Opinion | Linda Harmon: A candidate with a heart and soul

It’s now official: Summit County’s very talented and highly accomplished state Rep. Julie McCluskie will be running for reelection. This is great news for Summit County since McCluskie has been an outstanding leader in the Colorado House of Representatives for two terms. She has accomplished a great deal as a state Legislator, and just last week she became the chair of the Joint Budget Committee. Colorado’s Habit for Humanity also just named McCluskie Legislator of the Year.

One big change for McCluskie will be the communities she represents. Her district will no longer include Delta, Gunnison or Pitkin counties. Instead, when she is reelected, she will be the representative for House District 13, which includes Chaffee, Grand, Jackson, Lake, Park and Summit. This will allow the new counties to have the pleasure of working with one of Colorado’s most impressive state legislators.

One of McCluskie’s signature accomplishments is House Bill 21-1030. This bill, which was sponsored by McCluskie and signed into effect by Gov. Jared Polis on June 27, expands peace officers’ behavioral health support. This needed legislation provides grants to Colorado communities for community-based alternative response teams. Plainclothes deputies and clinicians can respond to mental health related calls, helping to reduce arrests for those who are experiencing a mental health crisis. The funds will help existing programs, such as Summit County’s own Systemwide Mental Assessment Response Team, and fund new programs helping those in crisis and police officers who are put in difficult situations.

A perfect example where this support program could have made a difference was in May, when two Loveland police officers violently arrested a 73-year-old women with dementia. During the arrest, they broke her arm and dislocated her shoulder. The police officers faced criminal charges. The woman has not returned to her normal self, and her family does not believe she will.

McCluskie also sponsored House Bill 21-1085, which gives county leadership the option to issue licenses for alternative transportation services for people in crisis. McCluskie recently said, “Transporting people in mental health crisis in an ambulance can be very dramatic and traumatic, not to mention expensive.”

Compassionate, forwarding-thinking leadership sets McCluskie apart from those who ran against her in the past. Kim McGahey, her 2020 opponent, was quoted in The Aspen Times as saying, “I don’t want to call 911 for a life-and-death emergency and have them send me a social worker!”

McCluskie beat McGahey in 2018 with 60.4% of the vote in House District 61. Since a large majority of Summit County voters supported McCluskie, it’s safe to say they are happy to support her approach to restoring the public’s confidence in the policing system.

While this issue may be a key difference between McCluskie and whoever her 2022 opponent will be, it’s only one of many controversial priorities she is passionate about. Her campaign literature and website highlights how the current legislature worked across the aisle to deliver urgent relief to struggling Coloradans, resulting in building the state back stronger.

Successful legislation included creating a $30 million startup loan fund for businesses across the state; providing $15 million in grants to small businesses; dedicating $100 million to wildfire mitigation, preparedness and response; providing more than $100 million to increase child care capacity and affordability; creating a $30 million loan and grant program for Colorado’s agricultural sector; adding $8 million to rural economic development programs; allocating $75 million for upskilling and reskilling the state’s workforce; and investing $22 million to support artists and arts and culture organizations.

As a liberal, I understand these bills might not appeal to fiscal conservatives. But as McCluskie said at her reelection announcement event Nov. 9, “I believe all the counties in the Western Slope of Colorado share the same values and are facing the same challenges. They deserve the same level of bipartisan leadership that I brought to House District 61.”

McCluskie is a leader with a big heart and strong values of caring for everyone who is extremely concerned about the cost of living, health care, housing or child care. She will not just represent the wealthy who generally do not have to worry about these very stressful issues.

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