Water, tourism, health insurance are top issues for new state rep | SummitDaily.com

Water, tourism, health insurance are top issues for new state rep

Carl Miller plans to fight to keep water on the Western Slope and get more funding for tourism

SUMMIT COUNTY – Colorado Sen. Joan Fitz-Gerald and Rep. Carl Miller wasted little time recuperating from a fierce election campaign before heading to Denver Thursday to discuss issues they want to address in January’s legislative session.

Fitz-Gerald and Miller, both Democrats, were re-elected to their seats after the Nov. 5 mid-term election. They defeated Republican Web Sill and Heather Lemon in their respective races.

“It was the toughest election I’ve ever been in, and I’ve been in 10 major elections,” said Miller, whose District 16 was reconfigured after reapportionment. “My new district was 88 percent new, my opponent’s home county made up 52 percent of the new district, and my party registration made up 26 percent of the district. Those factors made it a very difficult race.”

Summit won the race for Miller. While Miller easily won Lake County, the margin was not enough to offset Lemon’s Eagle County margin. Summit, Lake and Eagle comprise Miller’s new 56th District.

Miller’s former district was composed of Lake, Park, Chaffee, Gunnison, Hinsdale, Saguache, Rio Grand, Mineral and the Aspen portion of Pitkin counties.

The Leadville native is known as a conservative Democrat, and believes his new district will, for the most part, retain that character.

“Liberalism doesn’t sell well in Colorado,” he said, adding that left-leaning campaign promises are likely what killed many Democrats’ chances in this week’s election. “I do think the Democratic party on the Front Range is much, much, much too liberal. It better start looking at what people need.”

Topping Miller’s list of what people need is water.

In the next session, he plans to address the Denver Aquifer, a huge body of underground water that sits directly below the metro cities – and one that remains untapped. Miller said water experts have determined it is the size of 15 Lake Powells or 400 Blue Mesa Reservoirs.

Statisticians expect about a million people to move to Colorado by 2025 – and most of those are anticipated to settle on the Front Range.

“They’re going to need water,” Miller said. “I’m going to be pushing for that. I know it’s going to be a challenge; it’s not going to be an easy fight. For Denver, it’s easier and cheaper to just come to the High Country. I want to stop that. I don’t want to export any more water from the High Country.”

Undoubtedly, Miller will be butting heads with Front Range legislators and Gov. Bill Owens. Owens said Thursday water storage will be a priority in his new administration.

Miller also plans to introduce or support a bill to increase funding for tourism.

“In the past, Denver never thought they were affected by tourism this much,” he said, adding that he thinks there should be broad support for it. “They took it for granted. This year, they saw. It’s a big priority.”

Miller plans to tackle health insurance, particularly mandates that require employers to carry coverage for things they don’t want or need, and tort reform and rules and regulations – which, combined, require $1 of every four spent on health insurance premiums.

“All we have to offer the public is Cadillac plans instead of Chevy plans,” Miller said. “It’s trite, but true. Unfortunately, it usually takes a crisis before the legislature acts. I think we’re in a crisis.”

On this issue, Miller and the governor are allies.

Other issues Miller expects to be addressed include transportation and the state’s budget crisis. Growth management, the source of numerous heated debates and contested bills in the past several years, is likely to be put on a back burner in light of more pressing issues.

Fitz-Gerald could not be reached for comment.

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