Two of the three candidates for HD26 offer their thoughts on the 2020 election, Jan. 6, COVID-19, climate change and more.
Following the departure of Democrat Dylan Roberts of Avon to run for state Senate District 8, the wide-open House District 26 race could prove to be one of the most competitive in the state this November.
After redistricting, HD26, which used to be just Eagle and Routt counties, will encompass most of Eagle County (excluding the southwestern corner in the Roaring Fork Valley) and all of Routt, Rio Blanco and Moffat counties.
Meghan Lukens, a social studies teacher at Steamboat Springs High School, is the Democratic nominee in the Nov. 8 general election for HD26. Like Roberts, Lukens grew up in Steamboat.
The Republican frontrunner for HD26 is Savannah Wolfson, an Oak Creek mother of two who faces a June 28 primary against Glenn Lowe of Eagle.
Despite what could be a wave Republican year around the country, with the GOP expected to retake the U.S. House of Representatives in November – if not the U.S. Senate as well – Colorado is expected to continue its long-running blue wave.
While Democrats are likely in no real danger of surrendering control of the state House of Representatives (they currently hold a decisive 41-24 majority), HD26, with the addition of the two rural GOP stronghold counties of Rio Blanco and Moffat, could at least be close.
Lukens took the baton from Roberts with little drama, but perhaps the newfound competitive nature of the district is why the fight for the primary ballot on the Republican side was so hotly contested.
Wolfson earned 66% of the delegate votes at last month’s GOP state assembly to 34% for Lowe – three votes above the threshold for landing on the primary ballot. Out of 50 total delegates for HD26, Wolfson earned 33 votes to 17 for Lowe.
Wolfson entered the race first (at the beginning of the year) and earned the blessing of the Eagle County Grassroots Conservatives – a right-wing group that supports indicted conspiracy theorists and Jan. 6 insurrection participants for state offices and backed a failed slate of conservative religious candidates for school board locally.
Lowe was later recruited by the Eagle County Republicans, which didn’t sit well with Pamela Chapman of the Eagle County Grassroots Conservatives, who posted this online in February:
“Once again the Eagle County Republican leadership, Kaye Ferry to be precise, has sabotaged a race,” Chapman wrote. “One thing the dems know how to do, that is to stick together. Savannah Wolfson announced weeks ago that she was throwing her hat in for HD26. She informed Ferry. KF ignored Wolfson because of a previous skirmish. Announced she had a candidate tonight on 2/16 and never mentioned Wolfson. The reason you need to show up for Caucus. Remove the swamp creature.”
Ferry remains the chair of the Eagle County Republicans.
Asked about the apparent rift, Wolfson sent this email response to the Colorado Times Recorder:
“I’ve worked with both the GOP and grassroots groups all over the district to get on the ballot. I’m proud to have friends all over the political spectrum. I’ll go just about anywhere and talk to anyone, even when I disagree with someone, as I believe the most convincing ideas will rise to the top,” Wolfson wrote. “Whether or not I have the support of party leadership is not something they or I can answer; they are required to be neutral in a primary and can’t legally say either way, nor would I want them to. It’s actually something I love about our party structure — the people’s candidates, who are usually regular people like myself, get the same access and the party leadership can’t show favoritism.”
The Democrat, Lukens, declined to comment on the GOP infighting, and Lowe did not respond to multiple inquiries for this story. His responses will be added if and when he does.
Both Lukens and Wolfson did answer questions for a separate story on abortion rights in the wake of the leaked U.S. Supreme Court decision that likely will lead to the overturning of nearly 50 years of precedent in the Roe v. Wade case and the return of reproductive regulation to state legislative bodies. Lowe did not respond to an email request for comment for that story.
Lukens and Wolfson also agreed to answer the following questions from the Colorado Times Recorder on a variety of issues from the 2020 election to immigration, gun safety and COVID-19:
CTR: What is the greatest threat to the health, economic wellbeing and safety of the residents of HD26?
ML: Affordability is the greatest threat to the residents of House District 26. I grew up watching hard-working locals contribute to our local economy amidst growing obstacles and they need support. Our high cost of living makes it challenging for locals to thrive, especially with the increase in housing prices and the large number of second-home owners.
