Opinion: It’s time we focus on rural Colorado
For Steamboat Pilot & Today
To begin, I want to thank every single person reading this for what you are doing to protect yourself, your families and our communities as we all face a new normal that changes every day. I have the privilege to work with communities all over the Western Slope, and I know firsthand that in our rural communities, it has fallen heavily on each of us as individuals, business owners and local governments to find ways to help each other.
In early March, when I decided to run for Senate District 8, the issues I believed were most pressing and that drove my decision to run were climate change, health care, affordable housing and protection of our public lands. Those early days of March seem to be a very long time ago now.
The arrival of a global pandemic in Colorado changed everything. Every day brings new challenges. While those four issues remain at the center of my long-term legislative goals, the focus right now must be on keeping people safe and getting Coloradans back to work.
Many of our rural communities and businesses are on the brink, facing massive losses in revenue from tourism, agriculture and natural resources. A big question on the Western Slope is, where is the help for my community? Even while facing layoffs, furloughs and plummeting revenue, communities like Glenwood Springs, Silverthorne, Breckenridge, Frisco and many more are putting in place business grants, funding housing stipends for residents and supporting nonprofits to help their citizens weather the storm. Counties are also stepping up to provide rent assistance, grants and other support.
At the federal level, funding to help smaller communities was included in the most recent stimulus package in the amount of $150 billion to be directed to each state based on population. Colorado’s allocation is $1.7 billion. Gov. Polis’ recent executive order laid out the distribution of these funds — $500 million is going to education and $275 million of it shall “remain available” for local governments that did not receive direct funding in the CARES Act for the purpose of facilitating compliance with COVID-19-related public health measures.
While this is a start, to be blunt, it is not enough. Not enough to make sure critical services continue, not enough to make sure our K-12 students get a great education and not enough to fill the three-billion-dollar budget shortfall the state is facing.
What we need in our state senator is not someone rooted in the past, beholden to special interests and blind to creative solutions from tax reform to economic development. What we need is someone with deep roots in this district, real experience on the ground and the vision to see that the crisis we face today will not be solved by looking back, but instead by looking forward.
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I have spent a lifetime working hard both in and for the Western Slope. I would be honored to represent you at the Capitol, so that rural Colorado has the voice we need right now and for generations to come. It is vital that we are heard.
Karl Hanlon, a Democrat, is running for State Senate District 8.
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