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House District 59 candidates debate water and taxes at La County Fairgrounds

Democratic incumbent Barbara McLachlan is facing Republican challenger Shelli Shaw
Barbara McLachlan and Shelli Shaw

Colorado House District 59 candidates debated drug control, water usage and the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights on Monday at the La Plata County Fairgrounds.

Democratic incumbent Barbara McLachlan and her Republican challenger Shelli Shaw both worked in education before entering politics. McLachlan worked as a teacher for 20 years at Durango High School before becoming a state representative. Shaw worked for almost 20 years as a 10th grade English teacher and school district administrator in Texas before moving to Durango in 2021 to start Blue Spruce BnB.

This is Shaw’s first time running for office. She said education is about preparing students to be productive citizens.

“For me, I sat around wondering what was happening to our nation, state and community,” Shaw said. “I could only sit around for so long before it was time to stand up and do something.”

McLachlan said she has a track record of sponsoring bipartisan bills in the state Legislature, including working across party lines to benefit the state, rural Colorado and her voters.

“I did about 50 bills last year, and I think 47 of them had a Republican sponsor on them, and I’m really proud of that,” she said.

The candidates were asked about water rights, one of the most pressing issues affecting agriculture in the state.

Shaw said it is important to fight for Colorado’s water rights and protect water for agricultural use.

“Some people are saying we have enough water and some say we don’t, but what everybody agrees on is that Colorado is not taking their own water,” she said. “We’re letting it go down into the Lower Basin.”

McLachlan agreed that water was the most troubling issue for agriculture. She said states from both the Upper Basin and Lower Basin are meeting to discuss the matter. McLachlan said Arizona has been struggling with its Legislature passing water policy.

“They don’t want to save water, and in Colorado we’ve done a remarkable job saving it,” she said.

She said the Lower Basin states assume there is more water up high, but that assumption is partly a result of the Upper Basin doing a better job with water conservation.

“We have to find a way to get the Lower Basin to treat water as respectfully as I think we are,” McLachlan said.

The candidates were asked about their top priority if elected.

McLachlan said her top priority is bringing water literacy to the classroom, including classes that would teach students where water comes from, where it goes and how it can be conserved.

“A lot of people in urban Colorado have no idea where their water comes from, but we know down here how valuable that water is,” she said. “So this will help kids understand water issues.”

Shaw said her top priority is tackling the fentanyl crisis. She wants to make possession of fentanyl a felony after a bill passed in 2019 making possession of up to 4 grams of many drugs, including fentanyl, a misdemeanor.

“In 2021 alone, we’re looking at 912 deaths in Colorado due to fentanyl overdoses,” she said.

Shaw said making possession a felony does not mean she wants to punish those caught in addiction. Instead, she advocates for finding help for addicts. It’s concerning there are no long-term care facilities for addiction in Southwest Colorado, she said.

“We need a way to get help. We need options for them. And right now if they go to the facility in Grand Junction, we are taking them away from their support system and families,” Shaw said.

The candidates were asked about their feelings toward a four-day school and workweek.

Both candidates said they are opposed to four-day school weeks.

Shaw said she supports local control on such issues. However, she said single parents struggle with child care when there are only four days of school a week.

She is also concerned about learning retention with a four-day week. She said it is a struggle working 10-hour days as a school district administrator, and asking students to do the same may not result in academic achievement.

“We also have learning loss between Thursday and Monday,” Shaw said.

McLachlan said Durango School District 9-R is the only district in the immediate area to stick with five-day weeks. She said Colorado has a drastic teacher shortage, and districts that are moving to four-day weeks are able to recruit more teachers.

She thinks four days are hard because teachers are working the same number of hours but in four days.

The final topic of debate between the candidates was about whether the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights should be done away with. TABOR is a constitutional amendment passed in 1992 limiting the amount of money the state can retain and spend. TABOR allows for the state to retain and spend an amount based on the previous year’s actual revenue or limit, depending on which is lower.

McLachlan said she does not think the state can get rid of TABOR, saying the constitutional amendment would be difficult overturn.

She asked Shaw whether spending should be cut from education, prison systems or veterans.

“(Workers) are committing suicide in our prison systems because they are underpaid and overworked and there’s not enough people to take the job,” McLachlan said.

McLachlan said it is not as simple as a yes or no answer and wants to modify TABOR to allow more funding to go toward schools and state infrastructure.

Shaw said she would not support getting rid of TABOR, but said taxpayers should have more of a say in where taxpayer money is directed.

She said the state budget for Veterans Affairs was the fourth or fifth smallest budget in the state. She compared the Veterans Affairs budget to the governor’s budget.

“You look at our governor’s budget, which I think is at $521 million, right, while our veterans are getting under $200 million to take care of people who fought for our country,” Shaw said.

McLachlan visits apple orchard in Dolores

On Sunday, McLachlan stopped by a neighborhood apple harvest party in Dolores which was hosted by Cap Allen.

Allen said it was not a political event, just friends gathering to press apples from his orchard and she attended.

“I’ve known her a long time. Her husband was a good friend,” he said. “She took some cider home.”

Allen said he is not much of a political person and does not really follow the state Legislature.

Regarding McLachlan, he said “the bottom line (is) she is very respected and a smart lady.”

In a Twitter post about the event, McLachlan said: “Montezuma County has a lot to offer, but one of the highlights this fall is their abundance of apples. I am learning so much about the industry, and happy to report the product is delicious.”

Allen said there was a mix of the political spectrum at the gathering. Cortez Mayor Rachel Medina also attended.

In all, the group pressed about 50 gallons of juice. He gives the pulp to local cattle ranchers because the cows love it.

– Jim Mimiaga, The Journal

tbrown@durangoherald.com

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