State legislator Bob Rankin offers perspectives on 2019 session
When Democratic Governor-elect Jared Polis takes the oath of office Tuesday, he will work with one of the most strongly Democratic legislatures in Colorado history.
Longtime Republican representative and soon-to-be senator Bob Rankin, a Carbondale resident, sees a fight ahead. But he also sees opportunities to work with the Democrats, who have a nearly two-to-one majority in the Legislature.
“I don’t think we have any choice but to work with Democrats when we see that it can do good for our constituents,” Rankin said.
In November, Rankin won his fourth and final election to the House representing District 57, which includes Moffat, Garfield and Rio Blanco counties. But on Jan. 2, he was selected to replace Sen. Randy Baumgardner to represent Northwest Colorado in the upper chamber.
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Baumgardner, of Hot Sulphur Springs in Grand County, announced his early departure in December following a year of unconfirmed sexual harassment allegations and surviving an expulsion vote. The state Senate flipped to Democratic control in November, creating the possibility that the rules for expulsion could become stricter. Baumgardner will officially leave office Jan. 21.
Rankin’s wife, Joyce, who represents the region encompassing Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District on the state Board of Education, said she will seek appointment to her husband’s vacated House seat.
In the Senate, Bob Rankin says he will keep his position as ranking member of the Joint Budget Committee — which would require the freshmen Sen. Dennis Hisey, a Fountain Republican, to vacate his seat on the committee.
MOVING ON UP
Rankin believes that, from the Senate, he will be in a good position to make a difference on issues that affect rural Colorado.
“I’m going to be focused on what’s good for rural Colorado, because there aren’t enough of us. Being senior member of the Joint Budget Committee, I can make a difference there, I hope,” Rankin said.
The important issues Rankin sees for rural Colorado are also among what appear to be priorities for Democrats — education and health care.
“I’m optimistic on those two big issues that I’m concerned about that the Democrats are not going to be in opposition to everything I want to do,” Rankin said.
That said, “There will be some long nights and boring, disgusting sessions,” Rankin added.
On health care, Rankin wants to fix the cost inequity between medical costs in rural areas and the Front Range. He has proposed a statewide insurance cost standard, and wants greater transparency in costs.
“It’s just not fair that we out west pay 40 percent more [for insurance] than people in Boulder,” Rankin said.
Rankin is cosponsoring a bill with Lakewood Democrat Rep. Chris Kennedy that would require all hospitals in Colorado to report expenditures and other financial data to the state for an annual report.
“Transparency is a big word for me in health care. We need to tell people what they’re really paying,” Rankin said.
Health care reform was a major campaign issue for Polis, but he argued a far more progressive version than Rankin is comfortable with.
“I’m sure that the big ideas [the Democrats] have for health care, I will be opposed to,” Rankin said. “I oppose single-payer, I oppose expanding Medicaid.”
EDUCATION REFORM STARTS YOUNG
On education, Rankin is the prime sponsor, with Dillon Democratic Rep. Julie McCluskie, of the Early Childhood Development Special District bill, which would allow communities to form districts with taxing authority to build educational services for young children.
Serving on the Education Leadership Council, which released a report on the state of education in Colorado, showed Rankin the importance of high-quality preschool programs.
“When kids go to kindergarten or first grade and they haven’t had any exposure to reading or socialization, they’re likely to fail,” Rankin said. “There are a lot of different programs for early childhood education, but there’s no structure, there’s no governance, there’s no overview.”
Creating a district would allow communities to take charge of their own local programs. Rankin said some people in the Roaring Fork Valley approached him with ideas for creating that sort of district.
The bill would allow local groups to “roll those early childhood programs together, focus on the right priority, direct money in the right direction,” Rankin said. The creation of a special district wouldn’t necessarily mean additional taxes, he said.
BEHIND THE SCENES WORK
Rankin believes the state budget process is too complex, which creates a barrier for even legislators to understand the true priorities, and therefore makes the system “not very transparent,” both for citizens and for legislators.
“I’m trying to encourage people to spend a little more time to understand new bills and new spending,” Rankin said.
“There will be a lot of noise about standout issues” that come up during the legislative term, Rankin said. Democratic leaders have indicated some policy objectives that could become lightning-rod issues, such as gun legislation perhaps in the form of the “Red Flag” bill, and mandatory paid family leave, to say nothing of climate policies.
“There’s definitely going to be a lot of conflicts, controversy, long nights — that’s just destined to occur,” Rankin said.
Behind the scenes, Rankin believes legislators will work on issues that matter to improve life for Coloradans.
“My angle on the Joint Budget Committee is extremely bipartisan. You wouldn’t know, day-to-day, which party we are. Except on a few issues, we will agree and try to balance the budget,” he said.
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