Wilson’s short road to the state House
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – A year ago, with retirement looming on the not-too-distant horizon, Roger Wilson had begun thinking about involving himself more in public service.
Little did he know at the time what would lie ahead in the coming months, as that journey into public service eventually landed the 11-year Glenwood Springs-area resident in the Colorado Legislature as the House District 61 representative.
“I had no idea I’d be serving in an elected office,” said Wilson, a Democrat who emerged the victor in a highly competitive three-way race in last fall’s election over incumbent HD 61 Rep. Kathleen Curry, who ran as an independent write-in candidate, and Republican Luke Korkowski.
“I knew I wanted to do something in public service, working on the kinds of issues I’m now going to be working on as a member of the state Legislature,” Wilson said in a recent interview with the Post Independent.
That included a strong desire to protect the natural landscapes, water and recreational resources that define the sprawling legislative district, which encompasses much of Garfield County, including Silt, New Castle, Glenwood Springs and Carbondale, the Roaring Fork Valley portion of Eagle County, and all of Pitkin, Gunnison and Hinsdale counties.
It was partly because of the political fallout from Curry’s decision to leave the Democratic Party in late 2009 and become an independent that Wilson decided to attend the Democratic precinct caucuses last April. There, he was approached by local party officials about seeking the nomination to run for the house seat.
The 63-year-old Missouri Heights resident won the support of 70 percent of the party’s delegates at the state assembly that May. He went on to win the Nov. 2 election by some 300 votes over Curry, following a court-ordered hand count of under-voted ballots cast in the election that contained write-in votes for Curry.
Wilson works out of his home for the most part as chief technical officer for Starfall Education, a reading education website for children in grades 1-3. He also works for Boulder-based Blue Mountain Arts, which specializes in greeting cards.
He will be sworn in this morning as part of the 68th Colorado General Assembly freshman class at the state Capitol in Denver.
Wilson recalled one conversation with a local constituent shortly after the election in which he was accused of being a carpet-bagger, since he hadn’t lived in the valley long enough to be considered a “local.”
“I find that odd,” Wilson said. “It’s almost a competition to see just how local you are. Back in 1968, when you came to Aspen or Boulder, all you needed was a mustache, a pickup truck and a dog to fit in.”
What really matters in representing an area such as the Roaring Fork or Gunnison river valleys is an understanding of the issues and the people those issues affect, he said.
When not in Denver, Wilson plans to visit with different groups of people within his district every couple of weeks, and will be scheduling a series of town hall meetings and open forums on specific issues in each of the major towns at least every month.
On the issues, Wilson is prepared to introduce bills related to water quality monitoring around natural gas frac’ing operations and creating an infrastructure to support the use of electric vehicles around the state. Other issues of importance, which are likely to lead to specific bills, include in-stream water flows and tourism, he said.
Wilson views this district in particular as a model for renewable energy and sustainability education, and says he will work to foster the efforts of educational institutions such as Colorado Mountain College and Western State College, and hands-on learning institutes such as Solar Energy International in Carbondale.
But, while renewable energy such as solar and wind is important, it’s also important to continue to work on developing traditional energy resources, such as natural gas, in the cleanest way possible. Wilson noted that he supported a piece of legislation last year to convert some of the state’s coal-fired power plants to natural gas.
Wilson said he supports the recently adopted state oil and gas regulations, which former Rep. Curry was instrumental in getting passed, but said the bureaucracy may need to be reviewed.
“We want to have policies that are flexible to the private sector and create an environment that’s fair and provides guidance to industry,” he said. “The regulations themselves are meant to protect the public, property owners and the state, and I wouldn’t pull back on them. But I would like to make sure they’re properly implemented.”
Wilson has been appointed by the Democratic leadership to serve on the House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources and Business Development committees, two positions he feels will be critical to regional interests.
When it comes to the pending state budget discussions, Wilson said he wants to gain a better understanding of why Colorado ranks where it does compared to other states in spending for certain programs, such as K-12 and higher education.
“Before we can address it, we have to understand why we’re 49th in the nation in spending for K-12 education. What are the reasons, and what are the consequences,” he said. “It’s the same with higher education. We have to ask what that means for the future of jobs in Colorado.”
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