Town Hall with Governor Jared Polis, State House Rep Matt Gray, and Senator Tammy Story15 min read
Yesterday, Senator Tammy Story and State House Representative Matt Gray hosted a Town Hall at Superior Elementary; they were joined by Governor Jared Polis. Each official started with a few prepared remarks, and then quickly shifted to Q&A to try to answer as many audience questions as possible.
Most of your local Town Board members were in attendance – Mayor Clint Folsom, Mayor Pro Tem Mark Lacis, Trustee Ken Lish, Trustee Sandie Hammerly, and myself. Mayor Folsom, Mayor Pro Tem Lacis, and I were able to get a photo with Governor Polis after the event.
We were joined at the event by about 200 citizens, mostly from Superior although a few from neighboring towns as well. Although I was unable to video / live stream the event, I took detailed notes on each question and answer, so those who were unable to attend could still learn what was discussed. I’ve also included some links where applicable to help you learn more about some of the topics.
Representative Matt Gray began by talking about the need for our infrastructure to keep up with our growth. Representative Gray also noted that he introduced a bill on Thursday for paid family leave. He said that everyone across the political spectrum agrees we need to have paid family leave; the question is how to put it into practice.
Senator Tammy Story described her district as including southern Boulder County, all over Boulder County, the mountain area of Denver County (Golden, Evergreen, etc), and the southwest corner of Denver County (Bowmar). She serves as Vice Chair on the Education Committee, and also on the Business, Labor, and Technology Committee. Most of the bills she’s worked on thus far have focused on education. One is for area technical colleges to provide a pathway to their technical needs, and another is for a loan forgiveness program.
Q: Thank you for helping to pass the Colorado Digital Token Act. What are your plans to encourage state agencies and services to start experimenting with blockchain technology?
Representative Gray and Senator Story said that they are not involved in this area.
Q: Can the ten year residency senior credit move with the senior? Because of the credit, seniors have a disincentive to move, which in turn makes it hard for new families to come into an area.
Senator Story said she believes this is already under consideration. Representative Gray said that making the credit portable would cost money – if we want to make this happen, we’d need to figure out where this money could come from. One potential solution could be exempting wealthy seniors from this credit, which would free up money for less affluent seniors and allow the funding for it to be portable.
Q: How will you unify the state after the Extreme Risk Protection Order passes?
Representative Gray explained there is a new bill (House Bill 1177) that would allow an “extreme risk protection order”. If law enforcement / family member thinks someone is a threat to others or themselves, that person would be temporarily separated from their firearms until the risk is alleviated (as determined by a judge). Representative Gray said he supported this bill in the House, while Senator Story said she’s not yet had the opportunity to weigh in on this bill as it hasn’t come to the Senate yet. As far as how we can bring people back together, Representative Gray said the important thing is for people to be able to passionately disagree one day and then move onto other issues without carrying that grudge, and that’s something that everyone in the capital learns and tries their best to do. Senator Story echoed that she thinks this is an incredibly important skill for everyone in the community.
Q: Do you believe parents of traditional faiths should be able to opt out of gender fluidity discussions? Right now, this is being woven into the curriculum and parents do not have an opportunity to opt out.
Senator Story says she believes that opt out is typically an option, and isn’t aware of the specific program here that isn’t allowing for that. She did not provide her opinion as to whether this should be the case. Representative Gray said that for sex education, there was a bill (House Bill 1032) around sex education that says educators are not allowed to marginalize people of LGBT status, and they must also educate around consent for same sex. Representative Gray supported this bill, and noted that it includes an opt out.
Q: Would you support any legislation around carbon pollution that contributes to climate change?
Representative Gray said that managing climate change needs to be a top priority, especially for Colorado. The snow that comes down from the mountain and has potential to cause massive flooding, as we saw in 2013. However, Representative Gray pointed out that climate change isn’t addressed by one bill – it’s comprehensive, and every act that we consider needs to include thought as to how it will impact climate change. Senator Story agreed that climate change is near the top of her list of concerns that we need to work to solve. This year, we’re around 140% of average snowfall – depending on how our spring comes in, this could be problematic.
Q: What are your plans to fund literacy / dyslexia assessments for all Colorado students in grades K-3?
