Local House District 57 candidate addresses Craig Rotary Club
“The Western Slope is so different from the rest of the state, but she’ll be a good voice for Northwest Colorado.”
— Karen Gibson, Craig Rotary Club president, on Jo Ann Baxter’s candidacy for Colorado House District 57
Education, water issues and economic development.
These are three priorities Jo Ann Baxter is focusing on as she sets her sights toward election to the Colorado House of Representatives.
Baxter spoke Tuesday morning to the Craig Rotary Club about these topics and how she plans to address them if elected.
The first of the discussion points, education, is an “obvious” one for the candidate considering her background.
Baxter, a Democrat in the race for Colorado House District 57, taught for 29 years in the social studies department at Moffat County High School.
After retiring from teaching, Baxter ran for Moffat County School Board and served two terms, including one as president.
For six of those eight years she represented Moffat County on the legislative committee of the Colorado Association of School Boards.
Funding for public schools is one of her main concerns on the campaign trail.
“Increasing sustainable funding for both K-12 and higher education is just huge,” Baxter said.
Baxter, who is active on the State Council for Educator Effectiveness, said she plans to stay current on legislation regarding education and help in “making adjustments” for any bills to help school districts statewide. Baxter added she is also concerned about “high-stakes testing” in schools.
“We’ve got to ask, ‘Are the tests that we are developing viable and valid?’” she said.
Baxter said she believes her history in education gives her “a step up” in tackling issues across the state.
She also described herself as a “lifelong learner,” a trait which has come in handy when facing other topics with which she is less familiar.
“I’ve learned so much about water over the last four months,” she said.
Baxter said she has been studying up on water concerns in the district, such as the drought conditions of the summer and the overall availability of the resource.
“It’s important for our state to think in terms of keeping accessibility to water but also making sure the quality is what we want it to be and protect that quality of the water we all need and use,” she said.
Baxter said water storage is also a pressing question.
“I don’t have answers to those questions, but I’m certainly open to listening to those who might have them,” she said.
Regarding economic development, Baxter said she believes strongly in protecting area jobs, “both aboveground and below ground,” referring to the regional economic driver, coal.
She also cited House Bill 12-1286, the Film Production Activities in Colorado Act, which offers increased incentives for the film industry to work within the state, as a way for Northwest and Western Colorado to see greater revenue.
“I think this particular district with its scenic views would be something we’d want to promote,” she said. “And, it would promote tourism in the district, as well.
For Moffat and Rio Blanco, it’s all about hunting, but Garfield County is a little bit different the way it looks.”
Since campaigning, Baxter has traveled to Garfield County towns like Glenwood Springs, Silt, Rifle and Carbondale to better familiarize herself with potential constituents.
“I’ve been trying to go to as many events as possible to get my face out there,” she said.
She added that protecting the natural beauty of the region is an important consideration in economic development and traveling to slightly different surroundings has helped her see all the intricacies of the Western Slope.
“Trying to keep a balance is a big thing,” Baxter said.
Balance is a big part of Baxter’s campaign and her other talking points include tourism, transportation and health care, though she believes they’re all part of a bigger picture and “interdependent” on each other. Baxter recently attended an event in Carbondale where Gov. John Hickenlooper spoke.
She saw the governor’s methods in approaching divisive issues as something she’d like to emulate if elected.
“He appealed to me because he looks to the middle of the spectrum of views for solutions,” she said. “He tries to bring all these people together and bring the fringes in and seeing if they can come up with some kind of agreement.
"I want to get out there and talk to all parties, whether they’re Republicans or Democrats or right or left, and try to bring those views together, and I think I can do that kind of collaborative approach to problem-solving.”
While meeting with the Rotary Club, Baxter also mentioned a key piece of advice Hickenlooper gave her about public speeches: Keep it short.
The line drew laughs from those in attendance Tuesday, including Rotary Club President Karen Gibson.
Gibson said she believes Baxter would be “a breath of fresh air” in the House.
“I think she’s going to listen to both sides on those issues because you’ve got to decide what’s the best choice for all people,” Gibson said.
Gibson added she sees Baxter’s experience as a teacher and her subsequent terms with the school board as steps toward a bigger civic duty on behalf of the district.
“The Western Slope is so different from the rest of the state, but she’ll be a good voice for Northwest Colorado,” Gibson said.