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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirFebruary 5, 201817min1108

The West Slope’s diverse economy and people are scattered across a vast region that dwarfs Colorado’s population center along the Front Range. So, it’s hard to imagine any one person or entity speaking for West Slope interests. Yet, if anything comes close to a unifying voice, it’s CLUB 20, the venerable advocacy arm of that immense, beautiful and wide-ranging swath of Colorado that lies west of the Continental Divide. In the state’s political circles, CLUB 20’s name precedes it. For generations, the organization has doggedly advanced West Slope political, economic and other interests in the state legislature, in Congress and anywhere else it can make itself heard. In today’s Q&A, we talk to the person charged with articulating and directing that voice, Christian Reece. The CLUB 20 executive director covers a lot of policy at a breathtaking pace as she enunciates what’s at stake for her region.

Colorado Politics: Give us your elevator speech for CLUB 20’s mission.

Christian Reece: CLUB 20 is a 65-year-old non-partisan coalition of businesses, individuals and local governments from the 22 counties west of the Continental Divide. Together we advocate on the critical issues that impact western Colorado to promote and protect the western Colorado way of life.

CP: CLUB 20 has been on Colorado’s political map since the early 1950s, making it one of the oldest advocacy groups in the state. It started as an effort by western counties to get more highway funding out of Denver — a challenge that still exists — and has taken up many more issues over the years. How else do yo think the organization has evolved since its origins?

Reece: As mentioned, CLUB 20 was founded because only 10 percent of the roads in our region were paved in 1953, and many community leaders saw it as a safety and economic development issue. These business leaders came together from counties across the region and lobbied the governor’s office for more funds for our infrastructure and were successful in their venture. Since then, we have grown to more than 1,100 members across 22 counties (we originally started with 20 — hence, the name) and have created 10 policy committees which guide our work: Agriculture, Business Affairs, Education and Workforce Development, Energy, Health Care, Public Lands and Natural Resources, Telecommunications, Transportation, Tourism and Outdoor Recreation, and Water.

These committees meet twice a year and develop resolutions on issues that guide the organization’s positions on legislation, regulations and other issues.

Over the years, CLUB 20 has established itself as “The Voice of the Western Slope” and leaders throughout the state know that when CLUB 20 speaks, they need to listen. CLUB 20 has a reputation for hearing both sides of an issue and taking a position that is in the best interest for western Colorado, not one political party or another. In fact, many believe that if it weren’t for CLUB 20, the Western Slope would have no voice at the State Capitol.

We have continued to build relationships on a statewide basis and strive every day to find areas of consensus to build from, and I believe that has led to the strength and reputation that the organization enjoys today.

CP: By the early 2000s, a few members from Democratic counties were complaining CLUB 20 leaned too far right and was too supportive of the oil and gas industry. Yet, a lot of the residents in your organization’s 22 counties are indeed pretty conservative, and energy exploration plays a pivotal role in the region’s economy. How would you characterize CLUB 20’s overall political stance? And how do you find balance among the different voices at your table?

Reece: CLUB 20 is a non-partisan, membership-based organization, and it is our members who guide our policy positions. We put a great emphasis on being non-partisan and advocating for what is in the best interest of western Colorado, not one political party or the other. We look for areas of consensus and build from that foundation to promote and protect our region. CLUB 20 welcomes members from all walks of life and from all political parties to get involved and be a part of the conversation. It’s not about Republicans and Democrats, it’s about western Colorado and that is who we represent.

 


Christian Reece
  • Executive director of Grand Junction-based power player CLUB 20.
  • Planning commissioner, city of Grand Junction.
  • Marshall Memorial Fellow with the German Marshall Fund of the U.S., fall 2017; traveled across Europe meeting with business and political leaders.
  • Former fields rep and staffer for 3rd Congressional District Republican U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton.
  • Holds a bachelor of science degree in biology and chemistry from Colorado Mesa University.

 

CP: Tell us a little about your background and what brought you to CLUB 20.

