Local candidates talk coal transition, Gallagher and COVID-19: Highlights from the 1st virtual election forum in Steamboat | SteamboatToday.com

Local candidates talk coal transition, Gallagher and COVID-19: Highlights from the 1st virtual election forum in Steamboat

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — With Election Day less than a month away, the candidates of three races discussed their policies and opinions on major issues Wednesday during a virtual forum hosted by Steamboat Pilot & Today.

Discussion over the COVID-19 pandemic peppered the forum, which featured the top contenders in the Colorado Senate District 8, Routt County Board of Commissioners District 2 and Colorado State Board of Education District 3 races. 

District 8 Colorado Senate 

The Colorado State Senate District 8 candidates, incumbent Sen. Bob Rankin, a Republican, and Democrat Karl Hanlon, began by discussing the statewide transition away from coal and their ideas for supporting local, coal-dependent communities. 

The Craig Power Plant already has announced plans to close, and the anticipated retirement of the Hayden Station has also been discussed. Last year, the state passed a bill that mandates the creation and adoption of a just coal transition plan, which has been in the works since the spring.

As Hanlon argued, the state has not committed enough resources to smoothing the transition of a changing energy economy. He aims to help communities find solutions that are best for them rather than take a top-down approach.

“It’s all about supporting communities at the local level and making sure their vision is the one we’re supporting,” Hanlon said.

Rankin referred to the state’s coal transition bill as “the most offensive bill” he has ever encountered. 

“It’s nothing but political cover for what the state is doing,” Rankin said of the legislation.

While Rankin said he does not deny climate change and believes the divestment from coal is looming, he also believes the state is rushing the transition without establishing clear solutions. Rankin has focused on commissioning studies for alternative uses of coal rather than abandoning it altogether.

Like Hanlon, he wants local communities to have the most say in deciding their futures.

Both candidates said they support the repeal of the Gallagher Amendment, which determines the actual value of property and the valuation for assessment of residential and commercial properties. It was meant to help Colorado homeowners, easing the rising cost of living and saving them an estimated $35 million since its inception in 1982.

But as Rankin and Hanlon explained, the amendment has proved detrimental to special districts in rural areas, which have seen their revenues drop year after year as a result of Gallagher. 

District 2 Routt County Board of Commissioners

The coal transition also came up in questions to the two candidates for the Routt County Board of Commissioners District 2 seats, incumbent Doug Monger, unaffiliated, and Democrat Tim Redmond.

Monger, who has been a commissioner since 2001, has been supportive of a climate action plan currently being drafted between the county and the city of Steamboat Springs. At the same time, his district, which includes Hayden and the nearby power plant, is heavily reliant on the coal industry. More than $4 million of the town’s revenue comes from the plant.

Monger supports a realistic, achievable transition to renewable energy. At the same time, he wants to support the development of local industries, namely recreation and tourism. He also is proud of the growth of the Yampa Valley Regional Airport, an economic driver that brings visitors to the area.

Redmond, currently the mayor of Hayden and former member of Hayden Town Council, also sees the development of alternative industries as the primary solution going forward. In recent years, his town has welcomed several new businesses, from hemp processing plants to Yampa Valley Brewing Company. 

The mayor proposed finding new uses for coal, such as producing carbon fiber. Regardless, Redmond said there is no time to waste when it comes to finding solutions.

“Let’s get to work. Let’s start making it happen,” he said. “We can’t sit and wait.”

Asked about their views on what to do in the coming months amid the COVID-19 pandemic, both Redmond and Monger want to see a balanced approach that ensures public safety while rebooting the economy and getting people back to work.

District 3 Colorado State Board of Education 

The COVID-19 pandemic was a major topic of discussion between Colorado State Board of Education candidates vying for the District 3 seat, incumbent Joyce Rankin, a Republican, and Democrat Mayling Simpson.

Asked her views on how schools should operate to keep students and teachers safe, Simpson, a Steamboat resident, supports the return to in-person learning as long as health protocols are in place and conditions remain safe.

“If there’s an outbreak, we will have to pivot to something else,” Simpson said, namely virtual learning.

As Rankin explained, her district encompasses 29 counties that have varying prevalence of the virus, so a single approach would not fit. Instead, counties and school district should work together to devise a plan that is best for them, she argued.

“This is a local control issue,” Rankin said. “For small, local, rural areas, this is the best solution we have.”

Both candidates agreed schools will need to prepare for more virtual-based learning for the months and maybe even years to come to ensure students stay caught up on their education.

A second election forum on Thursday focuses on proposed legislation on the ballot, including a gray wolf reintroduction initiative, switching to a national popular vote and repealing the Gallagher Amendment.

To view the forums in their entirety, visit, SteamboatPilot.com/Election.

To reach Derek Maiolo, call 970-871-4247, email dmaiolo@SteamboatPilot.com or follow him on Twitter @derek_maiolo.

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