InnerView: Marsha Looper
Author: Jody Hope Strogoff and Ernest Luning - March 23, 2012 - Updated: March 23, 2012
Colorado Statesman (CS:) How are things going?
Marsha Looper (ML): I believe, in spite of all of the challenges that we’ve had to deal with this year, I think the session’s going well. We’re passionate about our issues and that’s why we’re all here, is to represent the issues that are important to our district. And so, I’m sure that the rest of the session will be just as exciting, and I look forward to it. Yeah.
(CS): OK. Well, you’re in a primary, and probably what we’re ranking as the top primary in the state this year — it’s certainly the most engaged so far. There were a number of incumbents drawn into the same districts and yet yours is the only one that went to a primary. How come you guys are having a primary?
ML: Well, I’ve had the honor to represent House District 19 for the past going on six years, and so, many of the issues that I had — many of the issues that were important to our district prior to reapportionment are some of the same issues that are important to the new reapportioned and new district. And so I announced back in July, and I believe that I’ve done a very good job for the constituents of my district, and I felt it was important for me to run for reelection for House District 19 and to continue the conservative voice for the district.
As you know, House District 19 is one of the most conservative, and El Paso County is one of the most conservative counties in the state, and so I’ve had the honor over the last couple of years to be one of the most conservative legislators from El Paso County, and this year’s no different. So the values of protecting life, of minimal government, traditional family values, individual responsibilities — those values I believe are extremely important to the families, the individuals, the voters of my district. And so, if I have the honor — and I’m working very, very hard to earn their support — I would be honored to serve them for a final year in the House of Representatives, continuing to bring the district to the right, to the conservative direction.
CS: How do you think the campaign is going?
ML: Oh, great question! I personally think it’s going well. We have been working very, very hard. We have had many town hall meetings, we’ve had — I’ll go home during the week and there’ll be a meeting at somebody’s home, a coffee meeting, we’ll talk about the issues that are important to them and the values and the principles that I hold dear and that they hold dear. And so those meetings have gone very well.
CS: What are you hearing from constituents and from — I assume you’re visiting some of the new parts of the district?
ML: Well yeah, absolutely.
CS: What are you hearing that’s different from what you heard out in the old parts of the district? Different concerns or — ?
ML: The concerns are primarily the same. They want government out of their lives, they want a legislator who is going to limit the size, the scope and the power of not just the federal government but the state government and the local government as well. They are burdened with high taxes and high fees and they need a break. And they are disappointed that there is a continued assault on their constitutional rights. And so what I’m hearing from almost every meeting that I go to is that we need to continue to have somebody like you up there who will try to repeal some of these big government programs, try to limit the amount of taxes and the amount of fees that we’re paying. We need that voice up there, we need that conservative voice. And that’s been pretty much consistent throughout even the new house district.
CS: Do you feel like you’ve been at a disadvantage because less of your old district is in the new district?
ML: I have to tell you that the existing House District 19 is a great house district to represent. I have had the honor and I have met some wonderful people, worked on some really important policy. Policy that helps our soldiers and their families both in regards to getting jobs, their education and then protecting our water supply. Water’s a big issue in the old district and the new district. And so since the issues are primarily the same, our message has been very well received because those are fundamental principles that even the new district — those concepts in the new district are heavily embraced.
CS: Do you find that you run into your primary opponent at a lot of functions or different functions or do you mostly see her just at the Capitol?
ML: You know, I have the honor to work at the Capitol and represent House District 19 and I would say 99.9 percent of the time I see my opponent at the Capitol. And very little do we see — I’ve not seen her, I don’t recall, at all, on the campaign path at all.
CS: But it must be kind of a crazy schedule for you?
ML: Oh, it’s a wonderfully exciting schedule (laughs).
CS: You phrase it so nicely (laughs).
ML: I love my job, I enjoy representing the citizens of House District 19. And I couldn’t think of a better job to have, to have their trust and their honor and to be their voice on their issues. And so I get great comfort and I get a great deal of energy from just that.
CS: You are at the Capitol, though, with Majority Leader Stephens five days a week — ?
CS: Are things tense?
ML: You know when I’m in the Capitol it is my job to represent the district and to put partisan politics and keep those politics, let’s just say, outside of the building. And so for me, because I take my job extremely serious, I think the citizens, the voters of House District 19 would expect no less of me. And so I keep those issues of the campaign outside of the building. And when I get back home and I’m back in my house district and it’s campaigning time, I campaign very, very hard. And so it’s not been difficult for me, because I understand my job.
CS: It has been a really hard-fought campaign.
CS: There’s press releases, brochures, ads, cease-and-desist orders flying back and forth. Had you expected it to get this … spirited? Is that the right way to describe it?
