Senate District 8 debate: Republican Solomon says he would ‘bridge’ urban-rural divide; Democrat Roberts says he already does

Republican Matt Solomon of Eagle and Democrat Dylan Roberts of Avon spar at Club 20's Western Candidates Debate at Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022.
Club 20/Screenshot

The Republican candidate for Colorado Senate District 8, Matt Solomon, says he wants to be the “bridge” that connects the urban-rural divide.

At the same time, Solomon’s Democratic opponent, state Rep. Dylan Roberts, contends he already has a track record of working with his Front Range colleagues in the Colorado House to benefit the Western Slope.

“I am the candidate that can function as that bridge,” Solomon said at a debate in Grand Junction on Saturday, Sept. 10, hosted by Club 20.

“I have done that for the last four years,” Roberts said, referring to his time in the state House. “Every single (bill I have sponsored) except for one has been bipartisan and every single one of them has come from an idea in my district.”

The Senate race for the sprawling district that encompasses 10 counties in the northern portion of the Western Slope could be one of the most competitive in the state this November. At the debate, both candidates said that if elected, they would go against their party in favor of representing their constituents.

For Republicans, a win would be a crucial step toward taking back a majority in at least one chamber at the state capitol. But the district has a recent history of supporting Democrats, as term-limited Sen. Kerry Donovan currently represents parts of it and voters have chosen Democrats by about a 6% margin in elections from 2016 to 2020.

The district has no incumbent. Republican Sen. Bob Rankin of Carbondale, who currently represents Routt County in the upper chamber, lives within the boundaries of Senate District 5 now.

Solomon, a former Eagle Town Council member, paramedic and deputy coroner, says his two decades of experience in both the public and private sectors give him the tools to bridge gaps not only between Denver and those west of the Continental Divide, but within the district as well.

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“We need to have a representative in the Senate that understands the needs of a district that can provide almost every source of revenue that our state has to offer,” Solomon said in his opening statement. “There’s a lot to represent; there’s a lot to understand.”

Roberts, who has represented Routt and Eagle counties in the House since 2017, said all voters needed to do was look at his record, which includes what he said were several “landmark bills” that have lowered insurance costs, capped the price of insulin and invested in affordable housing.

“I’m proud to be one of the most bipartisan legislators at the state capitol, and I hope to continue doing that for Senate District 8 because this vast district that stretches from Breckenridge to Craig, Vail to Meeker and everywhere in between deserves somebody who will focus on results,” said Roberts, who grew up in Steamboat Springs.  

Both candidates said they support all kinds of energy production, though Solomon accused Roberts of voting for climate change legislation that has hastened the closing of the power plants in Hayden and Craig.

Roberts responded by saying he has been behind legislation that created the Office of Just Transition to assist these communities and has helped Hayden and Craig secure millions of grant dollars to diversify their economies.

Solomon said he fully supports a plan to bring nuclear power to Craig, despite the bill failing in the Senate. Roberts said he supported it too, and was disappointed the bill didn’t make it to the House.

On agriculture, both candidates again said they fully support the industry and want to work with ranchers on drought resilience, fire protection and water issues.

While Roberts pointed to his time on the House Agriculture Committee and bills to support property-tax breaks for producers and a program to help them with new regulations, Solomon said there has been too much growth in government and not enough in industry.

“The state legislature has stepped up, but needs to do a whole lot more,” Roberts said. “This is a top priority for me because it’s a top priority for this district.”

“Supporting an agriculture industry to navigate rules and regulations after those rules and regulations are passed by your majority party does not county as supporting the industry,” Solomon said.

When the debate turned to a cross-examination format in which candidates got to question each other, Roberts pressed Solomon on his stance on background checks to purchase a firearm and climate change.

Solomon, who used to own a gun store, cosigned onto a lawsuit that tried to overturn Colorado’s 2013 background check law. He says that law was “duplicitous of federal law” and his opposition was to support small businesses.

On climate change, Solomon said it is real “and humans do contribute to it,” but he also contended that the data policy is based on is skewed because it measures emissions that come into Colorado from states farther West.

When Solomon had the opportunity to question Roberts, he spent much of his time on two criminal justice reform laws passed in 2019 and 2021. The first lessened punishment for drug possession for personal use to a misdemeanor and the other reformed sentencing provisions for some misdemeanors and petty offenses. Both passed with broad bipartisan support, as well as the support of district attorneys and law enforcement groups.

Solomon accused Roberts of decriminalizing drug possession possession as well as decriminalizing domestic violence — claims Roberts said were flatly untrue.

“It’s egregious to say that we decriminalized domestic violence,” Roberts responded. “If you think we did, I would take it up with all 35 senators that voted for that bill.”

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