Hanlon pushes support for working families in State Senate campaign

Sawyer D'Argonne
Summit Daily News
Karl Hanlon
Karl Hanlon

Karl Hanlon says he’s ready to fight for residents on the Western Slope, and bring together his experiences as a lawyer, rancher and park ranger to push forward informed legislation to help working families and students thrive as the state continues its recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hanlon, a Democrat, is hoping to unseat incumbent Bob Rankin for Colorado’s Senate District 8 seat this November, which includes Summit, Garfield, Grand, Jackson, Moffat, Rio Blanco and Routt counties. As he seeks his first term as an elected official, Hanlon said his long career helping to address some of the area’s biggest issues will give him the skills and insights necessary to serve as an effective leader for western Colorado.

“I have deep roots in this district,” Hanlon said, “and deep roots in the things that matter most out here like agriculture, public lands, water, education and other issues I’ve dealt with over the last 25 years as an attorney, and throughout my life.

“From the time I put a shovel in a ditch for the first time at 5 years old helping my dad irrigate a meadow, to working with the State Forest State Park where we were one of the original areas for the moose reintroduction program, to my work as a water and municipal attorney, all of those things are coming together in a moment in time right now as issues we need to work on in Senate District 8.”

Hanlon grew up on his family’s ranch in Jackson County right on the border with Wyoming, where he went to school as a child. He graduated from the University of Wyoming, and went on to spend four years with the Colorado Division of Parks as a ranger in the State Forest State Park.

In the early ’90s, he moved to Portland, Oregon, where he studied environmental law at Lewis and Clark, and later returned to Colorado where he began practicing water law. Hanlon has been practicing ever since, in both his private practice Karp Neu Hanlon, and as a municipal attorney for Glenwood Springs and Silverthorne. Hanlon also sits on the Colorado Basin Roundtable as one of 35 members charged with water planning for the main-stem of the Colorado River Basin in the state.

Today, Hanlon lives in Carbondale, where he and his wife Sheryl founded the Smiling Goat Ranch, a nonprofit that offers equine assisted therapy to individuals dealing with autism, PTSD, depression and more.

Hanlon said his desire to get into politics stems from a value of public service instilled in him from an early age, and a thirst for better representation to support rural Colorado in the state legislature.

“For me fighting for rural Colorado and America has been so important to me,” Hanlon said. “So often we get left out or discounted, or we don’t get looked to for the solutions that we can provide. The more that I worked within these communities, and the more I looked at the issues important to us, the more I realized it was important for me to take this on and provide a strong, rural voice down in Denver. It’s something we often times miss at the legislature.”

If elected, Hanlon said he’d prioritize issues surrounding lowering health care costs for Western Slope residents, and working to rebuild the economy in a way that highlights working class struggles.

In stark contrast to his opponent in the race, Hanlon called for sliding-scale public options to create competition in more remote areas of the state to help drive health care costs down.

“We need more of a hybrid approach, so that we can create some competition in the marketplace,” Hanlon said “Where the (Affordable Care Act) failed in rural America was misunderstanding that there is just not competition among health care or insurance providers, and when you don’t have that you get things like 20% increases every year in places like Garfield County. … It’s why I’ve been a proponent of some kind of public option.”

Hanlon also said that combatting climate change and its impacts on local economies, ecosystems and wildlife was a major priority. He called on the state to accelerate the shift toward renewable energy, and incentivize the creation of infrastructure to get more electric vehicles onto roadways.

He noted that instead of making empty promises to workers in the fossil fuels industries about deregulation, he would work with them to help build the “green new economy” in the area.

“Climate change is real and it is impacting us on the ground in a huge way here in Senate District 8,” Hanlon said, pointing to a severe wildfire season around the state. “There will have to be transitions to clean energy, but one of the things we need to recognize is that it’s not a cottage industry anymore. There is a lot of money in renewables, and large companies like Xcel are already engaged in this.”

National issues

Hanlon called the national response to the COVID-19 pandemic a “debacle,” but lauded Governor Jared Polis and other state officials around the country for stepping in and trying to fill gaps “left wide open” by the federal response.

He continued to say that as Coloradans dive into recovery efforts, the focus should be on education funding and support — what he called the heart of rural communities — to make sure students and families have the resources and infrastructure necessary to continue learning, working to ensure good access to health care, and rebuilding the economy in a way that emphasizes support for working families.

“We need to be working on the opportunities that are going to be present to rebuild an economy that works for everybody,” Hanlon said. “What I don’t want to see is an economic recovery that gets us back to the place where we were at, where the stock market is doing great, wealthy people are getting wealthier, and people who are under 40 are having to work a gig-economy and are struggling to hang on. We need to rebuild an economy where there are good jobs, and where people can afford to live in their communities.”

Hanlon also said he had admiration for those pushing for change in the Black Lives Matter movement, and that he was proud of the state legislature for taking on police brutality issues through the Enhance Law Enforcement Integrity bill signed into law earlier this year. But he said there is much work to be done to address racial injustice issues in Colorado and the rest of the country.

“I frankly look forward to continuing to reexamine my own life, and to try and honor and move forward to make progress on these issues,” Hanlon said. “I never thought that I would be running for public office when the president of the United States is calling out to white supremacist groups to intimidate people at ballot boxes. I think we all believed we were past all that. Clearly we’re not, and clearly we have a lot of work to do.”

 A fit for Senate District 8

Hanlon said he believes his opponent Senator Rankin is sincere in his beliefs, but called his policies antiquated and out of step with where the district is moving. Instead, he said that voters in the district should be looking toward the future. 

“I have a depth of experience and understanding of the issues, and I have good relationships with the folks who are already elected down in Denver and in all the local communities we work in that position me to truly be an advocate for the future of Senate District 8,” Hanlon said. “It’s not just about having to defend every line item on the budget. There is a role for that, but what we need now is leadership, and someone who is looking forward. That’s who I am.”

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