Millie Hamner and Robert Schutt faced off last Tuesday in a candidate forum hosted by the League of Women Voters and the Surface Creek Republican Women.
Hamner currently serves as state representative in District 61 -- the eastern portion of Delta County. Robert Schutt is the Republican challenger.
Schutt is a resident of Crested Butte and a graduate of the Air Force Academy. He is an orthopaedic surgeon who has experience as an educator as well as a civilian and military trauma surgeon. He said he wants to effect positive change in how Colorado's tax dollars are being spent. If elected, he said he would be the only physician in the House of Representatives and he welcomes the opportunity to help guide Colorado's health care policy in the right direction.
Hamner is a Summit County resident who was first elected to the Colorado House of Representatives six years ago. If elected for a fourth term, it will be her last because of term limits. In six years, she said she has sponsored 60 bills. She briefly mentioned the legislation that has benefited Delta County -- a "tweak" in school funding to give 50J a boost and actions to support the cottage food industry, REDI program and the North Fork Creative District. She is chairman of the bipartisan Joint Budget Committee and has been appointed to a task force to identify solutions for affordable health care.
With the first question addressing infrastructure needs, differences surfaced between the two candidates. Hamner believes the hospital provider fee can provide a short-term solution; Schutt said dipping into that revenue is simply a way of working around budget constraints and TABOR limitations.
Candidates were asked if they would support a tax on wind or solar facilities on public lands to offset the declines in fossil fuel taxes and royalties.
"I'm not sure a tax is the right solution, but I do know we need to focus on economic development in Delta County," Hamner said. Rural Economic Development Initiative (REDI) grants that help businesses relocate to Delta County, and emerging industries such as solar and organic farming, will help move the economy forward.
"Instead of taxing, which is the question you're bringing up, the Democrats are providing subsidies [to renewable energy] so coal can't compete fairly," Schutt said. He accused Hamner of "putting the nail in the coffin for coal" by supporting SB 252. "I'm afraid the progressive agenda will next attack natural gas," he said.
Both candidates admitted little knowledge of the North Fork Alternative for BLM's Resource Management Plan. "But knowing my constituents in the North Fork, I have an idea of what it might include," Hamner said. "My hunch would be there are some alternatives that take into account some places where it might not be appropriate to have oil and gas development. I am very sympathetic to the interests of the people in the North Fork."
In a related question about management of public lands, Schutt said he is an avid outdoorsman who is opposed to commercial exploitation of public lands. "We should keep the land as pristine as possible," he said.
Both he and Hamner said they support fracking, "but we have to be smart about where oil and gas development takes place," Hamner said.
"If you want clean and affordable energy, you've got to support fracking," Schutt said.
The candidates expressed support for Second Amendment rights and Amendment 71, Raising the Bar. They also agreed all Coloradans should have access to health care, but Amendment 69 is not the answer.
In wrapping up, Schutt touched on a topic that hadn't come up -- small business prosperity. He said the best way to create jobs is to make sure the small businesses are successful and to reduce barriers for job creators. He pledged to protect public lands, water and Second Amendment rights, and to provide affordable health care for all. He believes there should be more educational choice and an emphasis on vocational/job skills training.
Millie Hamner said she's seen as a problem solver and a go-to person. "I am working hard to find real solutions and solve real problems," she said. "I have the relationships, the bipartisan skills, and I'm respected at the capitol."
District 61 encompasses parts of Delta including the communities of Paonia, Hotchkiss, Crawford and Cedaredge.
The western portion of Delta County lies in House District 54, where Republican Yeulin Willett is completing his first term in office. His challenger is Libertarian Gilbert Fuller.