ML: I think that’s the purpose of primaries, is to give the voters a true picture of who I am and how I am much different than my opponent. And some of those differences are, well my opponent is running legislation that embraces the federal government, whether it be (health insurance) exchanges for “Obamacare,” whether it be the 1365 Cap and Trade bills, OK? I’m running legislation to oppose those types of government programs and then going to the mic constantly and fighting for freedom and liberty and less government intrusion. So I think it’s my job as a candidate to explain what I’ve been working on and my commitment is to stick to the facts, and that’s what I stick to, is the facts, on the campaign.
CS: What about your opponent? Do you think she’s stuck to the facts or her campaign is — or her supporters?
ML: Well, you know, there were some false charges about an immigration bill that I worked on back in 2008. And I can tell you that the greatest compliment that I’ve had is the endorsement of Tom Tancredo. I mean, when Congressman Tancredo endorsed me, I mean, that sent a message to the district that Marsha is serious about cracking down on illegal immigration. You know, Marsha is not running legislation to bring illegals to the state. And so I am honored that I received the endorsement of Congressman Tancredo and I believe that speaks volumes itself.
CS: You’re a professional at the Capitol, but have you changed your opinion of Amy Stephens? Did you expect it to be like this, an intense primary?
ML: My first primary I had in my first run for office, I had a primary and so I was introduced to that at that time in my life. And I never wanted to run for office in the first place. It landed on my lap in a letter of condemnation for a private toll road, OK? And so, for a year and a half prior to even thinking I was going to run for office, I was fighting the bureaucracy up here.
CS: Yeah, I remember that.
ML: I was fighting the politicians who wanted to steal our private property rights and give them to another company. And so this primary that I’m in currently is no different, it’s a primary that’s a difference of opinions, a difference of values and principles. And my record is very clear. I have a proven track record on my conservative votes. The Colorado Union of Taxpayers, as you know, has scored us — they’ve scored the Legislature every year since 1976 — and this year I was the most conservative in the House of Representatives from El Paso County, and my opponent is down there at the bottom voting 50 percent of the time with the other party. And so I have a proven track record — the Republican Study Committee of Colorado has given me a B and gave my opponent an F. And so on values and principles that are extremely important to the Republican Party and to the district that I have the honor to represent, I believe that I walk the walk.
CS: Before you found yourself in a primary, which was back in July when you declared, when you announced that you were running back in July and again in November said, “We’re in this,” you didn’t know you were going to be in the same district as Majority Leader Stephens — I think that came as a real surprise to a lot of folks where some of those lines fell. Before that became clear that you were both going to be in 19, did you know that you disagreed with her about that much? Have you been at odds with Rep. Stephens before this?
ML: Oh yes. Oh, yes, yes. Yeah, clearly, House Bill 1365 and then last year the following bill, because 13 — you know, I challenged 1365. And so there was a bill that was ran the following year and I opposed that bill as well and my opponent supported it. Senate Bill 200 is another example. You know, I opposed that last year and this year I ran legislation to repeal it (laughs) and it died in the Senate.
CS: Right. But that did get support by the business community, some members of that and some Republicans.
ML: Um-hmm. It did.
CS: Do you think that shows that perhaps someone who could work with coalitions might be beneficial to the district, or do you think that’s kind of selling out a little bit?
ML: That’s a great question. My role as a state legislator representing House District 19 is to represent the constituents and not special interest, not big businesses. But my job is to represent the citizens of the district. And I can tell you that 99.9 percent of the constituents in my district opposed Senate Bill 200. They are adamantly opposed to Obamacare and they see that Senate Bill 200, because it established the Colorado Exchange, ushered in Obamacare and all of the regulations that we see now that we see now that are coming out from (the federal Department of Health and Human Services) — all those regulations that accompany that. And so, she had great opposition in the district — I believe if we were not reapportioned into the same district anyway, she had constituents that were going to run against her.
CS: She still had a primary – [Ed. note: Retired Air Force Major Gen. Gar Graham was an announced Republican candidate against Stephens but dropped his bid after the first of the year.]
ML: Right, and so that speaks volumes about how she strayed away from the principles and values of what were important to the district.
CS: And do you think the people in the district recognize that? Do you hear a lot about that?
ML: I can tell you probably one of the biggest conversations that we have most often when we have a town hall, Senate Bill 200 always comes up. Senate Bill 200, Obamacare, the regulatory framework, and then the taxes and fees that accompany that. Because many of the citizens, many of the families in my district see that the American dream is slipping away from them, that their children and grandchildren will never have the opportunity for prosperity that we did.
