Q&A with Dylan Roberts, Democrat candidate for Colorado House District 26
Bio: I was the luckiest kid in the world because I got to grow up in Routt County. This caring and beautiful community shaped who I am today and taught me the importance of giving back. While in college, I took a semester off to run the first-ever presidential field office in Steamboat for Barack Obama’s campaign and upon graduating, I was the Western Colorado director for his re-election campaign, managing 16 offices and over 35 staff members. After that, I went to law school at the University of Colorado, and upon graduating, I started a job as a deputy district attorney in Eagle County, where I still serve today, advocating for victims of crime and keeping our communities safe. In 2017, I was selected to replace Diane Mitsch Bush in the State House, representing Routt and Eagle counties. It has been the honor of my life to serve the counties where I grew up and where I now live. During my first legislative session, I passed six bills, all of them bipartisan. I also became a leader on the issues of lowering health insurance costs, public education funding, transportation infrastructure, protecting our water and taking on prescription drug price increases.
Q. What would be your top three legislative priorities if elected?
A. My first priority will be lowering the cost of health insurance in Colorado, particularly in counties like Routt, by bringing more competition to the market. I was proud to be the lead sponsor of a bi-partisan effort in 2018 that would have done that by creating new insurance options for residents through a public option or a health insurance co-op. That bill passed the House but was defeated in a Senate committee, and I will gladly bring that bill forward again. Second, I will focus on making the state a better partner for communities that want to provide more affordable and attainable housing. I will work to create a statewide affordable housing trust fund — and this can be done without raising taxes — that will act as a grant program for local public-private partnerships that need further assistance to get projects off the ground. Thirdly, I look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to ensure that our state is ready for the impacts of climate change from both an economic and environmental position. The state should help prepare for the implications of shorter winters, drier summers, and the economic adjustments that need to be made.
Q. Is oil and gas development on the Western Slope happening at the right pace?
A. Yes. I believe in an all-of-the-above energy strategy for Colorado and the United States, and oil and gas development is and should continue to be a part of that strategy as long as it is being done safely and is economically viable. However, climate change is real and humans are causing most of that change. The burning of fossil fuels is one of the major contributing factors, and I support moving as quickly as possible to a renewable-based energy infrastructure. Not only are these sources of energy becoming more economically viable and reliable, but they offer incredible opportunity for job growth. We all live in this part of the country because we treasure the natural beauty. We must do everything we can to protect that beauty by limiting our carbon emissions and transitioning to renewable energy. As this transition occurs, however, we must be cognizant of the fact that hundreds of jobs and family’s futures will be impacted. I have already taken steps at the Capitol to ensure that towns have access to needed funds and programs to help their residents — SB18-005 — and will continue to sponsor efforts for job training and education.
Q. How should the state address the ongoing shortfall in transportation funding?
A. The economic success and prosperity Colorado and its businesses depend on a reliable and safe transportation infrastructure. The state can and must do better in supporting Routt County’s and the state’s transportation needs. I was proud to work on and co-sponsor SB18-001 this past legislative session, which is the largest investment in our transportation system in the last several decades and will immediately start investment on crucial projects — all without raising taxes. If either of the two measures on the 2018 ballot regarding transportation funding pass, I will fight to ensure that our region gets its fair share. Further, the state can help direct this money to help provide more public transportation and multi-modal transportation so that our local residents have options and so that our local communities have the resources they need to make transit in their towns as efficient and modern as possible. If we cannot secure a separate source of funding for transportation, we should look at investing more of our general fund dollars only if it does not take away from education and other crucial priorities.
Q. In Routt County, the cost of health care is higher than the state and national averages. How would you plan to address this issue as a state legislator?
A. This issue was my top priority during my first session at the legislature in 2018, and it will continue to be. Too many families are being priced-out of our area because of these costs. It must end. The first issue to address is the lack of competition in the insurance market. I was the lead sponsor of HB18-1384, which would have started implementing more competition by instituting either a public option — Medicaid buy-in — or a health insurance co-op plan. This bill had bipartisan support, and I forecast success in the coming year. The second issue is transparency. I also was the lead sponsor of a bill to mandate transparency in prescription drug pricing and will continue to sponsor efforts to create transparency in all health care spending because without it, we will never get a handle on why costs are so high. The third issue is geography. The mountain counties in Colorado have much higher insurance rates than the Front Range and for no good reason. I will be a strong voice to hold the Division of Insurance accountable to this geographic discrimination and work collaboratively with my Front Range colleagues to address the disparity.