SW: A few weeks ago, I spoke to a mother who could not get birthday cupcakes for her son to bring to school. She said, “I’m too broke to fill up my car with gas. I don’t know what I’m going to do.” Inflation, unaffordable housing, skyrocketing food prices, and unbelievable gas prices are pushing people away. We are breaking up families who have lived here for generations, and making many struggle. If you work hard in America, you should be able to improve your life. Unfortunately, that’s not the case for NW Colorado.
CTR: What will you do in the state House to counteract that threat?
ML: We need legislation that addresses our high cost of living, supports affordable housing, and promotes economic diversity. It is imperative that we continue to prioritize affordable and accessible early childhood education. Prescription drugs are still too expensive for many people in our House District, and so is health insurance, which can be further addressed at the State Legislature. While prioritizing economic development, we must address the climate crisis and promote green jobs that benefit our environment to ensure we all continue to work, grow, and thrive in our wonderful communities.
Should I have the honor of being elected to represent the people of House District 26, I will utilize my relationships I have built with community leaders and experts across the district in order to create effective policy that addresses the issues we are facing here. As a high school teacher, I have always told my students that my favorite activities are learning and listening. We need a legislator that listens, learns and helps us adapt. The only way we can make progress is when we all come to the table and respect each other’s views and come to a commonsense solution to move us forward.
SW: Increasing affordability by cutting unnecessary regulations and taxes is my number one priority. Did you know that there will be an 8 cent gas “fee” increase in Colorado after this election? The high cost of gas impacts all of our other costs, because our goods are trucked in. This increase in the gas “fee” was not approved by the voters. One portion of the funding will go towards installing electric car chargers across the state. I love my friend’s Tesla; I think it’s a really neat car and I have nothing against electric car chargers. But private companies were already taking care of that without raising our taxes. Most people in Colorado can’t face another tax increase right now. It feels like our state leadership is choosing new paint colors for the living room while the roof is caving in.
CTR: Is Joe Biden the freely and fairly elected president of the United States, or do you agree with former President Donald Trump that there was widespread voter fraud in 2020?
ML: Joe Biden is the freely and fairly elected President of the United States.
SW: Joe Biden was certified by the electoral college and is president of the United States, or we would not be dealing with the massive fallout of his failed presidency. We must look forward, take back the Legislative branch in ‘22, and stop his extreme agendas. In his short amount of time in office, he has shown the American people that you cannot give the government more power without taking power away from sovereign individuals. His foreign policy all over the world has been both dangerous and embarrassing, and the debacle in Afghanistan made me question, as a military spouse, that the life of my husband is valued by our government. On the subject of voter fraud, there are always things we can do to increase election security, and we should do them moving forward. I encourage everyone who reads this to become an election judge this year and stay until the process is done. We have had a shortage of Republican election judges in this district in the past, and it’s time to change that.
CTR: Do you agree with an RNC resolution censuring Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger and declaring Jan. 6 “legitimate political discourse”?
SW: I am ready to look forward and deal with our local issues, and I think most Coloradans are too. The average moms and dads I talk to in our district are not very worried about Liz Cheney in their day to day lives. They are worried about filling their tanks with gas and focused on their childrens’ education. The ranchers are worried about wolf reintroduction and the constant attacks on agriculture from state leadership. The energy workers are worried about their jobs being shut down. These are the areas I am focused on improving.
CTR: Should Colorado pass laws and take actions aimed at election security up to and including sending alternate presidential electors in the 2024 presidential election?
ML: Colorado is a leader in voting rights and election security. Our voting system in the state of Colorado has proven to be effective, safe, and accessible. I do not see a need to send alternate presidential electors in the 2024 presidential election.
SW: I’m always for improving security where there are gaps, and that should be bipartisan. I do not agree that our system legally allows alternate electors. However, if non-candidates want to take action, they can do so by becoming an election judge and staying until the process is over. We all want to bring balance back to the state legislature and that is what I will do as your legislator.
CTR: Are you vaccinated against COVID-19 and how would you characterize Colorado’s public health response to the COVID-19 pandemic? What would you change about it?
ML: Yes, I am vaccinated and boosted against COVID-19. Colorado’s public health response to the COVID-19 pandemic seemed to be a balance of local official decision-making, state governor leadership, factoring in guidance from the federal government and the CDC effectively. I believe Colorado navigated this extremely challenging pandemic in the best possible way.