Because they see not just are their taxes going up because of health care, but then you’ve got 1365, OK — those utility fees, those utility rates. Now, they project that because of 1365, utility rates will go up by 24 percent over the next 10 years. And then job losses and then food costs go up. So it’s very clear to me that not just the citizens of House District 19 are concerned but I would say statewide. And I as a mother and a grandmother am very concerned that we’re losing our freedoms and liberties, and we need to stand up and say we need to stand up and fight for those principles that our founding fathers fought for.
CS: Do you consider yourself part of a movement?
ML: Well you know, I was grassroots before grassroots was popular — when we were fighting the toll road, OK?
CS: And (former state Sen.) Tom Wiens (R-Castle Rock) was involved.
ML: Yes! Remember when we were fighting the toll road there were 1,800 people that came up —
CS: To the Capitol?
ML: — to the Capitol. Right, right. And so I believe that the grassroots movement has always been there, and I am honored to have the endorsement of the El Paso County Tea Party, and I’m honored to have the endorsement of the 9-12 Patriots and the El Paso County Budget Reform Coalition, because that signals to me that I’m on the right path. I am on that path of limited government, individual responsibilities, freedoms and liberties. And in my view, when there are additional regulations and additional taxes, that chips away at our freedoms and liberties.
CS: It sounds like El Paso County, which I don’t think anyone would disagree is one of the most Republican counties in the state. Douglas County would say maybe they are —
ML: Yeah, but we are! (laughs)
CS: El Paso’s the original, since before anyone even lived in Douglas (laughs). But there’s primaries just bursting out all over in El Paso. There’s (state Rep. Janek) Joshi (R-Colorado Springs), (state Rep. Larry) Liston (R-Colorado Springs) has one, it looks like (U.S. Rep.) Doug Lamborn is going to be facing one too, and a lot of them are along similar lines. It’s the candidate who could be viewed as more establishment or more, perhaps, willing to compromise, and one who isn’t. What accounts for that this year? You live there, so give us some insight —
ML: Well, I believe that the families in House District 19 — I can only speak to House District 19, and I can only guess that this is consistent for most of El Paso County — that they want a voice at the Capitol who’s going to defend life. They want a voice who is going to limit the size of government, limit taxes and fight these special interests that seem to take over when the session starts. And I believe people are sick and tired of electing politicians who are not representing them but representing special interests and big government. And so the contrast is real, the contrast is there and I think it is exciting that the voters of El Paso County will have some clear, contrasting choices in this upcoming election: Either a true conservative who has a proven conservative record or a moderate, and some would call a progressive, in the raceTed .
CS: Who’d have thought (laughs) that El Paso was being represented by progressives all these years —
ML: Well I think the voting records are there. It is an interesting year in El Paso County, but it’s an interesting year in the state.
CS: Isn’t it?
ML: Don’t you think?
ML: And I think being effective and — being conservative and being effective are extremely important to the citizens of House District 19. I’ve worked with many constituents throughout the years on water policy, military policy, small business policy, putting a hold on EPA, OK? Ran that resolution last year, put a hold on the EPA regarding some massive regulations that are coming down toward water and this year actually running the bill that says, “No, the General Assembly has to chime in on any of these expensive regulations that at the end of the day are going to cost the citizens of the State of Colorado.”
CS: Sen. (Abel) Tapia (D-Pueblo) said that he brought the immigration bill to you because you weren’t Tom Tancredo, that you were known as someone who could work across the aisle and was a moderate voice on a number of issues, looking for solutions and not ideology. Was he wrong?
ML: You know, I enjoyed and it was an honor to work with Senator Tapia. My style is — it’s still conservative but I don’t think we have to be unprofessional. And House Bill 1325, that Senator Tapia and I worked on, had more enforcement and more oversight than anything else in that bill and so, for me to be able to explain how important that wasm and for Senator Tapia to understand, for me was monumental. And I have no regrets from running that bill. That was a great bill — our farmers needed legal workers here. And for my opponent and their supporters to make it anything else, I think that’s shameful. Because, at the end of the day, if we don’t have legal agricultural workers here, then that food will rot. You know, it’s going to rot in the fields, it’ll rot in the orchards. And we will not have any domestic security because without our food supply we have nothing (laughs). And so it was an honor to work with Senator Tapia. And that wasn’t the only bill that Senator Tapia and I worked on — we worked on the Fountain Creek Watershed Bill, OK? And that ended up moving Colorado Springs and Pueblo down the path on an agreement for SDS, right?
