Longtime Summit County resident Julie McCluskie seeks House District 61 seat | SummitDaily.com

Longtime Summit County resident Julie McCluskie seeks House District 61 seat

A garden is a lot like a developing community for longtime Summit County resident Julie McCluskie, and its her hope to soon dig her fingers further into the ground to help the state's mountain region flourish.

"I love that lifecycle, what I can grow and eat — that sustainability of doing something with my own two hands," said the spokeswoman for the Summit School District. "The smell of the earth and dirt, and bringing something to life is really powerful. Plus we get some good veggies."

The 53-year-old homeowner in the Summit Cove neighborhood near Dillon with her husband of 31 years announced her candidacy for State House District 61 that comprises Summit County last week in preparation of the 2018 election. Current officeholder, Rep. Millie Hamner, a Democrat and the former Summit School District superintendent, will leave the seat in January 2019 when she becomes term-limited.

The vacancy created a window of opportunity which McCluskie, also a Democrat, felt was too great to pass up. After decades of assisting others on their political campaigns dating back as far back as 1980s, she finally decided to throw her hat into the ring and make a run at the elected office.

“I really believe to be good at this job, I’ve got to invest in understanding the needs of all of the communities that are in this district. In doing that, certainly, my goal is to represent those needs, those hopes at the state level.”Julie McCluskieCandidate for House District 61

The native Coloradan and mother of two adult children admits she's nervous, but also excited, to aid communities along the Western Slope in finding solutions to some of their expanding number of obstacles. It's a turbulent political climate both locally and nationally, but that's a challenge for which McCluskie thinks careers in communications, public education and hospitality management has equipped her well.

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"I think to be successful now more than ever, it takes a commitment to collaboration, it takes a commitment to partnership," she said. "I really believe to be good at this job, I've got to invest in understanding the needs of all of the communities that are in this district. In doing that, certainly, my goal is to represent those needs, those hopes at the state level."

Specifically, McCluskie would plan to address such issues as keeping housing and health care in the rural, mountain areas affordable, as well as maintaining a strong public education system. She also knows that water, the environment and transportation are critical to the region that includes Aspen, Crested Butte, parts of Gunnison and Leadville, among others.

"Each of them is so different in their character, in what they want for the citizens in their community," said McCluskie. "I think that's probably the most challenging job in representation right now, but I take it seriously. I have work to do."

Nearly a decade in her present role with Summit schools was bisected by two and a half years down at the Capitol working for Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia. It was a perfect fit for McCluskie, who got to match wits with Colorado's second-in-command on launching several statewide education initiatives.

From Garcia and her time in Denver, McCluskie said she learned about the amount of persistence and dedication it takes to get buy in on legislation and then see it passed. A bill to offer in-state tuition to undocumented students was one Garcia, in office January 2011 to May 2016, fought to have become law for years before ultimately seeing it come to fruition. That level of patience and perseverance — not unlike the bringing up and nurturing of a tomato plant at altitude — is a long game that she hopes voters give her the chance to play.

"That's what I saw firsthand, is that good policy and doing the right thing takes a lot of work," said McCluskie. "It takes tenacity. If I'm successful, I'm going to continue the same problem-solving, solution-oriented focus that I think has been a part of this district under Millie's leadership."

Hamner has already come out endorsing her would-be successor.

"We are so fortunate that Julie McCluskie has stepped up to serve the great people in our communities at the Capitol," she said in a release on McCluskie's candidacy. "Everyone who knows her will agree that she has what it takes to respond to the needs of this district and to be an effective and influential advocate for us in Denver."

At the moment, other candidates have yet to announce bids for the HD61 seat. In November 2016, Hamner defeated Republican Robert Schutt, an orthopedic surgeon in Crested Butte, by more than 5,000 votes out of a total 43,770 cast. She also fended off Libertarian and Independent candidates in 2014 and 2012.

No matter who may come out of the woodwork and challenge her, McCluskie said she's committed to a platform of relationship building, bipartisanship and listening to all of her constituents. With a willingness to roll up her sleeves and get a little dirt under the fingernails in pursuit of results — be it some fresh greens or cross-party compromises — McCluskie said she's ready for the responsibilities of the public position.

"I believe what I bring to this job better than any other candidate is that commitment and interest in doing what's best for everyone," she said. "That's what's been lost in the political conversations lately and I believe in working with those who disagree with you, those who have different interests than you to find the right solution for your community. I've done that in my job for Summit School District, I've done that locally as a community leader and I'm ready to do that at a bigger, broader level at the state."

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