Incumbent State Rep. J. Paul Brown, a Republican, and Democratic challenger Barbara McLachlan answered questions at the Sept. 22 candidate forum hosted by the La Plata -Archuleta Cattlemen's Association.
Audience members asked questions to specific candidates, so candidates were not always answering the same questions.
Brown was first elected to the legislature in 2010. He was beaten in 2012 by Mike McLachlan, Barbara McLachlan's husband. Brown won back the seat in 2014 by a narrow district-wide margin.
Public school funding is a major issue for both Brown, who was on the Ignacio School Board for 12 years, and for Barbara McLachlan, who taught at Durango High School for 20 years.
"Rural areas need their fair share of school funding," McLachlan said, citing the "Negative Factor" where the legislature has cut per-pupil funding to districts each year since the recession.
Brown said, "In my mind, the Negative Factor is unconstitutional." He also objected to unfunded mandates imposed on school districts, and to Common Core "because it's one thing for all districts. We need to give more flexibility to districts."
Asked about students who aren't going to college, McLachlan said, "It would be a great goal for all of us to educate our kids that they can come back and start a business or work with their families. Internships are fabulous."
DHS used to have them before budget cuts, she said. "We need to open up those opportunities for kids to do something other than college."
Brown also supports student apprenticeship programs so students can work with businesses.
Brown and McLachlan differed on climate change.
"We need to work toward (controlling climate change)," McLachlan said. "It will affect all of us." She supports the governor's Clean Power Plan, "anything we can do to clean up our state. If we use all our resources now, we've made a major mistake." She also said federal lands should stay under federal control. "Public lands are our treasure. It would be foolish to have them go to the state which can barely balance its budget," she said.
Brown was asked if he believes in human-caused climate change. He said, "There's been climate change for millennia. Climate change chased the Anasazi out. What kind of carbon input caused that? I believe in 'all the above' as far as energy is concerned. I don't like rules and regulations that put coal miners out of a job."
McLachlan said her campaign wasn't responsible for campaign mailers that said Brown is selling West Slope water to the Front Range. It was from an independent group that her campaign isn't allowed to talk to, she said.
Brown said, "We aren't selling any water to the Front Range. We're trying to save water." He cited his water storage study bill approved by the legislature this year to quantify Front Range water flowing out of state for lack of storage.
McLachlan said she is a fourth-generation Coloradan. She promised to "fight for the West Slope, the (59th legislative) district, schools, jobs that pay a living wage. ... I know the importance of a tireless work ethic, working with a wide variety of people and helping the next generation succeed."
Along with water and schools, Brown said roads are one of his concerns. "I was a county commissioner (in the early 1990s). Roads are a passion of mine. We're falling farther behind on our highways. One reason we're asking for a county property tax increase (for roads and bridges) is because the state hasn't properly funded the Highway Users Tax Fund (HUTF)."
He supports Amendment 71 to raise the requirements to get state constitutional amendments on the ballot and to require 55 percent voter approval instead of a majority vote. He urged people to vote for that. But he totally opposes Amendment 69, ColoradoCare to create a single payer health care system in the state. It taxes all forms of income, including retirement income, and it will break the state financially, he asserted. He drew applause when he said, "I hope there isn't one person in here that will vote for 69."
On Amendment 70 to raise the minimum wage in Colorado, he said, "The minimum wage isn't a living wage. It's for kids starting work. If you get it too high, businesses can't afford to hire someone with no experience."
He was asked if there are any agricultural subsidies that he considers wasteful or unnecessary. He said, "I don't believe in subsidies." But he said his family was able to stay in the sheep ranching business because of federal programs, especially during the 2002 drought.
He was asked about being a political insider after four years in the legislature. He said, "You need to be in there to understand how things work. I'm a rancher. I deal with regulations, taxes, federal bureaucrats. That's helped me as a legislator. I don't feel that I'm an insider. I don't do everything the Republican Party says."
The League of Women Voters will host a candidate forum at Bayfield Town Hall from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 5.
Coverage of the county commissioner candidates who spoke at the Cattlemen forum will be in an upcoming issue of the Times.