CS: Who thought that would ever —
ML: Rep. Looper and Sen. Tapia, right? (Laughs)
ML: And the coalitions that we were worked with thought it was going to take four, five, six, seven years to get a bill passed. But I work really hard to understand the concerns that my Senate sponsors have. I stick to my guns. But if there’s a way to alleviate those concerns and still move the issue forward and get something done, I’m relentless when it comes to that. And because of the Fountain Creek Watershed District, you know we have the largest water project in the nation going on right now. 1,800 … 2,000 jobs, possibly. It was a major job creating bill as well as a long term sustainable water supply for Colorado Springs. I think it’s one of the most important bills I’ve worked on.
CS: You’ve also crossed the aisle and come to some great solutions on military issues.
ML: Thank you.
CS: It’s striking how often you work with all the military bases in your district and then with folks who represent military bases up here in the metro area. Is that something that kind of crosses party lines and transcends some of the differences at the Capitol?
ML: You know, this is another really important issue for me personally, because my dad was in the Korean War, and I believe that we must do more for those who sacrifice for our freedoms and liberties. And so a commitment that I’ve always had when I ran for office, in addition to those principles of limited government, was to do more for our military, our veterans and their family members. And so I think it’s been — it may be as high as 15 pieces of legislation that I have successfully sponsored, and I don’t think that even includes this year’s. But it has been an honor to work across the aisle on issues that are really not — this is not a partisan issue.
When it comes to supporting our troops, it’s been an honor to work with the Republicans because the Republicans are always there, OK? And when it comes to supporting our families and our troops, we’ve had very little opposition — I’ve had opposition from the other side on military legislation — but, over all, I believe the state embraces and understands the importance of supporting our military families. And if re-elected, I will continue to do so. My commitment is every year to make life a little easier and especially those soldiers that are coming back with PTSD and traumatic brain injury. You know, the Veterans Trauma Court was major in El Paso County, it was a major piece of legislation. You know, we had soldiers coming back getting into trouble and they didn’t know why they were getting into trouble. So it’s an honor to work with Fort Carson, the veterans at Fort Carson, Air Force Academy, Peterson and Schriever (Air Force Base), and I hope to continue to do so.
CS: One of the things that Rep. Stephens mentioned when we talked to her was that she’s in leadership, and she made a point of stressing that. She seemed to imply that she was in leadership, and you weren’t, and there was a reason for that. Would you care to comment on that?
ML: Absolutely, thank you for the question. I believe that just because an individual is in leadership does not entitle them to a position, being re-elected for a specific position. Her type of leadership has been the wrong type of leadership. If you take a look at the CUT (Colorado Union of Taxpayers) ratings, if you take a look at the legislation that she has ran, her legislation is much more progressive and left-leaning than legislation that I have worked on, which is right-leaning. And for me it’s not about the power at the Capitol, it’s not about the leadership in the Capitol, what it is, is about, I represent the citizens of House District 19. I know why I’m up here, I am up here to fight for them.
All Republicans, I believe all the Republicans up at the Capitol go and campaign for our colleagues who are running for reelection or for new Republican candidate. We always do that, that’s what we do. And so for me, I’ve heard the comments but, quite frankly, her leadership has been the wrong type of leadership. It’s been liberal, left-leaning leadership and not right-moving, to the right. You know, from House District 19, since it’s so conservative, we have an opportunity to take issues that are so important, like fighting abortion, like limiting taxes, like traditional family values and move those conversations and make them center-stage. And with her leadership we’ve not done that and with my leadership I have and I will continue to do so.
CS: What aspects of the job do you think are most fun for you? You obviously enjoy it.
ML: I do. I would say, I love serving the people and in listening to what their concerns are, hoping that you don’t have to write a piece of legislation at the end of the day, hoping that there is a different type of path to take for a solution, OK? But for me, it’s about connecting to the people of the district, to serving them, to understanding what makes, what frames their issues, and meeting their families. You know, I’ve knocked on a lot of business doors as well, I’ve talked to a lot of business owners in House District 19 and I’ve been to all of the bases, OK? Bases and Post — Fort Carson Army Post. And I do so on a regular basis, and I think that’s the most rewarding part of the job is meeting and visiting and interfacing with the constituents.
CS: You live on a ranch, is that correct?
CS: It’s a working ranch?
ML: It is. We have horses. We used to have cattle, but because of the downturn in the economy and feed went up, energy costs went up, we are no longer raising cattle this year. We used to raise cattle, we used to sell cattle, we used to sell our beef to private sell, we call it private sell. Our children were raised on the ranch. We moved to Calhan — we’ve not lived there all of our life in Calhan, we lived in Falcon, next to my husband’s parents. My husband and I met in Grand Junction, we were both going to Mesa State College, OK? And then Exxon pulled out. Remember when Exxon pulled out of Grand Junction? (Sighs.) It was the early ’80s and so our jobs — at that point in time I was working at the phone company and the phone company was recognizing massive layoffs, and so I was fortunate to get a transfer over to Colorado Springs. And then once the house sold, my husband moved over to Colorado Springs. And we did that intentionally because we wanted to live next to his parents.
