State Senate District 8 candidates spar over popular vote, public option health insurance during debate |

State Senate District 8 candidates spar over popular vote, public option health insurance during debate

John Stroud
Glenwood Springs Post Independent

GLENWOOD SPRINGS — Karl Hanlon, the Democratic challenger for Colorado’s Senate District 8 against incumbent Republican Bob Rankin, said he supports a statewide public health insurance option as a way to make costs equitable for the Western Slope.

“My colleagues offered a public option, which I oppose,” stated Rankin, the Republican former House District 57 representative who was appointed to the Senate District 8 seat last year and is now seeking formal election.

“I had been part of the bipartisan team up to that point but departed on the public option because it sets price controls and mandatory participation,” Rankin said.

Asked if he supports a public health insurance option, Hanlon said he does as long as it’s one “that works out here in western Colorado.”

Under Colorado’s private insurance marketplace, Connect for Health, Hanlon noted that for a family of four in Senate District 8 to purchase a catastrophic health insurance plan it would cost $1,800 per month plus an $8,000 deductible.

“I’m a proponent of taking steps that absolutely reduce costs, and that would be the public option,” Hanlon said.

Hanlon also said he’s not sure he could support Rankin’s Cost of Care bill in place of the public option, calling it “an industry-drafted bill that’s favorable again to the Front Range and doesn’t really work out here.”

“A state option is a way to get there,” Hanlon said.

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The question was posed during the cross-examination portion of Saturday’s Club 20 debates, where candidates were allowed to ask questions of each other.

The debates were held live in Grand Junction at Colorado Mesa University and web-streamed for viewers on Club 20’s Facebook page and YouTube channel.

Rankin and Hanlon both hail from the Carbondale area and are vying in the Nov. 3 election for the Senate District 8 seat, which includes Garfield, Grand, Jackson, Moffat, Rio Blanco, Routt and Summit counties.

Hanlon is a municipal and special district government and water attorney and — with his wife, Sheryl Barto — runs the Smiling Goat Ranch, providing equine therapy services for children with autism and veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Rankin is a former small-business owner and military veteran who has served 10 years in the Colorado Legislature and is the senior member of the Joint Budget Committee. His wife, Joyce Rankin, serves on the state Board of Education from the Third District.

Popular vote for president

In the debate, Hanlon and Rankin also differed on the question of support for Colorado’s National Popular Vote question, Proposition 113.

“I think it’s in fact unconstitutional,” Rankin said about the provision that several states are considering to do away with the Electoral College system of deciding the office of president of the United States in favor of using the nationwide popular vote.

“The Constitution does not allow a state to modify the federal Constitution. That’s what this does,” Rankin said, offering that it likely will be challenged and overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court if it passes.

“I do not want us to be a subsidiary of California,” Rankin said in an oft-repeated argument that the popular vote would give too much power to more-populated and generally more liberal states.

Hanlon said the popular vote is more relevant today than when the Electoral College was created.

“I think it’s clear at this point, and Colorado is a great example where we have fantastic, safe voting — that we have a system where every person’s vote counts,” Hanlon said.

Education funding

In his cross-examination question of Rankin, Hanlon asked whether the incumbent supports a private voucher system for K-12 education.

“You were the co-author of a July 28 letter to Gov. (Jared) Polis asking for a special session to discuss a voucher program while school districts out here were hurting so badly for funding,” Hanlon said. “Explain that.”

Rankin said the word “voucher” was not used in requesting that discussion. Rather, it was meant to address the special needs of school districts that are having to deal with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“What’s happening is parents are realizing that they have options,” Rankin said, noting that the advent of online learning opens up a lot of choices for parents. “We need to give parents options for what they want to do. Why should they not be able to choose options for their kids?”

Hanlon said any diversion of state education funds for private education options serves to reduce funding for school districts and caters to Front Range interests.

Budget priorities

Both Rankin and Hanlon said they support the repeal of the Gallagher Amendment (on the Nov. 3 ballot as Amendment B) related to the ratcheting down of the statewide residential property tax assessment rate.

“The problem with Gallagher is … the statewide calculation (of the residential assessment rate),” Rankin said, adding that the difference between urban and rural property valuations was never considered when the law was passed in the early 1980s.

“If we don’t do this, we will have a half-billion dollar hit to our school budget that the state does not have the money to replace,” Rankin said. “Fire departments are out there selling fire trucks in anticipation of this not being passed, so it’s very important to stabilize our property tax situation in the state.”

Hanlon agreed.

“If we don’t take these steps to repeal Gallagher, with a clean repeal, … we’re facing a truly critical situation here on the Western Slope where education, fire departments, water and wastewater services are going to be cut,” Hanlon said.

When it comes to prioritizing state budget decisions coming out of the pandemic-caused recession, both candidates also agreed that economic recovery and jobs creation will need to come first.

Once the economy rebounds, Rankin said that restoring K-12 funding will be the first priority and that transportation is close on its heels along with health care and insurance concerns.

“Then, we’ve got about four more years of worrying about the priorities that fall below the big ones,” he said, mentioning funding to serve people with intellectual and developmental disabilities as a cause he has championed.

“We can’t just go after the priorities everyone thinks about,” Rankin said. “We’ve got to take care of those folks who need taken care of, without wasteful spending.”

Hanlon agreed that restoring K-12 funding will need to be the top priority, and he added to the list economic recovery programs related to the “health and well-being of the people of Colorado.”

“We also can’t lose track of climate change and how that’s affecting Senate District 8, water being one impact,” Hanlon said. “Public lands, water — those are the things that will allow us to continue to move forward and for working families to continue to be successful.”

Rankin said the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources is “a big deal” on the climate front but also on the jobs front.

“We have to help the people who are impacted by that,” he said.

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