Did you know that five of the top six agricultural counties (by sales) in Colorado are in HD 65? This makes agriculture easily one of the biggest economic drivers in our district. Being a third generation Cheyenne County farmer-rancher and having been involved in many ag related businesses throughout my career, I’m keenly aware that the people and communities in HD 65 are dependent on a strong and thriving ag community. As a legislator that is actively involved in production ag, I would not only bring firsthand experience and knowledge to the issues that come through the State Capitol, but I would also be there to help educate the urban legislators that don’t understand the unique challenges that affect agriculture and rural Colorado. Many things can affect production agriculture, but I think one of the biggest threats is over-regulation, which makes it difficult and costly to operate a farm or ranch. Especially in this time of low commodity prices, we need to do everything we can at the state level to promote our local ag products while insuring that all ag related businesses are profitable so that rural Colorado thrives and can share in the economic growth that the Front Range has been experiencing.
Oil, Gas And Energy
The Oil and Gas industry is vital to HD 65 as well as our entire state. In addition to providing an economical source of energy and high paying jobs, it also provides the state, counties and cities with valuable tax revenues and local landowners with another revenue source that makes everything more profitable. However, every time we turn around, the energy sector is getting hit with more burdensome regulations that make it extremely difficult to do business. In the last several years there have been several bills introduced, like increasing setbacks, etc., which if passed would take more land out of potential production. The companies that are doing business in the state are being very good neighbors, but the State and CDPHE (Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment) are making Colorado a state that is unfriendly to business. In fact, representatives from several of the local oil companies have told me that because of the over-regulation in this state, if they could they would sell their local holdings and take their business elsewhere. It’s important to make it financially feasible to develop and produce the natural resources that this state offers at the same time as we develop our renewable energy resources and make them competitive with traditional resources!
Over-regulation. Too many rules. Excessive laws. Serving as a County Commissioner, I’ve witnessed this firsthand over and over again! In Colorado, one of our most powerful (and dangerous) regulatory agencies is the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE). It is the state’s version of the EPA. As with the EPA, CDPHE has been given free rein by the governor to regulate without having to go through the legislature. In most cases it’s gone overboard -- catering to a “green” agenda and not doing what’s best for our state and its residents. It’s implemented so many regulations that, in my opinion, it has made our state very unfriendly to business -- especially when it comes to energy production and production agriculture. It has also created a nightmare for local government agencies in many areas. One quick example -- at the county level it has become very expensive, and in some cases prohibitive, to operate our landfills. The CDPHE has tried to regulate our landfills with a “one size fits all” set of regulations. Wouldn’t it be better if they listened to the locals and worked on common sense solutions to everyday problems? How about for every new regulation the CDPHE implements we require they to take three existing ones off the books?
What is one of the biggest employers and most vital parts of any rural community? Healthcare. Pure and simple. Without adequate healthcare facilities, not only does the rural economy suffer, but the very lives of the people are at risk. Unfortunately, it’s becoming more difficult to find and keep quality providers in our rural clinics and hospitals. There just aren’t any incentives for them. Because of the economy of scale, small health care facilities are at a disadvantage. How can we help? We should ensure that the reimbursement rates for small rural hospitals are higher. And what about some kind of an incentive for urban hospitals to partner with rural facilities? They could rotate physicians and provide support in various other ways to help insure quality care in rural Colorado. We need to provide ways for our people to get healthcare in their home communities instead of having to go to a city, where they always incur more expense. Hospitals are vital to our communities in HD 65! If a rural hospital is forced to close, the entire community suffers: the population decreases because people have to move to find new employment, and for those who stay, the standard of living drops because the property values decrease significantly.
Who hasn’t noticed the definite difference in the highway when you cross a state line into or out of Colorado? It’s obvious that we in HD 65 need more funding for our roads! Not only is our highway system vital to our ag and oil & gas sectors, but it’s an important part of each of our everyday lives. Improvement to our rural highways could benefit not only rural Colorado, but the entire state. If our rural highways were in better shape, it could keep a lot of heavy freight from traveling the interstate system and causing congestion along the Front Range when the only reason it is there is to avoid driving on our crappy rural highways. In many cases our rural highways are in dire need of basic safety upgrades and resurfacing. Having enough funding to address Colorado’s project backlog is an issue that needs serious attention. The legislature has tried to help direct some funding to CDOT to help, but with over 9 billion dollars in projects on the books, there needs to be a dedicated funding source that the legislature can’t hijack to address this. We all know that the current gas tax won’t even come close to addressing the issue. As the Federal Government continues to mandate better gas mileage, electric cars and hybrid vehicles are becoming more popular and there isn’t as much fuel tax being collected. Combine that with the buying power of the dollar going down, increased energy production and an increase in our state’s population, and it’s easy to see that the fuel tax is and will always be insufficient to deal with all the needs that are being placed on our highway system.