CS: Do you like that kind of life?
ML: I love — I love my life. I love his parents, my mother and father-in-law. They have been instrumental in helping us raise our children. And that’s why we moved there. It’s because I believe deeply in family and how important family is. And so, if it wasn’t for their help, I don’t think we would have been as balanced as we are. And so we raised our children with the values that we thought important. It wasn’t always easy because they had their animals to take care of, OK? You know pigs, we had pigs, we had cattle we had sheep, we had horses, we had chickens. And so that taught them great responsibility.
CS: And the kids took care of them?
ML: Oh yes, yes, yes, yeah, that was their jobs. And then six, seven — maybe 10 years ago, we moved to Calhan.
CS: Early part of the decade?
ML: Right. My roots are Slovenian, and so I was looking for a traditional Slovenian community to live in.
CS: Which is what?
ML: European. European, OK, former Czechoslovakian. And so, Catholics, and all the traditions and the events that Catholics and Slovenians have. And so we had an opportunity to buy this ranch and it was just raw land at that point in time. And so I wanted to raise my children, finish raising my children in that type of community so that’s why we moved out there. And it has been a blessing ever since.
CS: I imagine your weekends now are campaign-related?
ML: Oh, they’re pretty full and I love it. You know, we’re having a — not I, but the El Paso County Tea Party is having an Obamacare and Colorado Health Exchange presentation tomorrow and so they’re bringing in some doctors to talk about the regulatory scheme of both of them. And so that kicks off tomorrow morning and then afterwards we have a meet and greet with (District Attorney) Dan May over at Serranos coffee. The district attorney has endorsed me, and so we’ll be meeting with delegates and alternates afterwards.
CS: Have you been surprised at any of the endorsements that you thought you might get and didn’t or — ?
ML: No. For me, endorsements are important, they’re very important, but what’s more important is the relationship that I have with the citizens and the constituents of the district. And so for me, it’s more important to get on the phone or to go knock on a door and talk to my constituents. And so I spend a great deal of time doing that.
CS: And recently the delegates?
ML: Yes. Yes, after caucus night. And we had great turnouts for the caucuses.
CS: That’s what we hear.
ML: Major turnouts, at least in the schools that I went to and in the house district, we have 303 delegates for House District 19 and 290 alternates. And that’s a third, that’s a third of all the delegates to El Paso County. It should be an exciting time on Saturday the 24th. And this is important, this is an important race to them.
CS: Oh, very much so. And a lot of people from around the state are watching, too. Do you get a sense that your colleagues at the Legislature are paying a lot of attention to it?
ML: You know, I work with wonderful people at the Capitol and the campaign doesn’t come up too often. You know, it’s more about the policy. Like today was all about the policy at hand and, you know, our colleagues on the left side go up and say something which gets underneath my skin, so I have to go up and say something to defend my district and the voice of my district. But — no, there’s not been much discussion about the campaign.
CS: Have you ever thought of running for higher office?
ML: I have not. Every now and then, somebody will mention that, but for me, I just — I’m trying to do the best that I can with the terms that I’ve been blessed with and the people that I’ve been blessed to represent. So I really pay attention to the mission at hand, because tomorrow can always bring a different set of circumstances.
So I just try to live day by day and address the issues of the district, and my family issues as well.
CS: How many kids do you have?
ML: I have three children. And they’re not children anymore, they’re grown.
CS: Are they all grown?
ML: Yeah, they’re all grown, I’m a grandmother this year! And that, that even compels me to be more passionate about these issues that we talked about earlier — limited government, taxes, freedoms and liberty. Because my granddaughter, who is six months old, I see her being saddled with high taxes, more government and I’m very, very concerned about her ability to reach the American dream and to prosper, I really am. And I can tell you, that’s a driving force in my life, is my family, my children and my grandchildren’s future.
CS: Just about half way through the session here, and it looks like the budget is coming down the pipe — there’s going to be a lot of news that could affect that one way or the other. What are your thoughts on where things are going? There are some fairly firm lines drawn at the beginning of the session by leadership on both sides as far as the Senior Homestead tax exemption. What’s your sense, what’s going to emerge from the House?
ML: You know as well that we have a constitutional requirement to balance the budget, and the citizens of Colorado put that in the Constitution in 1876. And so the most important thing is, our most important job here is balancing that budget. And every year the budget is balanced. Every year is controversial, right? Every year is cantankerous and I don’t expect this year to be any different, quite frankly. But I do believe that a budget will be hammered out. And I don’t believe people are going to be happy on either side with the cuts that we have to take.