Reece: Well, I certainly never planned on having a career in politics! I was actually a pre-med major in college and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biology and a minor in chemistry — a far cry from politics. After college, I had the opportunity to participate in a nine-month leadership program which gave me the opportunity to see all the different parts of government and the needs in my community, and I knew I had to get involved. I became the chairman of the Planning Commission for the City of Grand Junction and shortly thereafter, went to work for Congressman Scott Tipton. I spent two years with the congressman, traveling throughout Western Colorado meeting with businesses and individuals and really learning about the many issues impacting our region. When the opportunity to run CLUB 20 became available, I jumped at the chance to lead a non-partisan organization whose task was to promote and protect the region that is most dear to my heart. I have a passion for finding common ground, building consensus, and finding actual solutions to problems instead of kicking the can down the road for the next generation to deal with. Through my work at CLUB 20, we have been able to make the state constitution more difficult to amend; have been successful in getting burdensome regulations repealed by the federal government, and worked on numerous pieces of legislation that improve the lives and livelihoods of the more than 580,000 people who call the Western Slope home. I am proud of these achievements and each day I come to work am honored to be at the helm of one of the most influential non-partisan advocacy groups in the state of Colorado.

CP: You’ve been in your post for about three years. What have been some of Club 20’s top issues in that time? What do you regard as your top priority in the current legislative session?

Reece: Here at CLUB 20, we have our finger on the pulse of so many issues impacting the state!

Health Care: CLUB 20 has worked closely with the state commission on health care costs to identify some of the top cost drivers of our health care system and has made recommendations to drive down the costs of care. The Affordable Care Act and the most recent federal legislation has done very little to address the actual cost drivers of our health care system and until we get those under control, we will simply be shifting from one payer source to another. We have to get costs reined in or else we will face the reality of a single-payer, government-run system, which Colorado voters have said loud and clear that they do not support.

Water has always been a top priority for us as we have fought to uphold Colorado water rights and protect our water from federal pre-emption. We continue to ask how the water plan will be funded and how we can actively work to develop more storage so we can stop watching thousands of acre-feet of Colorado water leaving the state each year. Finally, with the extremely low snow pack that we have seen this year, we will likely be facing a drought this summer and our forests will be extremely vulnerable to wildfire events. These two areas are not always associated, however, there is a direct link between healthy forest management and healthy and fruitful streams, rivers and lakes. This will be an area that CLUB 20 keeps an extremely close eye on.

As many know, broadband deployment in rural Colorado has been a constant struggle, and we will continue to work with providers to find cost-effective solutions to deploy high-speed internet throughout our region. This isn’t about streaming Netflix or Amazon Prime. This is about our school children having access to the internet to study and take required online standardized tests. This is about finding efficiencies to drive down health care costs through the use of telemedicine. This is about being economically competitive with the other parts of the state and attracting businesses to our areas. Broadband is the life source of western Colorado, and without it we will continue to fall behind.

CLUB 20 supports an all-of-the-above energy portfolio, and will continue to advocate for all energy-producing sectors, ensuring the safe and responsible development of our natural resources that are so plentiful in western Colorado.

CLUB 20 has also played an integral role in promoting career and technical education in our schools and identifying ways to develop workforce-ready students who have all the skills and knowledge necessary to be successful. We have focused on economic development from an educational perspective; if our kids have good jobs waiting for them when they graduate from high school or college, they are less likely to leave the community. Additionally, if our next generation is truly challenged and given the tools necessary to succeed, it is our hope that many of them will stay in our communities to start their own businesses and contribute to our local economies.

Last but certainly not least is transportation. As mentioned previously, CLUB 20 has been working on transportation funding for more than 65 years! We have made some progress over the years, however, more work still needs to be done. CDOT currently has a $9 Billion tier 1 project list with no meaningful revenue to complete these projects. CLUB 20 worked extremely hard last year on HB17-1242 to ask the voters if they would be willing to invest in our crumbling transportation infrastructure. Unfortunately, the bill died for political reasons. This year we are again working to identify passable solutions to get our roads repaired so we aren’t leaving the next generation of Coloradans to fix the mess that we have created.

