House District 61 candidates McCluskie and McGahey debate health insurance, pandemic response

House District 61 candidates spar over health insurance, pandemic response

David Krause
The Aspen Times

ASPEN — During her first term as Colorado House District 61 representative, Democrat Julie McCluskie has worked on lowering insurance costs and expanding options for rural and mountain towns, but her opponent in this year’s race for the seat said that work should not be done by the state. 

Kim McGahey, the Republican challenger, said Saturday during a debate that government should stay out of the way of businesses as much as possible and that “the solution is in the private sector. … Socialized health care has not worked anywhere in the world, and it will not work in Colorado.”

He went on to say the state does not offer “the right mix of services and costs, and I think it’s going to be out of control if the state of Colorado goes to a universal health care situation, same as it is out of control in our country as a whole.”

McCluskie, the Democrat who won the seat in 2018 by more than 27 percentage points, pointed to her work on the reinsurance program that she “championed in 2019 and expanded in 2020” and its role in dropping rates 30% for those on the Western Slope.

The debate was hosted by Club 20, a Western Slope nonprofit that is a coalition of individuals and local groups in the state’s 22 western counties. District 61 covers Pitkin, Lake, Summit, Gunnison and Delta counties. 

In addition to keeping health insurance in the private market, McGahey, a real estate agent in Summit County for more than three decades, also defended his desire to put armed teachers in schools and questioned the “unauthorized power grab” of the governor during the pandemic. 

McGahey said his No. 1 priority if elected would be to limit the emergency powers of the governor. He said Gov. Jared Polis has overstepped his authority during the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

“Our founding fathers gave us remarkable gifts of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Yet, now Gov. Polis has taken a lot of that liberty away from us with his unnecessary and likely unconstitutional emergency powers,” McGahey said. “And there has not been one peep from the Democratic-run Colorado state Legislature or from my liberal opponent to halt this unauthorized and un-American power grab.” 

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McCluskie, who chairs the appropriations committee and sits on the joint budget committee, said the state’s response to the pandemic and the funding has helped Colorado businesses weather the storm.

“I believe we have taken the appropriate and important next steps on public health protocols to ensure that our businesses can begin to reopen,” she said. “Across House District 61, tourism and outdoor recreation is thriving, and that’s because we’ve been able to maintain and keep the disease at lower rates.” 

As for public safety, McGahey said the streets of Denver are unsafe because the Democrats in the state have not done anything about the “violent rioters.”

“This mayhem could be coming to a ski town or a ranch town near you sooner than you think,” he said. 

He referenced the Summit County Republicans’ annual picnic in July at the Thank You Lord Ranch in Silverthorne with Sen. Cory Gardner. McGahey said protesters with antifa flags were “giving the finger to 70-year-old women and calling them f-ing B’s.”

During the section where the candidates asked each other questions, McCluskie went after McGahey’s desire to arm teachers in schools. She cited a report that states 86% of teachers said they would feel less safe if teachers were carrying guns.

McCluskie was a teacher for more than a decade in Summit County, and McGahey has served on the Summit County school board. He said having concealed carry teachers in schools is important and that there should be an armed guard at the door and only one open door in and out of a school as “a way to keep the bad guys away.”

“When bad guys see a sign that says ‘no gun zone,’ that invites violence, that invites mayhem, and that’s not what we want,” he said.

McCluskie agreed there should be school resource officers but not teachers with guns. She said she supports law enforcement and pointed to the Fraternal Order of Police’s endorsement of her.

In his closing remarks, McGahey said he supports defending, not defunding, the police; passing Proposition 115, which would prohibit abortions after 22 weeks; and the electoral college. He said he does not support the national popular vote movement that was passed by the Colorado Legislature because it will “disenfranchise all of us from voting.” (Proposition 113 calls for all of Colorado’s electoral votes to go to the winner of the national popular vote.)

He said the Colorado economy should reopen immediately without any restrictions and that he would work to erase “the Democrats’ corona-phobia fearmongering.”

“Colorado is a pretty state, but it’s pretty screwed up politically right now,” he said in closing. “I’ll be a conservative voice for the Western Slope and an independent thinker stemming the tide of the liberal takeover of our individual rights.”

McCluskie finished by saying the state needs to “govern in a way that balances the public health need with our economic recovery.” 

“My opponent has talked about me being part of the source behind violent rioters that he saw in Silverthorne. He has talked about his commitment to freedom, to capitalism,” she said. “I am committed to the people that I serve. Two years ago, I was hired to do the job that turned out to be the very best one I’ve ever had in my life.”

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