CS: But it’s a little bit better, we think, this year than previous years? And it’s slowly trending in the right direction, slowly?
ML: I agree. It’s encouraging, we have that uptick in the economy and if the economy can just keep upticking, and we can get a handle on the unemployment and job creation and those issues that are important to help us recover. But I have been up here long enough to know that there’ll be, I think a very reasonable budget that is hammered out between both the House and the Senate and the governor’s office. And we have a great speaker. You know, I have full faith in Speaker (Frank) McNulty, and I believe he does a great job not just being the speaker of the House of Representatives but also being the leader of the Republican Party in the House.
CS: Do you think he’s been fair between you and Majority Leader Stephens? Do you think he’s taking the politics out of that?
ML: Oh, Speaker McNulty, it’s an honor to work with Speaker McNulty. He has been totally fair. I’ve not seen any — I’ve not seen any deference in regards to the importance of running the chamber the way he believes the chambers shall be managed and run. And so all I can say, it’s been an honor to work with Speaker McNulty and he’s done a great job managing — I think managing the whole session (laughs). Because the whole session’s been challenging. You know, it’s not just my race, there are other races and then with reapportionment and —
CS: Folks running for Congress too, there’s that going on.
ML: Right, right. And so he has great challenges to deal with on a daily basis, and I think he does an outstanding job of doing that.
CS: Do you think the Legislature’s done its job so far as far as fulfilling the jobs, jobs, jobs requirement that leadership set at the beginning of the session?
ML: I believe that the House of Representatives has. I’m disappointed in the Senate. We continue to get legislation over from the Senate that increases the size and the scope and the cost of government, and people can’t afford it. You know, if we can limit, and on a very basic — very simple limit that growth, allow for an uptick in the economy. Because when you increase energy rates, those companies, those manufacturing companies have to pay higher costs for energy and they can’t afford that so they’re going to have to reduce their employees. And so I believe the House has done a pretty good job, but I’m disappointed in the Senate.
CS: Speaking about legislation that might be coming over from the Senate is civil unions. There’s been some controversy over what you think about civil unions, what position you’ve taken since a year ago. What’s your take on that?
ML: That’s a great question, thank you. I’ve always been opposed to civil unions. My record since 2007 has reflected that, and I will continue to be opposed to civil unions, I’ll continue to be opposed to gay marriage, I will continue to fight for traditional family values. And so with that I’d like to ask you, are there any more questions (laughs) about that issue? Because I’ve been trying to be clear and direct.
CS: What do you think the disconnect with some people not being quite sure comes from?
ML: Do you remember last year’s civil union bill?
ML: It wrapped up very late, I think it was 10:00 or 10:30. And I stayed — my office is right next to the Supreme Court chambers. So I stayed and I listened to it and I was, quite frankly, disappointed with the testimony on both sides. I thought it was heart-wrenching, I thought there were things that should have never been said.
CS: This was the House Judiciary? [Ed. note: After passing out of the Senate, last year’s civil unions bill died on a party-line vote in the GOP-controlled House committee at the end of a hearing that went late into the night.]
ML: This is in the House. And it’s not from the committee members but from those who came in and testified. And as a Catholic, I found some of the comments that were coming in, that were directed at the sponsor of the bill, very heartless at times. And so I had had a long day, and me and my aide, Michelle, were walking out and had the opportunity to visit with John (Schroyer, the Gazette’s Capitol reporter). And so it was late, and if I was not clear enough, then that was my fault. But I was tired, wanted to leave the building and so I wanted to make sure it was clear. And John gave me the opportunity this year to say on the record I am opposed to civil unions and I will be opposed to civil unions.
CS: Well I appreciate you clarifying that because that is something that we’ve heard, just talking to delegates and folks in El Paso County, is, “What’s going on with that?”
ML: Yeah, you’re right. Right, and I would say that would because my opponent made an issue of that and it’s my responsibility to say, “Well here’s the record. Here’s the bills that you and I have voted the same on, consistently on when it comes to civil unions and gay marriage in the General Assembly.” So there is no distinction there, the record is the record and so I continue to walk the walk.
CS: To switch topics here, it surprises me a bit that there’s a large enough community in Calhan for there to be a Slovenian community there.
ML: You know, we have St. Mary’s Hall, we have some of the oldest churches in the state.
ML: Slovenian churches. We have our own Slovenian cemetery, we have a Catholic cemetery and we have the Christian cemetery. And back, oh man, in the ’20s, ’30s, ’40s, ’50s, the Slovenians had their own schools. They weren’t allowed to go to school with the other children.
