Republican Cleave Simpson is running to replace term-limited Republican Sen. Larry Crowder in Colorado’s 35th senate district, which encompasses large geographical areas in the southern and southeastern parts of the state. He faces Democrat Carlos Lopez in the race.
What motivates you to run for office?
I love being a native Coloradan and am passionate about the values and the way of life of our rural communities. The people of rural Colorado inspire me to do more for my community and state. Rural Colorado has so much to offer our urban counterparts and it’s vitally important we continue to reinforce our importance to the state. The population of this state is expected to almost double over the course of the next 30 years. Keeping rural Colorado prosperous, relevant, and resilient will be a challenge going forward and I am uniquely qualified to represent rural interests in these challenging times. Rural Proud and Rural Strong.
What experience do you have that makes you qualified for the job?
My work and life experiences have shaped me into a highly effective leader for a variety of organizations, and position me well to serve the constituents of Senate District #35. Currently, I am the general manager of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, performing as the chief operating and administrative officer. The Board of Directors recognized my history of effective leadership, community involvement and financial/organizational management skills when they hired me in 2016. Since January of 2015 I have served as a governor-appointed (Gov. Hickenlooper and Gov. Polis) trustee of Adams State University, including two years as chairman of the board. During my tenure on the board, we have not raised in-state on-campus tuition for four consecutive years, working to make Adams State “radically affordable.”
After graduating from the Colorado School of Mines with a bachelor of science degree in mine engineering I spent half of my adult life working for surface coal mine operations in Texas and Australia, working my way up from a front line supervisor to senior management positions responsible for the safety and well being of hundreds of employees, working with multiple stakeholders, collective bargaining units, federal mine safety agencies, and state permit authorities all under strict budgetary constraints, with up to $200 million annual budgets. The rest of my adult life has been focused on managing my farm and ranch operations and being active in my community: serving on the school district accountability committee; the county land-use planning commission; the Farm Service agency county committee; Alamosa Mosquito Control board; and even as high school freshman basketball coach.
Effective legislators are great listeners and work continuously to build relationships with stakeholders within the Senate district, at the state capitol, and with our federal delegation and federal agencies. My current roles have helped to establish important relationships that will benefit the constituents of this district. My work at the state level includes working with the commissioner of agriculture, the Department of Higher Education, the attorney general, the Department of Natural Resources, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, and the Colorado state engineer. I already have great working relationships with federal partners, including the staff from the offices of Sen. Bennet, Sen. Gardner and Rep. Tipton; the Bureau of Reclamation; the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; U.S. Forest Service; U.S. Geologic Service; Bureau of Land Management; and the National Park Service. I have experience working with the wonderful folks at The Nature Conservancy and Colorado Open Lands, as well as such local entities as the Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust and the Salazar Rio Grande del Norte Center.
Maybe the most important qualification: I have been married to the same wonderful woman for what will be 37 years this June. I know something about commitment and being a good listener.
What are your top three policy issues, and how would you address those issues if elected?
My top policy issues really will be a function of the constituency. I will be focused on and keenly aware of the potential legislative impacts on county commissioners, city councils, district attorneys, sheriffs and police chiefs, public health officials, higher education presidents, school board presidents, agricultural interest groups, environmental groups, veteran service providers, water districts, hospital and health care organizations, and soil conservation districts.
My initial focus will be centered on keeping rural Colorado prosperous and improving the standard of living for all our constituents. The three primary policy issues to support the prosperity focus are:
- Ensuring a vibrant agricultural economy. I would leverage my existing relationships and work with and assist the Colorado Department of Agriculture, the Colorado Farm Bureau, Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, Colorado Cattlemen’s association and other agriculture interest groups in assuring Colorado agricultural products are vigorously supported and marketed. I want to make sure we don’t create more expense and hardship for the agriculture sector through the unintended consequences associated with legislation. Assure that farmers and ranchers have access to mental health assistance. Colorado Farm Bureau reports that 74% of farmers and farm workers report that they or a family member or friend have been directly impacted by opioid abuse.
- Better funding for education systems, both higher education and K-12. The higher education funding model needs to reflect the unique missions and challenges of our rural institutions: Adams State, Trinidad State Junior College, Otero Junior College and Lamar Community College. Implementation of the Colorado Higher Education Master Plan “Colorado Rises” will be foundational to the success of rural Colorado. Demographics presented to the Adams State Board of Trustees indicate a significant challenge in the very near future as the number of high school graduating seniors will decline nationally. The typical student profile in the next decade will likely change substantially. Colorado should be preparing to adjust and to accommodate these changes, making college attendance more available to working parents and promoting concurrent enrollment. The K-12 funding model has a number of weighted factors, including a cost-of-living factor that needs reconsideration for the unintended consequences and the impact of funding for rural school districts.
- Access to and availability of quality health care, including mental health. Many times efforts at the state capitol to create access to quality affordable health care create burdens on rural systems that we just can’t accept. The challenge will be working with urban legislators to tell our story and make sure our concerns are well represented. Colorado is considering how to distribute settlement funds from pharmaceutical companies. The unique needs of rural Colorado need to be strongly represented. I know of far too many instances of drug impacts, including suicides, in the rural areas of Colorado
What key issues set you apart from your opponent? Where do you most closely align?
I will let the voters decide on the key issues that set us apart. Hopefully, we closely align in our vision for rural Colorado: a prosperous, relevant, resilient rural Colorado. We probably don’t share the same path or qualifications to get us there. I respect individuals who step up to serve their communities and work to improve the livelihood of our communities.
If you could snap your fingers and make one law in Colorado, what would it be?
Legislation that has a much stronger recognition and value placed on future water basin transfers that recognize the social, economic and environmental impacts basins of origin experience.
Learn more about Cleave Simpson on his campaign website.