Q. Do you think the state can improve its oversight of the marijuana industry?
A. By and large, the legalization of medical marijuana in 2000 and of recreational marijuana in 2016 has been a success for our state. There are a couple things the state could do better, however. First, we need to have more oversight and accountability when it comes to where the tax revenues are going. We were promised that most of this money would go to education spending but in recent years, the disbursement of these funds has gone to several different areas and the State Legislature should always take a crucial look at where these funds are being directed. Second, I see as a prosecutor that the instances of driving while under the influence of marijuana have increased significantly. Driving under the influence of marijuana is just as dangerous as driving while drunk, and we need stronger laws to keep our roads safe. Finally, we must always be monitoring how marijuana is impacting children. The data currently shows that teen marijuana use has not spiked since legalization, but we can always do more to educate both parents and children about the harmful impacts of marijuana use in the childhood years and ensure that marijuana use does not negatively impact children.
Q. In mountain communities, the cost of housing is a huge issue. Do you think there is a role for the state to play in helping communities deal with the issue of a lack of affordable housing?
A. Yes, there absolutely is a role for the state to play, and it can do better. The state must become a better partner for local governments and partnerships in getting affordable housing projects off the ground. The state should create a statewide affordable housing trust fund that will be a grant program for public-private or purely private enterprises to gain financial assistance to develop affordable housing in local communities. I will be a strong supporter of creating such a fund. In my first year at the legislature, I gathered bi-partisan support and requested an affordable housing interim committee that would meet to gather information and testimony from across the state to determine best practices for affordable housing policy and best determine how the state should be involved in this enterprise. By studying the issue in a comprehensive and deliberate way, the state could effectively determine what legislation or efforts, if any, would best support affordable and attainable housing in Colorado. Finally, if there are any “red-tape” restrictions in state law that are preventing affordable housing from being developed, I support taking a hard look at the necessity of those law and regulations and changing or abolishing them if necessary.
Q. There was recently an unprecedented call on the Yampa River. What would you do at the state legislature to address the issue of decreasing water resources and an increasing demand for water?
A. The call on the Yampa is a serious wake-up call for our state and shows why our water policymaking needs to be based in reason and science. Rain dances will not work. As an attorney who has studied Colorado water law extensively, I am personally aware of the unique system we have in Colorado. Our Colorado water law must be protected and honored, but I believe there are also ways to do that while also protecting our rivers and water supply over the coming years. First, we must seek to crack-down on abusive practices that threaten our clean water. I wrote a bill to do exactly that last year and will continue to work on this issue. Second, there are several legislative pilot programs that have been passed and/or are being considered to embrace innovative deficit irrigation programs that will conserve water during drought years while not harming anyone’s water rights. Finally, we must do more to incentivize the growing metro region to conserve more municipal water so that our Western Slope rivers are never threatened by further diversion to the Front Range. I co-sponsored several bills last session that promoted conservation and I will continue to support further efforts for municipal conservation.
Q. Smartwool recently announced it was moving its headquarters from Steamboat Springs to Denver. As a state legislator representing Western Slope communities, do you think you have a role to play in helping Steamboat and other towns in your district attract or retain businesses?
A. Smartwool’s recent announcement is a reminder that there is a serious urban-rural divide in Colorado, and it will take serious leadership of our Western Slope legislators to ensure that we are not left behind. On the Smartwool move, I immediately started working with the Steamboat Springs Chamber and Routt County Commissioner Hermacinski to advocate for Steamboat, Oak Creek and Hayden to be added to the state’s Rural Jump Start program and we were able to get that done. On a broader level, I have constantly been building relationships with business owners and employees across the my district to both learn from them and to make sure they are informed of what is being debated in Denver. I will continue and expand this practice should I be elected in 2018 and make sure that all business owners can come to me as a resource and an advocate but also to voice concern about legislation they find detrimental. Running a successful business here presents a unique set of challenges and we should use established successful businesses as a model for helping new businesses grow. I will also work to make the state a better partner on some of the tangential issues related to business like more workforce housing and an improved infrastructure system.
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