And so there’s a long history, and I did my genealogy, I’ve been back to Europe to Slovenia — it was Czechoslovakia prior to that, right? I have great aunts and uncles that were killed in the concentration camps, and so I stay in contact with my family from Slovenia. You know, we’re a motley crew out in Calhan. We are the salt of the earth people out there. We are who we say we are, we don’t pretend that we’re anybody else, and you either like us or you don’t. And I love living in that type of community.
CS: Does everybody know everybody?
ML: Pretty much, and everybody knows where everybody’s kids are, OK? Now I know where my granddaughter is, OK? And so we keep close tabs. I think we watch out for each other, and that’s the beauty of raising a family.
CS: Do your kids still live there with you?
ML: My daughter lives in Calhan.
CS: With your granddaughter?
ML: Yes, yes. And so it’s fun. We hope some day that my daughter and her husband and our granddaughter will take over the ranch, because at some point in time, you know, you’ve got to hand that over to the younger generations. I can tell you it is so refreshing to go home at the end of the week to the ranch. There’s fresh air, there’s wide open spaces.
CS: I bet it’s lovely.
ML: And have an opportunity to look up into the heavens and actually get grounded, you know? What is important in life, what are the priorities in life. And it does, it gives me that respite time to develop the priorities for me and my family and for the district.
CS: Is there anything else in legislation that you’re running this year? Something you’re paying particular attention to that you’d like to talk about?
ML: You know, Ernest, I want to thank you because you brought up the illegal immigration claim from my opponent, and over the last couple of years I’ve been consistent. I drafted the Secure Communities bill last year. Two years ago, remember when our governor was running for office, he talked about how he supported Secure Communities but Gov. Ritter wasn’t quite there. And so I had drafted legislation that would allow, it would direct the Attorney General’s Office to sign the Secure Communities contract with the Department of Homeland Security and so I had the opportunity to have that conversation with the governor’s office before Gov. Hickenlooper was sworn into office.
And to his credit and to Gov. Ritter’s credit, Gov. Ritter signed the Secure Communities Act, and we did not have to run that piece of legislation. Now the follow-up to that this year is the mandatory E-Verify bill that (state Rep.) Spencer Swalm (R-Centennial) and I are working on. And that’s at the committee next week. What we did was we took a look at the 2006 Special Session legislation that passed. Rep. (Judy) Solano (D-Brighton) and Sen. (Bob) Bacon (D-Fort Collins), OK, they worked on a piece of legislation that requires of all employers to maintain documents —
CS: Right, I remember that.
ML: — of workers, right? Of international workers. Well, we’d like to bring that issue into the new century. We’ve got technology, E-Verify has come a long way since then.
CS: It’s been six years —
ML: Yeah, it’s a very accurate, 98.5 or 6 or 8 percent of the time there’s an instant reply. And so it would alleviate those false documents that may be occurring right now that —employers shouldn’t have to determine, “I don’t know if this is a legal document or not, it’s a document. It’s a driver’s license, it’s a Social Security card.” So if we can give them the ability to use E-Verify instead, it makes it easier, it’s cheaper —
CS: More consistent?
ML: Yeah, more consistent. So we’re running that bill this year, the Mandatory E-Verify bill. Another really big bill that I’m running, and it’s a trigger from last year’s EPA bill, is a bill that restricts the promulgation of water quality rules that are mandated by the EPA. Now, this is a discussion about algae. Algae and nutrients, phosphorous and nitrates in our streams. And so last year there was a mandate that was coming down that said the state has to do this, so I said, “Whoa, let’s run a resolution to do a cost-benefit study. Let’s figure out how much it’s going to cost the state and at the end of the day, is there a benefit and if there is, where is the benefit?” So we got the cost-benefit study done this summer and that cost-benefit study ranged anywhere from $4 billion to $24 billion.
CS: For the cost or the benefit?
ML: (Laughs) Exactly. For the mandate, OK? For the statewide mandate. And, the evidence that they used, the science that they used wasn’t even from Colorado, it was from other states. And so that report was delivered and presented the Water Resources Review Committee this last summer, and so I followed up with a bill saying, “Oh, this is so expensive that I believe that the General Assembly needs to chime in.” They need to decide, does the state need to move forward with these rules? Because, to me, the agency who’s responsible, which is the Department of Health — this is such a big, costly issue that I think it’s the responsibility of the General Assembly members to make this call.
Because every family out there is going to have to pay the price of this regulation. And we just talked about 1365 and an increase in utility rates there, 24 percent over 10 years. We talked about Senate Bill 200 and the increase in healthcare costs that that’s going to trigger. And so I believe it’s time that the General Assembly members have the opportunity to chime in and say, “Yes, we are going to move forward with those types of rules,” or, “No, we’re not going to. The people of Colorado can’t afford it right now.” So that’s a really big bill, that is the Nutrient EPA Bill, and that is a hold on any rules that would get promulgated — you’d have to get the approval from the General Assembly. You being the Colorado Department of Health, would have to get the approval of the General Assembly before you move forward.
