Rep. Martinez brings Latino Caucus, Speaker of the House to Valley

Photo by Priscilla Waggoner Members of the Colorado Democratic Latino Caucus in a roundtable discussion at The Barn in Alamosa. Pictured left to right Rep. Elizabeth Velasco, Rep. Mandy Lindsay, Rep. Javier Mabry, Rep. Tim Hernandez, Sen. Julie Gonzales (Majority Whip), Sen. Robert Rodriguez (Senate Majority Leader) and Rep. David Ortiz. Rep. Matt Martinez, who organized the tour, not pictured.

First time many remember seeing such a delegation in SLV

ALAMOSA — In two separate events, first-term Rep. Matt Martinez (D-D62) brought seven members of Colorado state legislature’s Latino Caucus and Colorado’s Speaker of the House Rep. Julie McClusckie to Alamosa last week where substantive conversations were held with community members about issues facing residents of the San Luis Valley.

It was the first time many residents who attended the events could remember a delegation of legislators from the state making the four-hour trek from Denver, solely to learn more about the area. Martinez told the Valley Courier he arranged the tour to familiarize fellow lawmakers with relevant rural, local issues to consider when voting on future legislation. 

Following Friday morning meetings with Adams State University’s Vice President of Academic Affairs, Margaret Doell and the university’s executive team plus a sit-down with ASU’s LatinX Caucus, the legislators headed to The Barn in Alamosa where they had a two-hour roundtable discussion with local Latino elected officials and prominent community members.

The conversation began with general comments about the importance of equitable Latino representation in state government and to recognize that districts allow for less representation from rural communities. With potential opportunities for new policies, the caucus was asking what the community needs.

Erin Minks, community outreach for U.S. Senator Michael Bennet, discussed the need for transmission lines, including redundant transmission lines.

Arnold Salazar, who prefaced his comments by saying he has 40 years of experience in community mental health, feels the current mental health and behavioral health system is in disarray and proposed legislation involving implementation of the Behavioral Health Administration (BHA) will create deficiencies in services. He urged legislators to back off on the implementation of the BHA.

Senate Majority Leader Robert Rodriguez agreed that communities need more support for behavior health access and the quality of those services needs to be better.

Victoria Romero (CEO of SLV Behavioral Health Group) weighed in, stating behavioral health workers are sparse in rural areas due to salaries and workforce challenges. Not everything can be done through telehealth, she says, and they are seeing more need for in-person services.

Azarel Madrigal, outreach for U.S. Senator John Hickenlooper, emphasized the need to “have a balance of housing," citing Chaffee County where businesses can’t hire a workforce because there is no housing available.

As a Veteran, Alamosa City Councilor Griego discussed the challenges when the federal and state governments have different definitions of a disability.

Proposition HH was discussed with Rep. Martinez stating his reasons for opposing the bill and Sen. Rodriguez acknowledging it’s a different conversation in cities versus rural areas. He also highlighted that, with budget stabilization, more money for public education translates into less money for higher education.

Sen. Julie Gonzales added, “We’ll know if this will pass in four days, but this won’t solve everything either way. We welcome more conversation on this.”

After the roundtable discussion, members of the caucus went to the Rio Grande Water Conservation District (RGWCD) where Amber Pacheco, Deputy Manager of the district, gave an overview of the complex topic of water.

Comments and questions from caucus members made it clear that significant education in water issues is needed in the state legislature. Minks interjected two comments — one, reminding legislators that water does impact their constituents as Front Range communities, like Greeley, draw their water from the Western Slope.

She also advised them to familiarize themselves with potential legislation being proposed by proponents of RWR, who have not abandoned their intention to export water.

Late Sunday morning, Rep. Martinez and Speaker of the House McCluskie held a town hall at Shooting Stars Cultural and Leadership Center that opened with McCluskie stating that, between her district and Martinez’s, they represent all the mountain counties from New Mexico to Wyoming.

McCluskie had high praise for Martinez, highlighting his passage of 10 bills — which she described as “almost unheard of” — and her choice to appoint him to the commission looking into the high cost of utilities. She chose him over much more tenured members, she said, due to his thoughtful approach to legislation and his ability to quickly grasp complex subjects.

Martinez brought up an area he’s addressing this session related to simplifying recidivism data in prison systems so that it is more easily read and interpreted than the current system.

He also spoke about the outcome of the utility commission, stating that the goal was to address rising utility rates, how to fix rate hikes and hold utility companies more accountable.

“We added a lot of teeth in regulating the utility companies,” he said, “and stopped the practice of utility companies recouping lobbying expenses by passing on that cost to customers.”

He also discussed the $25 million he got allocated for scholarships to graduating high school students to help students overcome financial barriers to higher education.

Martinez and McCluskie then engaged in a discussion on a number of topics, including public education in rural areas. McCluskie spoke of her belief that rural school districts, with limited resources and wealth available in the community, should receive state funding at a greater level than districts in, for example, Summit County, which she represents.

Water was also raised as an issue with McCluskie saying, “Water is our lifeblood.” She added that there are some discussions in the legislature around the use of graywater. Salazar spoke of the frustration in depleting water in the Valley and then seeing “truckloads of alfalfa leaving the Valley for New Mexico”, a point John Kretsinger expanded upon by advocating for state help in building and strengthening value added in agriculture.

Both opportunities for conversations with state legislators were well attended, with Martinez viewing the experience as a success for all involved.