Sen. Kerry Donovan is using the weeks between the election and the beginning of the 2017 legislative session to visit every county in her state Senate district, which is comprised of Delta, Chaffee, Eagle, Gunnison, Hinsdale, Lake and Pitkin counties. A Democrat, she was first elected to represent Senate District 5 in 2014.
At the invitation of Hannah Owens and Lydia Stalcup, the president of the Young Democrats of Delta High School, Sen. Donovan visited the high school Wednesday, Dec. 7. She attended a meeting of Delta County Economic Development and toured Phillips Machine before heading to the North Fork for stops in Hotchkiss and Paonia.
Discussions with constituents and community "thought leaders" will help shape priorities for the upcoming legislative session, she said.
"The things I'm hearing are still the importance of broadband, robust and redundant, health care and the cost of the individual plans, and making sure we have economies that are rebounding equally across the state," she said.
In Tonya Mackendrick's AP government class, Sen. Donovan talked about the challenges of representing a rural district.
Even defining a rural district can be challenging. Sen. Donovan said all seven counties in her district are considered "rural" by her metropolitan colleagues, but she finds it hard to think of Aspen as "rural." The students agreed.
Although she said her political colleagues have a real love for the entire state, when it comes to deciding how funds should be allocated, rural projects aren't always the priority. In a representational government, population centers have power, she said. So what can rural citizens do? Communication is the key, she said.
Although most students can't vote yet, they are still constituents. She urged them to send a genuine message, to share their story, by phone, email or text. "If I get a handful of emails on a topic, I pay attention because I know they represent the thoughts of a whole lot of other folks. Your story is impactful," she said.
At the beginning of the class period, Sen. Donovan was asked about the hardest part of being a legislator. She answered the question then but touched upon it again later, during a discussion about the coal industry. The hardest part of her job, she said, is addressing "polar opinions within one district and coal is definitely one of those."
By the time she was sworn into office, she said, mine closures were a reality. The question then became one of helping Delta County move forward. The first step was learning about the industry and touring a coal mine.
She ultimately wrote a bill, which did not pass, that would provide resources for communities experiencing significant job losses. She explained a bill can not be written specifically to benefit one entity or community, so she proposed legislation that she believed would empower all communities experiencing tough economic times. She plans to reintroduce a modified version of the bill in the 2017 legislative session.
"Every vote is a combination of policy and politics," she told the students.
Students showed their depth of knowledge with questions about gerrymandering and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP.
The importance of political parties was also brought up. Sen. Donovan said young people nationwide don't seem to care about political affiliation as much as older voters. "Political affiliations are becoming less relevant, but not less important," said Sen. Donovan, who admitted she was drawing a fine line.
As the bell rang, the senator handed out business cards and encouraged the students to contact her with questions and concerns.
"Questions from students are always very genuine and inquisitive, instead of rhetorical, allows for really good dialogue."