Senator Story said this hasn’t been her specific focus for education, but she’s willing to sit down and talk with people who know more – she is aware that dyslexia affects 15-20% of kids, so figuring out how to address their needs is critical. Representative Gray said that while he doesn’t sit on the Education committee, the Finance committee (which he does sit on) can help with funding for things like this and all-day kindergarten. He’s hesitant to define our education priorities, as he believes this should be up to the teachers who see this day in and day out; he sees his job as helping to get money in the hands of educational professionals to address this and other issues. Senator Story added that Amendment 73, which was on the ballot this fall, moved the needle significantly to gain sentiment for education funding, and she hopes that future proposed legislation will get more support as a result. Senator Story said that while she doesn’t have kids in school, she believes public education is the foundation to everything we do going forward – our community’s success, our state’s success, and our innovation success.
At this point, we took a break from Q&A with Representative Gray and Senator Story to be joined by Governor Jared Polis. Governor Polis congratulated Senator Story on getting her first bill introduced, for all-day kindergarten, and thanked Representative Gray for being a leader in helping to make electric vehicles affordable for Coloradans.
Governor Polis noted that our air quality in the last few days was worse than Beijing’s, for three reasons: automobiles (besides the electric vehicle affordability, he’s also working on multi-modal transportation options), oil & gas (new Senate Bill 181 allows for increased local control over oil & gas), and coal fire plants / electricity generation (Governor Polis’ goal is 100% renewable energy by 2040).
On the topic of affordable healthcare, Governor Polis said that he created an office to help people save money on healthcare – initiatives include reinsurance, price transparency for hospitals, and importing drugs from Canada. He believes that all of these are likely to be signed into law.
Finally, Senate Bill 181 has been introduced to ensure local control over oil & gas – Governor Polis believes that giving this to local officials is the best way to make fair and safe land use decisions for oil & gas.
Q: Are you familiar with the proposal in November to drill in Superior, and how would SB-181 affect this?
Governor Polis first noted that Representative Gray will be hosting a Town Hall this Wednesday purely focused on oil and gas (location details here). Governor Polis says that oil & gas is an important part of Colorado’s economy; however, oil & gas companies have increasingly bypassed authority in deciding where to locate their wells. Governor Polis thinks it would be completely appropriate for Weld County to have different regulations for oil & gas than Boulder County or Broomfield County. This bill would also change the mission of COGGC from fostering oil & gas to regulating oil & gas and focusing on health and safety. Governor Polis believes this is not unique to oil & gas; other industries are already regulated by local officials, and he believes this bill helps the oil & gas industry catch up.
Q: Will higher education teachers see support from this administration?
Governor Polis pointed out that he has influence over higher education institutions. We have the first university in our state that allows dreamers to pay in-state tuition. Senator Story added that if we want to invest more in public education / higher education, we need to find funding for them.
Q: What are your plans for multi-modal transportation and creating a regional transportation authority to help with our funding needs?
Governor Polis noted that the Northwest corridor has not been funded and has been consistently outvoted; he said he is working to actually deliver on Northwest rail, which would be a win for those of us who’ve been paying taxes on this for 15 years. Governor Polis believes we need to have tangible deliverables and a specific district, so funds can’t be redirected somewhere else; he says this work is currently being undertaken. As Transportation Chair, Representative Gray pointed out that our community can afford to fund transportation, but that other areas of the state can’t afford it – which puts holes in a comprehensive statewide education fund. He says it is a difficult balancing act to create a solution that provides solutions for our own neighborhood but also for the state as a whole.
Q: What are your thoughts on net neutrality and municipal broadband?
Governor Polis said he’s excited about this, and wants Colorado to lead the way. However, municipal broadband requires an election – which can delay things because our smaller jurisdictions don’t have elections that often. Senator Story compared municipal broadband to electricity: it started in cities and gradually spread across the country.
Q: With the Me Too movement, we are hearing about sexual harassment at all levels; what are you doing to address this and ensure that girls / women feel safe in coming forward when they have problems?
Representative Gray said that there is a lot that needs to be done, but the first step is ensuring that people in power know that harassment is not appropriate and actively try to prevent it from happening. Last year, the Colorado House of Representatives expelled one of their own members for participating in sexual harassment and retaliating against those who came forward about it. Governor Polis pointed out that this was a fellow Democrat, and the expulsion was not about party politics. Representative Gray said the reason people don’t come forward is they are afraid it will be marginalized; it is our job as leaders to make that unacceptable. When someone comes forward to say this happened to them, we need to rally around them and prevent that from happening. Senator Story added that we need to face these things head on in the public where we have the opportunity to do so.
