but looking ahead to the winter season is critical. These are unprecedented times and working together is the best path to success.

Menconi: The Legislature has control over the budget and could have carved out a portion of the $1.674 billion in federal emergency funds received from the CARES Act to support local governments. I’d work with my colleagues to: 1. create enabling legislation to help these communities tax second homeowners and short term rentals more fairly, and 2. advocate for the repeal of backwards-looking policies like TABOR and Gallagher that have hamstrung local governments in their efforts. 

Irvine: We need to open for business as soon as possible, if not immediately. County officials have been given the power to do so by Gov. Polis. The longer we keep businesses closed, the more may have to declare bankruptcy. This is not a concern solely for our mountain communities, this is a statewide concern. As with natural disasters, businesses can fail two years after a crisis. There was inequity in which stores could remain open.

Rankin: Rapid economic recovery is the key ingredient. New taxes will only slow return of jobs and tax revenues. We need to safely get back to work as swiftly as possible.

What do you see as the legislature’s role in crafting policy to help slow the spread of COVID-19?

Menconi: On state level, public health is managed by Department of Public Health & Environment. County commissioners, acting as the Board of Health, implement these mandates as they see fit. I support local control and believe that counties should be on the front lines of crafting COVID-19 health policy. There is no “one size fits all” solution. The legislature’s role should be supporting counties (particularly financially) as they make tough decisions about how to keep their communities safe.

Hanlon: It’s the legislature’s job to protect public health, keep the economy afloat, and deliver funding and services to help families and small businesses survive economically. What is not helpful is legislators, like incumbent Bob Rankin, politically attacking state government’s successful and science-driven emergency measures that have saved lives. Jobs won’t come back if the public doesn’t believe leaders aren’t prioritizing their health and safety.

Rankin: We have to end the emergency declaration so that the legislature actually has a role. Supporting businesses in every form will help.

Irvine: This is a question better suited for Gov. Polis. Should we see another viral onslaught, I see him taking the same emergency authority as was enacted with this last pandemic. I would hope there would be better communication, and compilation, of information regarding any future outbreak. There was much conflicting information regarding transfer of the virus on surfaces, from asymptomatic people, whether masks were effective, etc. I would like to see greater county crisis decision-making.

How should the state approach budget reductions brought on by the economic impact of the COVID-19 response? Would you support changing or repealing the Gallagher amendment?

Hanlon: Repealing the Gallagher Amendment is a first step. Colorado needs fiscal reform. Budgeting-by-band-aid has gotten this state through the last decade on the back of a booming economy. In a crisis, the state’s antiquated fiscal rules are making it impossible for local governments and school districts to stabilize our communities and restart the economy. We need a fairer tax code, fiscal reform and to close tax loopholes exploited by big out-of-state corporations.

Menconi: I would strongly support repealing the Gallagher Amendment. As a two-term county commissioner, I’ve seen first-hand how difficult it is to for communities to utilize property tax as a revenue stream, given the disproportionate burden the Gallagher amendment places on commercial property owners. I believe in fair taxation and would work to repeal any legislation that singles out any particular group and places an undue tax burden on them.

Irvine: We must take note that our money was overspent by nearly $2 billion before the pandemic. The ramifications from the economic shutdown have not fully been felt. Coloradans must adjust their home budgets in the event of a crisis; so should government. We need to get back to the basics; that is, what essentials is our state responsible for funding? There will be a ballot measure to eliminate/keep Gallagher and, while it addresses a four-year freeze on residential and commercial tax rates, thereafter, the legislature has the power to raise tax rates. We could return to the 21% residential rate before Gallagher was passed. It is important to note that commercial property includes minerals and the concerted effort to decrease fossil fuel production has greatly decreased the commercial tax rate ratio.

Rankin: I have long supported Gallagher repeal. I’ll support western Colorado on the Joint Budget Committee to preserve education, senior exemption, and lower health care costs.

Do you support the police reform bill recently signed into law? What, if any, additional steps should be taken?

Menconi: Absolutely. I think the next step needs to be demilitarizing the police. There is no reason local departments need the same type of vehicles and equipment we see our armed forces using overseas. Police abuse cases need independent prosecutors. On a national level, I support the work of Sen. Kamala Harris on changing “necessary” to “reasonable” standard of force. This has to be changed to stop cases of charging police with a crime going to the Supreme Court.

Hanlon: I supported SB-217. It is a historic piece of legislation and the broad bipartisan support it drew is a good step to start healing the divides in our society. We must do more. I am committed to eradicating systemic racism. Americans have risen up in towns both large and small — making it clear to elected officials that we can no longer tolerate a double-standard justice system that penalizes citizens for the color of their skin.