SW: As far as vaccines, I am for personal choice and privacy. As your representative, I will view your health decisions as being between you and your doctor, and my health decisions will be between me and my doctor. Colorado’s public health response caused widespread harm. The questionable practices in nursing homes appeared to lead to more deaths among the most vulnerable, though we may never know, because Democrats stopped the necessary audit on this. Small businesses were shuttered while big corporations were allowed to stay open. I especially disagreed with prolonged school closures. A few weeks ago, I volunteered at our SOROCO Literacy Carnival. The last time we held this was before the shutdown. I was startled to see that most kids who came to my booth were below grade level. Children only get one childhood, and a few years is a long time for them. A major reason I decided to run was to be a voice for children in a culture that consistently devalues their needs.
CTR: Is climate change causing extreme weather events such as wildfires, mudslides and extreme drought, and, if so, is it caused by the ongoing burning of fossil fuels?
ML: Yes, there is definitive scientific proof showing the correlation between the increase of fossil fuels and extreme weather caused by climate change. While dealing with the climate crisis, we must also realize that fossil fuels touch every single part of our economy and life, so we need to take a mindful approach as we transition to cleaner fuels. To do this, we need to depolarize the political discourse in order to decarbonize as the alternative. Finding a solution to the multi-faceted climate crisis requires a multi-faceted solution. I intend to support bipartisan legislation that addresses climate change, prioritizes wildfire mitigation, supports water security and focuses on the energy transformation that must take place, all of which can also support and promote economic development.
SW: While climate change has a measured environmental impact, poor forest management has caused Colorado’s extreme wildfires. When I took my Master Gardener’s course through Colorado State University and the Routt County Extension, they taught us the history of this issue. Forest fires used to be normal, low-heat, and cleansed the forest floor. When the Forest Service was created, many questioned why such an office should exist. In response, the Forest Service tried to brand themselves as useful in that they would “put all fires out within 24 hours.” The fuel load built up, then logging was restricted. With natural and artificial fire suppression gone, the fuel load built up to unsustainable levels, and the decaying brush made for unhealthy forests. The trees became more susceptible to disease and pests. Conservation of our forests must now include
CTR: In a 2020 interview U.S. Rep Lauren Boebert told me the Second Amendment “is a protection against a tyrannical government. It’s not for hunting. It’s not for target shooting or for sport.” Do you agree?
ML: There are many sportsmen and women who are safe gun owners in House District 26, and there are many people who safely and responsibly own a gun for protection. I am proud to support responsible gun owners while also looking at ways to prevent gun violence in Colorado as a whole.
SW: The 2nd Amendment is for self defense, including protecting yourself from tyrants if necessary. In a world with rape, domestic violence, and abuse, I will always support a victim’s right to self defense. I encourage new firearms owners to get certified training in safe gun handling and storage.
CTR: Are there any gun safety measures that you would support in the state House?
ML: If elected to the Colorado House of Representatives, I would listen to constituents regarding the topic of gun safety and advocate for gun safety measures. I would bring in stakeholders to listen to their expertise and concerns on the topic in order to accurately represent the people of HD26.
SW: If there was a gun “safety” measure that would truly make Colorado safer, I think we all would support it. We already have background checks, red flag laws, storage laws, magazine capacity limits etc. in Colorado. All the restrictions I have seen would have had no impact on mass shootings and are politicians paying lip service to solving the real problems. A very serious problem we have in our state is the re-releasing of violent felons onto our streets to abuse people over and over.
In my little town of Oak Creek, a man with a life sentence for domestic violence was released on a PR bond. There was no consideration for his victims. He decided he was going to have revenge and went on a shooting rampage. He killed my neighbor’s young adult son and injured more. He was stopped in the second house he attacked by a legal gun owner. But what law could have prevented this attack? He obtained his firearm illegally once he was released. Gun laws didn’t stop him. Keeping him behind bars would have prevented this. Unfortunately, the re-release of violent felons is a major trend. When I spoke with a local police officer on the issue, he told me, “It’s so frustrating. The ink isn’t dry on the arrest paperwork before they’re let out again.”