CS: What’s the likelihood that that’ll pass?
ML: Well the resolution passed last year, yes, so we are pretty confident that it’s going to pass. We’ve been working with the Colorado Water Congress, OK? Colorado Water Congress supports it. We’ve been working with the Colorado Nutrient Coalition and the small communities throughout the state. You know, the large communities like Denver and Colorado Springs, they can share those costs throughout their ratepayers. But Fountain and Monument, they’ going to get hammered. Eagle County — there was a meeting that I had with one of the wastewater managers from Eagle County, he told me that there would be an increase of costs anywhere from $150 to $200 a month that their rate payers would have to cover for this. And that’s just tier one, that’s the $4 billion regulation, not the $24 billion regulation. So I think there should be site-specific regulations, there should not be a one-size-fits-all and I believe that the elected officials should be held accountable for those decisions, not an agency. So that’s pretty big.
CS: Would you like to direct the Department of Health to promulgate site-specific regulations then or they’re either up or down with what the EPA has told them to do?
ML: I would actually like whatever recommendations the Department of Health has, that they take it to a scientific peer review committee, OK? And, first of all let’s make sure the science is there before we move forward with costly regulations, which is something we’ve never done before. OK, first of all let’s make sure the science is there, and then second of all, yes it should be site-specific. Because I don’t think little Fountain, I don’t think little Flagler, I don’t think Monument or Ramah, I don’t think any of these small communities who have no impact on that water quality in the stream should be burdened with these new regulations and these new rates.
CS: What are the consequences if the Department of Health refuses to follow the EPA’s regulations?
ML: That’s a great question. Now, we had heard in 1365 that if we stayed, if we didn’t move forward with these new rules, that we’re going to get sued. Well guess what? The EPA has relaxed the rules and they’re not even going to promulgate rules for two to three years on regional haze so that’s off the table completely. That bill, those two sets of bills were ran, and there was no need to run the bills because the EPA has put that on the table and backed off. I believe that the EPA is going to back up on these mandates as well because there is — this is an unfunded mandate.
CS: Who’s going to pay for them?
ML: Yeah, who’s going to pay for them? Especially when we have unemployment rates the way they are, and our revenues are still short. As a matter of fact, these are so costly that there’s not even a tenth of the money in the revolving funds that we get loans for water projects on to cover the projects. There is just no way to fund the projects.
CS: Well is there pushback from other states then?
ML: Oh, yes. Yes.
CS: Colorado’s not out on a limb.
ML: Oh, no. Many states are pushing back and I appreciate Gov. Hickenlooper’s executive order last year that says he’s not going to support any unfunded mandates. You know, you need to show me the science that we need to move forward with the regulations, and that there is not going to be any more unfunded mandates that are ushered in on these small communities — or any community in the state. So I appreciate his stand there and that’s actually part of our argument as well in the bill. When you read the bill, we refer to that executive order, and it’s very, very important that we stand by our word. So that’s pretty big. And I would say leaving — First of all I want to thank you, this is the first time we’ve had the chance —
CS: We’re so glad you came over.
ML: Thank you. Because there’s going to be some — I can only guess there’s going to be some additional legislation that’s proposed that will be — it’s going to be exciting for me and may give other people some heartache. But it’s what I have to do for my district. And so, we’re going to wrap that up in a couple of weeks.
CS: OK. And your campaign manager is — ?
ML: Lana Fore-Warkocz. She’s great.… Do you know her — do you remember her from Dan Maes’ (gubernatorial) campaign?… She is as grassroots as they come. She is one of the hardest-working, committed ladies I have ever met in my life. And it has been — we’ve worked a lot, a lot of hard work, but we’ve had some great times together. (Laughs) And just say, “OK, well, you know — ” (Laughs)
CS: “What’s going on today?”
ML: This is the primary, right? You can’t get too upset. I don’t get too upset over anything that comes down the pike because, when we were fighting for our ranch, I tell you what, when the politicians up at the Capitol and the special interests tried to steal our ranch, tried to steal our quality of life, that really cut to the — cut straight to the heart when it comes to me. And so these primaries, they’re extremely important, but you know, you fight as hard as you can and the best man wins and you leave it up to the wisdom of the voters and they always pick the right candidate. Always, there’s no question in my mind. So I’m excited about county assembly and I’m excited about the primary, and we’ll just keep working hard.
*Amy Stephens InnerView also on the website*