Mental Health and Substance Misuse
Alcoholism. Drugs. Depression. Suicide. The days of thinking that these are issues our urban cousins deal with and we are exempt from are over. Research shows that mental health issues often lead to substance misuse and that as many as 85% of the people in our jails and prisons have some kind of mental or behavioral problems. The judicial system is not the place for them to get the help that they need! Alcohol and drug abuse and misuse are major problems in rural communities. Depression, though often undiagnosed, affects many individuals and families that we all live with or work with every day. Farmers in America are committing suicide at alarming rates (five times the rate of the rest of the nation), and farmers in the west have the highest rate of all. What can we do? One of the problems is that there are not enough professionals in this field to address the need that is out there, and it’s even worse in rural Colorado. We need to find a way to incentivize more people to go into this field, and especially to incentivize them to bring their expertise to rural Colorado.
Common sense would tell you that an inanimate object such as a gun or a knife or a bomb or a car on its own can’t kill or harm anyone. People kill; objects don’t. With mental illness on the rise and so many people that have been raised with no respect for property or life (theirs or anyone else’s), it’s no wonder that violent mass shootings and killings are on the rise. The moral compass of our country is so totally messed up that passing more restrictive gun laws would just make innocent law-abiding citizens criminals and do nothing to curb the violent crimes that are being committed. When I was in high school almost every pickup in the school parking lot had a gun rack with a gun or two hanging in the back window, and not a single gun got off the gun rack and walked in and shot anyone on its own. The second amendment was passed so the citizens of this country can protect ourselves from a tyrannical government. Who among us wants to live in a country where ONLY the government (and the criminals) has the right to possess guns? Not I! In my lifetime (since 9/11) we’ve given up numerous rights in exchange for the false security that we’d be safer and more secure, but it’s obvious from the increase in mass shootings and other violent crimes in this country that that’s not what has actually taken place. We CANNOT afford to give up more rights! Thomas Paine once said, “It is the duty of the patriot to protect its country from its government.” Let’s do our duty, folks!
Change Isn't Always Pretty
Isn’t technology grand?
In the last decade, we’ve seen advancements in technology drive the price of 70 inch TVs from $15,000 in 2007 to around $1000 today. Think about that. In ten years, a six foot wide TV went from something only the very wealthy could afford to something you could buy with the crumbs of a bonus you got because of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.
The price for a gigabyte of hard drive storage in 2010 was about 10 cents. Today it’s 1.9 cents. Your teenager will likely never run out of storage for all the selfies taken with the phone that didn’t even exist when said teenager was born.
We’re seeing similar price drops in renewable energy with the latest bids for wind energy coming in at 1.9 cents per kWh, solar at 3.1 cents and wind with storage at a remarkable 2.1 cents per kWh. Prices for wind and solar energy have been cut in half since 2010.
With bids this low, it would have been shocking if the Public Utilities Commission didn’t give the initial nod to Xcel Energy to advance the Colorado Energy Plan to the next stage.
But wait you say, those wind towers are ugly.
I get that they change the landscape, but so do oil and gas wells, feedlots and hog farms. I’m sure there were people in the 1960’s saying the same about those dratted center pivot sprinklers. Let’s face it, they are all uglier than the rolling plains of eastern Colorado untouched by anything. But do you know what is uglier? Doing nothing. A deserted Main Street and abandoned school is about as ugly as it gets.
Poverty isn’t pretty either.
Rural Colorado has to find ways to increase our total economic activity at a pace that matches inflation just to maintain our current population or we’ll see increased poverty or declining population (leading to abandoned Main Streets) or both.
If we want to see more or even most of our kids stay home, we have to grow the rural economy at inflation plus the percentage of kids we are tired of exporting. It’s just math.
Rural Colorado produces food and energy. Technology combined with growing demand makes it possible for us to grow our energy economy while providing the cheapest electricity on the grid for Xcel’s customers. And, it’s a form of energy that an increasing number of those customers are asking Xcel to deliver.
I look forward to seeing what projects are chosen by Xcel for the final approval process by the PUC, and I look forward to the opportunities those projects provide rural Colorado.