We could also do so much more to improve local mental health resources. When I spoke to law enforcement in Rangely, they said they pay Mind Springs and they “get nothing back.” This is a consistent problem we’ve heard across the district. They have nowhere to bring violent, mentally ill people. In Eagle County, the sheriff has actually opted out of Mind Springs in favor of a locally controlled mental health program that is flourishing. This just demonstrates that state lawmakers should empower local governments to solve local problems, instead of creating more bureaucratic offices 500 miles away.
[Editor’s Note: Mind Springs is a private nonprofit responsible for providing behavioral health services in Summit and nine other Western Slope counties: Eagle, Garfield, Grand, Jackson, Mesa, Moffat, Pitkin, Rio Blanco, and Routt. It faces substantial criticism for failing to deliver adequate services, so much so that several counties, including Summit and Eagle, are canceling contracts with the provider.]
CTR: Colorado has a large Latin American immigration population and an ongoing labor shortage in industries from outdoor recreation to construction to agriculture. What is your stance on immigration in the current economic climate?
ML: Our Latin American community is an integral and wonderful part of our community, especially in House District 26. Not only do we value the Latin American community, but I also hope to work with this community extensively at the State Legislature by advocating for worker visas, access to educational opportunities, promotion of an equitable environment, and the creation of new affordable housing programs that meet the needs of working families.
Furthermore, addressing our ongoing labor shortage, especially in central industries across House District 26, is a major focus. Should I have the honor of being elected to represent the people of HD26 in the State House, I would prioritize addressing the ongoing labor shortage, economic policy that benefits everyone, and supporting our immigrant communities.
SW: I love this question! Legal immigration, labor, and free trade across borders is good for our economy. Work creates prosperity, and we have a shortage of workers that did not re-enter the work force after the economic shutdowns. We have created a massive bureaucracy at our border that discourages legal immigration and incentivizes illegal immigration. I don’t like when I talk to my friends and hear that they waited 7+ years to come here legally and happened to win the immigration lottery. Imagine all the brain power and strong work ethic we are keeping out because we don’t streamline the process!
In addition, our open borders policy has empowered the drug cartels and human traffickers, making life worse for people living under the cartels in Mexico, and worse for American citizens (fentanyl coming over the border being an obvious example). We should make legal immigration easier and illegal immigration more difficult, so that we know for sure that anyone coming illegally has criminal intentions.
CTR: Should Colorado massively ramp up its fossil fuel production in the wake of the energy crisis caused in part by pandemic production issues and the Ukraine-Russia War?
ML: Many people, including myself, are feeling the tension due to pandemic production issues and with Russia invading Ukraine. We are all feeling the pressure of high gasoline prices right now.
It is a challenge for the Colorado State Legislature to impact the international petroleum market. Gas prices are determined on a global market, which is impacted by the global pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
I support an all-of-the-above domestic energy strategy. Colorado needs to be a leader in responsible energy production. We need to responsibly develop our natural resources as well as a green renewable energy strategy and energy jobs in our region.
In the short term, I support the Colorado State Legislature suspending the road user fee, and in the long term, we must work towards renewable energy so we are not as dependent on the international petroleum market. Furthermore, House District 26 needs to invest in our local communities and be a leader in renewable energy. We as Coloradoans must work together with all stakeholders when it comes to fossil fuel production and addressing the climate crisis.
SW: I believe a representative’s purpose is to be a voice for their constituents. I think it is wrong for a politician to shame their constituents’ work and try to close down their jobs, so I will not advocate for the shutdown of local energy. ¾ of our counties rely heavily on energy jobs! On the other hand, I am also personally a 3rd-generation military spouse. I view our local energy workers as being vital to peace, including peace for my husband and family. It is frustrating to watch our military deploy to conflicts that could have been avoided. Why rely on hostile forces when we could be self-reliant?
In addition, we still need the black to make the green! Wind and solar still rely on oil, gas, and coal in their production and execution. I would rather those products be harvested in countries like ours, where we have strict labor laws, instead of using child slave labor overseas.
Finally, we can’t paint all local energy with a broad brush. When I was a teenager, I lived in South Africa. There were coal power plants there that really did cause disgusting pollution. They killed people. The goal here is to reduce dirty emissions and pollution, not demonize an energy source. Our local coal power plants emit steam.
This article first appeared in RealVail.com