…(L)eaders throughout the state know that when CLUB 20 speaks, they need to listen.

CP: How did your time as a research fellow traveling Europe and meeting political and business figures there prepare you for the advocacy you do now?

Reece: Thanks for asking about this! Yes, I was recently selected as a German Marshall Memorial Fellow and I spent nearly 6 weeks this past fall traveling throughout Europe meeting with business and political leaders with the mission to further understanding and strengthen the trans-Atlantic relationship. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, which I am eternally grateful to have had the opportunity to participate.

The experience was extremely eye-opening and personally caused me to question just about everything I thought I knew about the United Stated and public policy. We had the opportunity to have several meetings with NATO to discuss foreign defense policy and global security. We also visited two Syrian refugee camps where we heard from migrants who fled from war-torn countries to try to find a safe place for their families. The differences between an economic migrant and a refugee of war were certainly made clear! We visited with small business owners who struggle with some of the same challenges that our small businesses struggle with and brainstormed solutions and ways that our countries can work more closely together. In all I visited 5 countries: Brussels, Belgium; Lubeck, Germany; Athens, Greece; Sofia, Bulgaria, and Paris, France. The theme of finding common ground and working toward solutions was ever present and the experience reaffirmed the need to have all voices in the room to find solutions that benefit the whole.

CP: Water is an issue that continues to divide the state — West Slope vs. Front Range, rural vs. urban. Will it ever be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction?

Reece: Great question! Colorado has been struggling with this challenge for years. That is why the phrase “Whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting” continues to be the mantra of many water-rights holders. In order to solve some of the looming water shortage concerns, we need to be able to fund some of the projects in the Colorado Water Plan. Until we identify a meaningful and sustainable funding source, progress will continue to occur at a snail’s pace and likely won’t be enough when the time comes and there is an interstate call on the Colorado River. We have to start focusing on water reuse, creative new storage techniques, and water-wise landscaping and products in the business and residential arenas. As the population of Colorado continues to grow, the demand on our state water supply will only become greater and this should be a top priority for our state, as it is for CLUB 20.


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Marianne GoodlandMarianne GoodlandJanuary 4, 20188min357
The four leaders of the Colorado General Assembly laid out their priorities for the session that starts next week, and while there’s room for agreement on just what the priorities are, how to get there is another matter. The leaders spoke during a question-and-answer session Thursday morning for the fourth annual Legislative Preview Breakfast hosted […]

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Tom RamstackTom RamstackNovember 16, 20176min409
WASHINGTON — Two U.S. Senate hearings this week bring prospects for more federal support for the kind of medical research and preventive programs that have marked Colorado health care efforts in recent years. This week the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee heard witnesses describe promising treatments from gene editing. “We’re really on the […]

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Scott TiptonScott TiptonSeptember 12, 20178min665

Over the month of August, my team and I traveled over 1,700 miles across the 3rd Congressional District and state of Colorado, making over 30 stops to discuss the most pressing issues facing our nation. I had the privilege of visiting with local economic development leaders, county commissioners, school boards, health care providers, veterans groups, substance abuse professionals and many others — including U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt. He visited the Gold King Mine site on the two-year anniversary of the toxic spill to reassure the community that the EPA is prioritizing cleanup of the site and will make those impacted by the spill whole.

There are a few themes that I heard throughout the month no matter where I was, and it is clear that jobs and the economy, health care, and the nation’s opioid abuse epidemic are top of mind for many Coloradans.

In Colorado, we have a tale of two economies. While resort towns and major metropolitan areas are thriving, there are many communities on the Western Slope, Front Range, and in the San Luis Valley where families are struggling. The legacy of heavy-handed federal regulations is still preventing the private sector in these communities from creating jobs and supporting economic security.

