Q&A with Nicki Mills, Republican candidate for Colorado House District 2
Bio: Nicki Mills is a regular person with extraordinary compassion and care for her friends and neighbors. She is not afraid to step into the gaps and get dirty when it comes to serving in her communities. She continues the long tradition passed on from her family as she dedicates herself to serving her friends and neighbors and being the strong voice to make lives better in Routt and Eagle counties. Mills is known for being a good listener and an effective mediator. These skills will be useful in the state legislature as she works with all parties to create bipartisan support for bills that benefit her district. She is not beholden to party lines or special interests. More than 80 percent of her funding has come from citizens in the district she represents. As a parent, business owner and outdoor enthusiast, she understands the needs and challenges faced by families in our rural and mountain resort towns. She will support legislation that keeps communities safe and improves the prosperity of families and businesses. Mills grew up in the outdoors of Emily, Minnesota, where she learned how to bait a hook and field dress a deer. The oldest of six children, Nicki graduated summa cum laude from Minnesota State University. Nicki became a private pilot at 16 and worked as a wildlife researcher during college and graduate school. She has been a real estate developer and co-founded a public Montessori School. Her family’s tradition of community service inspires her to give back to her community in this next chapter.
Q. What would be your top three legislative priorities if elected?
A. Reduce the costs of living here in District 26, particularly healthcare and housing. Improve education alternatives and school safety. Preserve rights of taxpayers.
Q. Is oil and gas development on the Western Slope happening at the right pace?
A. Ultimately, the market drives the needs for development and production. It is the government’s or legislature’s role to artificially influence supply or demand. As the most direct way answer to the question, I would like to provide you with the following facts. As of Sept. 2, drilling had started on 196 wells in Garfield County. At that rate, the county likely will finish 2018 with a well-start count similar to the 307 in 2017. Mesa County had 67 well starts as of Sept. 2, putting it a lower pace that the 123 starts in 2017. I am concerned with the impact Proposition 112 will have on energy production, jobs and the overall economy of Colorado. Experts suggest this will eliminate between 85 percent and 94 percent of the private land in the top oil producing counties in Colorado.
Q. How should the state address the ongoing shortfall in transportation funding?
A. We should start by carefully considering the state and Colorado Department of Transportation budget and priorities. District 26 and other mountain areas are significant destinations for the state’s tourism industry. Right now it is estimated that nearly half of the CDOT budget supports the alternative transportation systems in the Front Range, yet that system only serves 2 percent of the states commuters. We must stand our ground for the transportation needs of Routt and Eagle counties. New technologies should be considered as they become financially viable. I will support legislation that more equitably uses the money we have for all commuters, not just the 2 percent. I will also focus on understanding what the current tax we all pay on gasoline is being used for, if not for our roads.
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. First, I think we would all agree that this is a very complex problem that has been years in the making, so there are no silver bullets. There are at least four items to consider in order to reduce healthcare costs: 1) Full and complete transparency of health care costs, 2) allowing interstate marketing of health plans, and 3) encouraging innovation of lower cost delivery of health care, such as direct primary care. We also need to urge the legislature to look seriously at tort reform, which also contributes to high costs. Finally, I also support the initiatives to create a multi-employer health plans.
Q. Do you think the state can improve its oversight of the marijuana industry?
A. Let me start by saying, I think Colorado has done a great job of improving and managing the marijuana industry since we legalized it. With that said, as we all know, Colorado is certainly a pioneer in marijuana legislation and management. As with any new industry, regulation and management of a new industry is very much an evolutionary process. In fact many states are modeling their regulations after Colorado. Two areas that believe still need to be improved are understanding and monitoring of grow facilities, not necessarily more regulation, but regulations that take into consideration the current state of the industry and what has been learned since the inception. In addition, unlike alcohol where, there is a well-defined and measurable allowable blood alcohol level, the science is still inexact for impairment from marijuana. Lastly, it is incumbent on all of us to educate ourselves about the impacts of commercialization, use and regulations and insure our legislators continue to evolve the regulations as we learn.
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. This issue is an important one, and I am sad to say that I have lost too many friends and neighbors who could not longer afford to live here. As for the state legislature’s role in this issue, I would start by saying I think a better word might be attainable housing, because what is affordable in one part of the state because of jobs, wages and demographics may or may not be affordable in another location. For that reason I think statewide legislation is ill equipped to deal with this in a state as diverse as Colorado. Attainable housing solutions on the eastern plains will look far different than attainable housing in a resort community. For example, I believe that local governments have the tools to adjust supply and location of new housing. Zoning laws exist for this purpose. State government should not have a role in zoning decisions in Steamboat, Edwards, Oak Creek, Avon, Vail — or anywhere else in District 26. I would encourage organizations such as Club 20 or similar organizations to collectively make recommendations to the legislature for what if any legislative changes the state could enact to help the western slope.
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. This is a problem to which no one has developed a simple solution. The last attempt to update the 100-year-old Colorado River Compact was in 2007. Let me suggest that we all recognize that water is the new oil. Water is critical to the Western Slope. Water is not only a life essential, but also many of our leisure and tourist-based activities require water. We need to approach conversations around water policies with what we have learned from the oil and natural gas industries over the last 50 years. I would encourage all of us to also realize that conservation is as important in water as it is in other natural resources, and with water, conservation includes storage in both small and large scale reservoirs. As population continues to grow in Colorado it is hard to imagine it is sustainable without similar growth in storage capacity. In the unlikely event that all of us learning how to do “rain dances” will solve our problems, organizations like the Colorado Statewide Water Action Plan needs strong Western Slope voices at the table as their action plan is developed.
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. State legislators have a role to play in helping Steamboat and other towns in my district attract or retain businesses. Specific to the Smartwool departure, I would seek to work with our partners at the Office of Economic Development and International Trade and the Department of Local Affairs to provide support to Steamboat Springs and Routt County to help offset the loss of over 70 jobs, which on average pay higher than the median wage in Routt County. This type of collaboration should occur not just during a time of distress for our district but be an ongoing effort to make sure that state programs and state funding are directed to the Western Slope counties that have not economically recovered to the extent that counties on the Front Range have recovered. More and more Fortune 500 companies are supporting remote workers. As the worldwide workforce becomes more and more mobile we should focus on “why not work from a beautiful place.” The state legislature can assist in helping drive down the cost of high-speed internet as well as making broad-based STEM education more accessible in rural areas. Local communities can look at things like enterprise zones and other local incentives for small businesses to move here, or existing small businesses to stay. Location-neutral employees and jobs are often higher paying than other types of employment.
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