Q: Vaping is at epidemic levels in our youth. Price is a deterrent to tobacco use; right now vaping is not included in tobacco taxes. What is your position on this?
Governor Polis said that changing this would likely need to be a ballot measure, because it’s related to taxes; he did not take a position on the matter. Representative Gray was not aware of this issue but said he believes it’s worth talking about. Senator Story said that cigarette smoking is on the decline, but vaping is very popular with youth. She knows that flavored products are also problematic, because of how they attract youth, and she thinks we ought to have restrictions on these and limiting accessibility.
Q: How can we help you in passing legislation we believe in?
Representative Gray thinks it is great to look someone in the eye and have a face-to-face conversation – at the grocery store or at the capital. Second most effective is a phone call or a handwritten letter. The least effective is writing emails: so many people send them (including companies and political groups who create political machines to draft / send emails on people’s behalves) that it’s hard for your email to cut through the noise. As far as content, it’s important to share not the general facts, but your personal experience – the part that only you know, that’s your unique story.
Q: What is the possibility that Colorado’s electoral votes will go to the popular vote winner?
Governor Polis said right now it is zero, because a number of other states have to adopt the National Popular Vote Bill first. While Senate Bill 42 joins Colorado to the compact, Governor Polis says he doesn’t believe that some of the bigger states that need to adopt this will do so. Governor Polis said that this is not the ideal way to go about changing our current process; he believes that would be a constitutional amendment abolishing the electoral college.
Q: Will there be legislation that allows LGBT educators to be out at school?
Governor Polis said that Colorado already has workplace regulation preventing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Representative Gray said that if anyone is experiencing this, they should get in touch with him, as he can put you in touch with resources to help identify your rights and provide recourse.
Q: We need funding for infrastructure, but also for education; what will you do to address this?
Governor Polis said that marijuana taxes go to education capital; additionally, as part of the full-day kindergarten program, there is a capital component. Unfortunately, some of the poorest districts in our state don’t have the ability to bond for capital infrastructure. Senator Story says that we can help by passing any legislation around education funding, and encourages us to think about our values and invest in them for our community.
Q: There is a lack of consumer regulation around cannabis extracts, as people are trying to find more potent products. Should there be more protections against responsible consumption?
Governor Polis said this is a little bit “in the weeds” (ha), but he believes that the labeling is in place and the compliance is very good. He thinks we should be proud of how former Governor Hickenlooper rolled this out, as it’s a pioneering effort, and there have been a lot of changes along the way.
Q: How do you respond to the oil and gas industry people who say SB-181 promotes a ban on the industry?
Governor Polis said flat-out this is false, and that we need to operate in a reality-based world. Representative Gray said that oil & gas bills (along with gun control bills) are some of the hardest to talk about, because people are very passionate about this. While debating forced pooling, it was hard to have everyone in the same meeting – these issue have been simmering for so long, that it’s hard to have focused conversations about the relevant evidence-based facts. We also saw this with regard to extreme risk protection orders. The further you get from Denver, the more people have actually had experience with oil & gas, and it becomes even more passionate.
Q: Will there be movement of the teacher evaluation bill out of committee?
Senator Story says that bill has not been introduced yet, but it should be introduced in the near future. She is looking forward to that passing committee and moving onto the floor. Today, it takes hours and hours of teacher time to prepare for annual staff evaluations, which takes away from time teaching, collaborating, and other more productive pursuits.
Q: What is your position on supporting new approaches to nuclear power?
Governor Polis says he’s not aware of any proposals to do this in Colorado in the near-term.
Q: What are your thoughts on more support for technical schools to train workers?
Governor Polis said we just signed a bill on this – more money for vocational training. He’s very excited about partnerships with community colleges, and that there is bipartisan support to provide financial assistance for these. The challenge is ensuring that every student is aware of these opportunities. Senator Story said she is also pushing for apprenticeship programs in high schools, which gives students the opportunity to get experience in technical fields and then get pushed toward these vocational schools.
Thank you so much for reading my recap of the Town Hall – I hope you found it helpful! As always, if you have any questions or concerns, you may comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. You may also get in touch with Governor Polis here, email Representative Gray at email@example.com, or email Senator Story at firstname.lastname@example.org. As a reminder, any messages sent to a government email are part of the public record and will have your name attached; if you feel the need to write in anonymously, you may always comment at the bottom of my blog post recaps.