According to the Small Business Administration’s 2016 statistics, small businesses support 49 percent of Colorado’s workforce. Small businesses are truly the backbone of our state’s economy, and we must do everything we can to support entrepreneurs and job creators. Unfortunately, a 2014 study by the Brookings Institute showed an alarming trend: in recent years, the number of small businesses that have shut down exceeds the number that have opened their doors. Nowhere has this trend been felt more profoundly than in rural America, where small businesses are responsible for approximately two-thirds of all jobs.

As a former small business owner, my focus in Congress has been on advancing policies that will create an environment where we see more businesses opening than closing each year. When more businesses open, struggling families have more job opportunities and a better chance at achieving financial stability.

While it takes time to undo nearly a decade of harmful regulatory policies, we are making progress on this front in the 115th Congress. So far this year, Congress passed and the president has signed 14 congressional resolutions of disapproval that roll back unnecessary, overly burdensome federal regulations, and the House passed the REINS Act (H.R. 26), which would require Congressional approval of any regulation that would have an economic impact of $100 million or more. Although we still have a long way to go, I am confident that we are heading in the right direction to deliver more job opportunities and economic stability to families in the 3rd Congressional District.

The Colorado Division of Insurance recently announced that premiums in the state’s individual health insurance market will increase by 26.7 percent on average in 2018. This is on top of the 20 percent increase in 2017 and 24 percent increase in 2016. The trajectory is unsustainable and unacceptable. We must repeal and replace the so-called Affordable Act and bring affordable health insurance to the 3rd Congressional District.

In May, the House made important progress towards this goal by passing the American Health Care Act (AHCA). The bill would drive down the cost of health insurance and bring competition and choice to the market, while ensuring that individuals who have pre-existing conditions maintain access to affordable health insurance. In addition to the AHCA, the House also passed bills to begin medical tort reform — an issue that needs to be addressed in order to drive down health care costs — and allow small businesses and associations to provide insurance options for their employees or members across state lines, which will give individuals and families more choices when it comes to their insurance coverage. These bills were the Protecting Access to Care Act (H.R. 1215), Small Business Health Fairness Act of 2017 (H.R. 1101), and the Competitive Health Insurance Reform Act (H.R. 372).

The Senate has not yet passed the AHCA or a health care bill of its own that would allow both chambers to compromise on final legislation. It is beyond time for the Senate to act.

As I have traveled our district to speak with the men and women who work on the front lines of the opioid abuse epidemic, it has become clear to me that Colorado has some of the most dedicated doctors, nurses, counselors, and substance abuse professionals in the country. The president recently declared the opioid abuse epidemic a national emergency, and I have been committed to ensuring our communities have the resources they need to develop and sustain prevention, treatment, and recovery programs.

In 2016, the 21st Century Cures Act and Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) were both signed into law. These bills authorized programs to provide states with more resources to expand opioid abuse prevention and treatment efforts. As a result of these bills, Colorado received $7.8 million to support prevention, treatment, and recovery services, and the Department of Health and Human Services has made $75.9 million in competitive grants available to state mental health and substance abuse agencies.

I continue to receive feedback on how the federal government can better support Colorado’s efforts to fight the opioid abuse epidemic, and I’m committed to incorporating this feedback into policy decisions that are made in Washington.

Congress has a full agenda between now and the end of the year. If you have any questions about bills that are up for a vote or my work on your behalf, please do not hesitate to give my office in Washington, DC, a call at 202-225-4761. You can also write to me on my website, www.tipton.house.gov.


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Jimmy SengenbergerJimmy SengenbergerSeptember 5, 20177min607
Jimmy Sengenberger
Jimmy Sengenberger

It’s refreshing to see solutions to complex problems plaguing this country come out of the “laboratories of democracy,” the states.  On the surface, that is precisely what Colorado’s own Gov. John Hickenlooper and Ohio Gov. John Kasich did in presenting a health care plan to congressional leaders last week: They shared ideas straight from the states.

