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Legislative candidates tackle education, health care, gun control at forum

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By Sandy Barnes

Candidates for state House District 25 and Senate District 16 debated issues ranging from gun control to health care and education during an election forum last Thursday evening.

The auditorium at Evergreen Fire/Rescue was filled with people who came to hear the views of incumbent state Sen. Jeanne Nicholson, her challenger, Tim Neville, and HD25 candidates Janet Doyle, Jon Keyser and Jack Woehr. 

Doyle, a Democrat who serves on the Evergreen Park and Recreation District board, spoke for well-funded public education, with a goal of reducing class sizes.

“We have underfunded our schools drastically,” Doyle said.

Using state revenues from the marijuana sales tax for schools is appropriate, she said. 

However, GOP opponent Keyser challenged Amendment 64 permitting the sale of marijuana and the amount of revenue being realized from it, which he said was “way overestimated.”

“We’re not spending enough time seeing that kids don’t have access to marijuana,” said Keyser, an attorney with a military background.

“The money should go to schools,” said Woehr, a Libertarian representing the views of his political party.

While addressing the escalating costs of higher education, Keyser said legislators must ensure that in-state tuition is affordable. 

“We need to invest in our future … affordability is very important,” he said.

Doyle and Woehr concurred with Keyser’s views on the issue.

“The state legislature needs to take action to make sure a high-quality education is provided at a reasonable rate,” Doyle said.

“I don’t think there is anything more important in America than education,” said Woehr.

The candidates also expressed general support for vocational training as an alternative to college. 

“We do need a whole range of opportunities for our children,” said Nicholson.

However, Woehr said that changing technology, which includes an emphasis on automation, makes vocational education a challenge.

‘The robots are coming,” he remarked.

Gun-control legislation

“I am a gun owner. I believe everyone who is a law-abiding citizen has a right to a gun,” Nicholson said, responding to a question on state regulation of gun use.

“The legislation that was passed was designed to keep guns out of the hands of criminals,” Nicholson remarked.

The state's gun safety measures also are intended to make sure that gun owners handle and use firearms safely, she said.

Neville, who is supported by the Rocky Mountain Gun Owners organization, said the 2013 gun control legislation has placed additional restrictions on law-abiding citizens, rather than deterring criminals.

“If you have a bad person with a gun, you better have a good person with a gun,” Neville said.

Prior to 2013, the state had gun laws in place to keep criminals from getting guns, he added.

Managing health care

State management and oversight of the federal health care law is a topic on which Neville and Nicholson disagree.

“The first thing we need to do is audit the state health care exchange,” Neville said. “We should prudently look at every dollar being spent. … We need to replace and improve.”

“The health care exchange is 1 year old. We have had five audits and minor problems corrected. We thought it a waste of taxpayers’ money to have a sixth audit," Nicholson said.

“We think we’re heading in the right direction, and we need to keep monitoring the exchange,” she said.

Fracking regulation

The oil and gas industry is not going away, Doyle remarked while focusing on the burgeoning enterprise in Colorado, which uses hydraulic fracturing for extraction.

“We do need responsible regulations to control the amount of water being used,” she said.

Doyle also said she supports the recently formed state commission to review oil and gas regulations, which includes experts in the field.

“That is the way to go,” she said. “You need to get educated by those experts, to get information from those who know. It’s incumbent on legislators to get accurate information.”

However, Keyser expressed support for the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, which he said has strict regulations on water quality and setbacks.

“I believe we need to pursue energy independence in a responsible manner,” he said. 

Keyser also said he supports supplemental development of renewable energy sources such as solar and wind.

After responding to questions asked by moderator Doug Bell, editor of the Courier, which co-sponsored the forum with the Evergreen Area Chamber of Commerce, the candidates fielded a few questions from the audience.

“Is your job to represent your constituents? Or do we elect you to vote according to your beliefs?” asked an audience member.

“I will vote my conscience,” said Woehr.

When deciding how to vote, Neville said he asks if the legislation would help his state and his country. The role of government is to protect life, liberty and property, he added. 

“I would tell you that I am very transparent,” said Doyle. “I am elected to represent you and be your voice. 

“First, I vote my conscience, and then my district,” said Nicholson.

Keyser also said he would vote according to his conscience, as well as taking his constituents into consideration.

The state candidates also said they would make themselves available to hear the concerns of constituents.

“Being a representative means that you’re willing to listen and to communicate,” Keyser said.

“I have an open-door policy … I will be listening to you and responding to you,” said Doyle.

Contact Sandy Barnes at sandy@evergreenco.com.

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