Craig State Rep. Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale, spent the day in Craig on Friday to share his vision for the 2014 legislative session, which convenes Wednesday. His plea to residents of rural Colorado was to stay involved with state politics.
“Because you’re remote, because you’re energy dependent, because you’re west, people know who you are. We need to use that,” he said. “Rural Colorado — western Colorado — is so outnumbered that we need to stand up. I want people to get more involved in state issues.”
Rankin started his day at The Memorial Hospital during the Craig Daily Press-sponsored Coffee and a Newspaper forum. Then he hopped from meeting to meeting with local leaders and concerned citizens. He ended his day at a town hall meeting at the VFW.
At all of these events, he highlighted the bills he would be proposing in the upcoming session and asked voters what issues they wanted to have addressed in the Capitol.
Rankin looked back at the laws that passed in the 2013 session. Senate Bill 252, mandating electric co-ops obtain 20 percent of their energy needs through renewable resources by 2020, was the worst law to come out, he said.
“As fossil fuel people, we hate that law. That was the worst bill of the year,” he said.
Rankin intends to work with other lawmakers to decrease the mandate to 15 percent.
He also cited gun control legislation and the new election law as problematic measures.
So he will be working on what he calls the “flawed” election law, helping the Joint Technology Committee work on the computer systems with the Colorado Elections Commission.
He foresees more gun laws being proposed in effort to reduce the magazine limits on guns, but he thinks that probably will fail.
“All that stuff happened because (Democrats) sprung these bills on us late in the session,” Rankin said.
While 2013 was an unlucky year for Colorado Republicans, 2014 looks better for conservative voters because it seems unlikely that Democrats will propose as much late legislation, he said.
Rankin will be proposing five bills, but his priority is a public lands bill.
“I want to help the counties deal with the federal government,” he said. “The state has historically not helped us with these problems. I have a problem with this because the environmental side does not want this, and they control the process these days.”
This would be an important issue for Moffat County residents to pay attention to because of the work conservation groups are doing to encourage the federal government to list sage grouse as an endangered species, he said.
What if “federal government lists sage grouse?” he said. “You can close down most of the West if that happens.”
His public lands bill would create a position at the state level to evaluate the socioeconomic impact of federal decisions on public land. Working through the Department of Local Affairs, this bill would coordinate the state and federal governments on federal land decisions.
He proposed a similar bill in 2013, but it died in committee.
“That’s what I testified for last year,” Moffat County Commissioner Chuck Grobe said. “Now, it’s evolving again. There’s a commissioner from five different counties involved in this discussion. We’ll go down and testify when it’s down on the floor again, I’m sure.”
Another bill Rankin will support would change Colorado’s education system. Specifically, he wants to change the way school districts tally student population through a head count. Currently, Colorado public schools have one day when they count the number of students in each school, leaving room for error with regard to students who might be absent on that particular day.
He’d also like to see charter schools treated the same as public schools.
Voters asked Rankin about the budget, among other topics.
Since he will be understudying on the Joint Budget Committee, Rankin discussed the financial problems the state faces.
“Very little of your tax money goes to things you actually use,” he said. There are “structural problems with the budget.”
Lorrie Butler, a Craig resident, asked Rankin why more money was going to Medicaid and Medicare instead of grant-funded clinics and organizations like the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association.
“Why hasn’t that ever been brought up as a solution for the state of Colorado?” she said. “Medicaid is supposed to be something to be something to help you when you’re down and out. But then you move on.”
Jo Ann Baxter, a local Democrat, said she appreciated the challenges Rankin faced and that he visited the community.
“Obviously, there are people here who would like to have less or no government, and that’s not possible,” she said. “We have to figure out solutions, and I’m glad (Rankin is) willing to work across the aisle.”
This was an important exchange, Grobe said.
“It was getting more of our input on issues we have,” he said. “It’s nice that he comes in and spends a whole day in the community.”
Contact Erin Fenner at 970-875-1794 or efenner@CraigDailyPress.com.
Contact Noelle Leavitt Riley at 970-875-1790 or nriley@CraigDailyPress.com.