On one hand, this is a good thing.  State governors ought to take a proactive interest in major congressional efforts over national policy issues with direct state implications.

But the founding fathers didn’t intend for governors to share ideas for federal overlords to then carry out.  They intended for state governors to implement ideas in their own states, as individual laboratories across the land, and to experiment with new solutions to pressing challenges.  The beauty of this model of federalism is that it protects the entire nation from falling prey to a failed, one-sized-fits-all approach to a substantial issue.

Unfortunately, in their proposed plan to address Obamacare’s collapse, Govs. Hickenlooper and Kasich essentially cede their laboratory power to the feds by presenting ideas almost exclusively for greater federal actions — not by advocating for more authority to the states.  If they favored the latter, then they might advocate for the repeal-and-replace legislation put forward by Senators Bill Cassidy (Louisiana) and Lindsey Graham (South Carolina).

In a new analysis of the Hickenlooper-Kasich plan for the Millennial Policy Center (MPC), my health care reform colleagues and I argue that the plan is well-intentioned and offers some ideas worthy of debate and consideration, but it’s like placing a Band-Aid over a gushing wound.  You hope it will stop the bleeding but are sure to be sorely disappointed.

The governors’ plan essentially boosts subsidies for individuals and insurance companies, appropriates additional funding for cost-sharing subsidies and creates a $15 billion reinsurance fund to help states aid insurers in offsetting the expense of sicker patients.  It also suggests a $100 million advertising campaign to get young people to sign up for Obamacare.

Regrettably, Hickenlooper and Kasich essentially propose throwing more money at the problem, hoping that something sticks, while notably ignoring the primary cost-drivers of health insurance and leaving both the individual mandate and Medicaid expansion intact.

Health insurance regulations are the primary stimulus for skyrocketing costs.  As reported in the MPC analysis, a comprehensive review finds that Obamacare’s mandated “essential health benefits” raise the cost of insurance by 9%, and another analysis shows its various mandates — EHBs, community rating, age rating, etc. — increase health insurance costs by up to 68%.  The governors do suggest offering states a bit more flexibility when it comes to EHBs, but it’s not enough to bend the cost curve.

If the goal is to bring down costs, then we must address the main cost drivers in the first place.  How many young, healthy Millennials who are not currently insured are going to buy it because someone on TV tells them to?  If the costs still outweigh the benefits, one won’t purchase insurance no matter how many commercials they see.

It is good to see Gov. Hickenlooper weigh in on the health care debate. Coloradans on the individual market are bracing for premium increases of 27% next year, an overwhelming amount on top of already-staggering premiums and rising deductibles.  It makes sense that our elected governor would take a position on such a decisive issue.  Unfortunately, he seems to have taken the wrong tack.

The best solutions come about when the states implement their own visions.  The proposal put forward by Sens. Cassidy and Graham — which is still on the table in Congress before the reconciliation time window runs out on September 30 — would return power to the states by permitting each to customize their health care systems to the unique needs of their residents, with federal support, and by block granting Medicaid.

As my MPC healthcare team wrote in our recent analysis of Cassidy-Graham, “Offering states the flexibility to develop their own solutions and innovative strategies to lower costs, improve access, and expand coverage will produce a variety of best practices rather than forcing a failed or untested one-size-fits-all approach on the entire country.”

Govs. Hickenlooper and Kasich should be commended for taking a leadership role from the states on this crucial issue. With individual insurance markets in a death spiral, the challenges of healthcare costs and access cannot be ignored.  However, we need much more than a top-down, federally-placed Band-Aid over this gushing wound called Obamacare.  We need to return genuine power to the laboratories of democracy.


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Peter MarcusPeter MarcusAugust 1, 20173min239
Gov. John Hickenlooper on Tuesday continued his marathon assault against Republican efforts to replace the Affordable Care Act. The Democrat focused on “ongoing threats to undermine and defund our health care system,” underscoring President Trump’s proposal to default on making cost-sharing reduction payments on health insurance. “On a state level we see firsthand in very […]

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