Rankin: Yes, I voted for it after it was amended. It’s a good bill that will probably be reviewed in the next session for some improvements. The bill had bi-partisan support after significant amendments were added.

Irvine: The law enforcement reform bill was never considered before the end of this session and was a knee-jerk reaction to a horrific crime by a police officer. My father was 30 years as a military policeman and criminal investigator. Members of law enforcement are dedicated to protecting lives and communities. While reform, and/or procedural changes, may need to take place, this should be a thoughtful, collaborative effort between law enforcement and others.

How would you address education funding in Colorado, especially as it relates to the state’s low nationwide ranking for teacher pay?

Hanlon: Our state budget has been held together with duct tape and bailing wire, which has left our teachers out in the cold and made it easier for neighboring states to hire away great teachers. The legislature can start by passing the Educator Pay Raise Fund bill next year. Too many Colorado teachers work two or three jobs and many face homelessness. We also need a fairer tax code so we can invest in putting great teachers into classrooms.

Menconi: We must invest in our rural districts, and that starts with paying teachers what they deserve in order to attract and retain teachers in rural communities. I support closing tax loopholes that was attempted by the legislators this past session and will be in favor when it is brought back next year. Past that, we must reform TABOR because failed statewide ballot measures are not getting the job done.

Irvine: Teacher pay is not a legislative focus, it is the responsibility of school districts. I look at this issue logically. Let’s say monies allocated per student is $15,000. If there are 20 students in a particular classroom, that amounts to $300,000 per classroom. If the teacher is paid $50,000, for example, where is the remaining $250,000 going? I have watched administrative costs increase and that can take funding away from the classroom. Funding allocation transparency is important.

Rankin: There are fundamental disparities in our taxing system and our spending formula. I’ve been a leader in advocating for change to support equal opportunity for all our kids, especially in rural districts. 

What projects related to the I-70 transportation corridor would you be looking to move forward, and how? 

Menconi: We can start with repairing our broken infrastructure. In addition, I support CDOT’s plans for fixing pinch points at Floyd Hill estimated to cost upwards of $600 million. Past that, we need to look to the future of high-speed rail powered by clean power. These types of green new projects will be what transitions us from a fossil fuel to a green economy plus creating jobs like FDR did with the New Deal.

Hanlon: We learned during the Great Depression that a way to invest in the future, create jobs now, and bring our economy back is to invest in infrastructure. In the short-term, prioritizing repair and maintenance on the I-70 corridor over Front Range projects is critical. Over the long term we need to be looking at alternatives to bring people to the mountain resorts that do not rely on individual cars.

Rankin: I travel on I-70 often. Vail Pass and a third lane between Morrison and the tunnel need work. Road work also needs attention through Glenwood Canyon.  

Irvine: In my nearly 20 years in Summit County, the I-70 corridor has been a topic of discussion. Allocation of funding is key to addressing many problems, not just transportation-related ones. I recall Referendum C. It was to address transportation and education. Coloradans voted for it, to give TABOR surplus, for the state to spend, for five years. Instead of going toward new projects, it was largely spent on backlogged projects. Again, transparency and proper allocation of funds is essential.

How do you think the state of Colorado should replace or revitalize local revenues brought in by oil and gas development?

Hanlon: We need to start by acknowledging that the changes in the industry are being driven by market forces. The future of energy is moving to renewable sources, and we must take advantage of development in that sector for jobs as well as investing in and recruiting new industries that can take advantage of the skills our workers have. The repeal of the Gallagher Amendment is critical to stabilizing local tax revenue. 

Menconi: Invest in our booming renewable energy sector immediately – both infrastructure and operation funding to replace the revenue lost by fossil fuel firms going bankrupt. Garfield County will end up like Craig if we don’t transition fast to replace the jobs and rebuild communities oil and gas leaves behind. I am in favor of a Green New Deal and the science proving we must cut greenhouse emissions 45% by 2030 and net zero by 2050.

Irvine: I support our fossil fuel industry. I testified before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for the Jordan Cove LNG Project. It will bring much revenue to our district. Property and severance tax revenue is valuable to communities; for schools, hospitals, social programs, etc. Not every county has the ski industry for financial support. In many of our counties, fossil fuel revenue is vital. In SD8, oil and gas revenue is extremely important to Jackson County.

Rankin: Remote work has been popular after the crisis. Tourism, retirement, innovative housing solutions, along with great schools, and lower health care costs, will drive people to rural areas.


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