Opinion | Julie McCluskie: Proven progress on health care, education and climate change

Julie McCluskie
Colorado House District 61 Democratic incumbent
State Rep. Julie McCluskie, who is running for reelection as the Democratic candidate for Colorado House District 61, poses for a portrait at the Dillon Amphitheater in Dillon on Sept. 3.
Jason Connolly/For the Summit Daily News

• Occupation: Colorado House District 61 representative
• Years in Summit County: 19
• Family: Husband, Jamie; daughter, Cait, 22
• Civic involvement: The Summit Foundation board, Advocates for Victims of Assault board, Building Hope Summit County board, Summit County Public Information Officers group, Summit County CARE Council, Summit County Drug Free Community Coalition, High Country Soccer Association board, Lord of the Mountains Church member, Summit Cove Elementary PTSA president, Summit Middle School PTSA president, Summit High School PTSA member

When I decided to run for office three years ago, I visited the five beautiful counties of this district to better understand the concerns and hopes of the people I would be serving. I listened and learned. Many outlined the challenges of finding affordable health care; others asked for high-quality public education programs; and a number of people wanted to tackle climate change in order to protect our spectacular public lands, air, water and outdoor recreation economy. The dreams were the same: hope for living their own Rocky Mountain adventure and protecting our very special Colorado way of life.

During the 2019 legislative session, I’m proud to say the legislature made progress in the areas of health care, education and climate change. I championed Colorado’s reinsurance program, which brought down health insurance premiums on the individual marketplace by 30% on the Western Slope. This year, we extended the reinsurance program for five years and expanded coverage for those caught in the “family glitch” and for those without proper documentation. I co-sponsored free, full-day kindergarten for every child in the state. We tackled climate change by establishing carbon emission goals in state statute — one of the first in the country. These successes are just a few of the many transformative bills passed during the 2019 legislative session.

But then, in the middle of our time at the Capitol, COVID-19 flipped our world upside down.

I am proud of how the state Legislature rose to the occasion and worked to pass responsible laws to protect the health and safety of hardworking Coloradans, getting our state back on track to a full economic recovery. The economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic caused an unprecedented $3 billion state budget shortfall. We spent weeks agonizing over very difficult funding decisions while we prioritized resources for public schools, higher education and critical health and social safety net services. Those decisions were painful, but as one of six members on the Joint Budget Committee, I am proud of how we worked in a bipartisan, thoughtful way to design and balance the best possible budget for Colorado.

Over the past few months, I’ve been listening again to people in my district. While so many of us are dealing with economic uncertainty and hardship, those hopes for living a grand Colorado adventure burn bright.

My priorities for the coming legislative session continue to be supporting a robust response to this public health emergency and feeding the state’s economic engine.

I will protect funding for our community and family care clinics, school-based health centers and rural health care providers. I will continue to help expand access to affordable health care along the Western Slope through ideas like a Colorado Public Option, increasing transparency on prescription drug pricing and making targeted investments in mental/behavioral health service, particularly in co-responder mental health programs with law enforcement.

Funding public schools and institutions of higher learning has never been more dire. I will continue the work we started by creating a more equitable and adequate school finance formula that puts student needs at the center of our funding conversations. And of course, we must continue our efforts so that all teachers, bus drivers, food service workers and other school personnel earn a living wage in their communities. We must not forget our colleges and universities, especially those in rural Colorado, because they are key in helping the unemployed members of our workforce gain new skills so they can return to good paying jobs.

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Finally, the wildfires this summer remind all of us that Colorado’s climate is hotter and drier. I will continue my work on wildfire mitigation in the wildland-urban interface and on wildfire emergency preparedness. We invested $10 million in Colorado’s Water Plan in 2019 but couldn’t sustain that funding this year in face of the budget crisis. I remain committed to fully funding the water plan and working to protect this most critical of all resources. I will continue to support efforts to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and increase our use of renewable energy.

Two years ago, I was hired by the people of House District 61 to represent their interests at the state Capitol. It’s been the best job of my life. Today, I ask for your vote so I can return to the state House. We’ve got work to do to make sure all of us live that grand Colorado adventure!

Julie McCluskie is the Democratic incumbent for Colorado House District 61.

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