State Rep. Julie McCluskie addresses her election run post-redistricting
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to accurately reflect Ms. McCluskie’s title.
As a state representative currently for Colorado’s 61st District, Democrat Julie McCluskie considers the concerns of five counties: Lake, Pitkin, Delta, Summit and Gunnison.
With redistricting, if she is reelected this November, she will lose three of those (Delta, Gunnison and Pitkin), retain two (Lake and Summit), and gain four (Grand, Jackson, Park and Chaffee).
As she’s been knocking on doors in the newly formed District 13, she says she has heard many of the same hopes, concerns and challenges she from her constituents in 61.
“I’ve focused on the affordability of living in the High Country and rural communities of the Western Slope,” she said. “Western Slope communities pay some of the highest health care premiums in the nation, so while redistricting is creating a new configuration of counties, I believe the challenges we’re facing are really similar.”
McCluskie’s list of accomplishments is lengthy following her election as state representative in 2018.
In her first session, she was appointed to the Rural Affairs & Agriculture, Education, and Appropriations committees, and she chaired both the School Finance Interim and Appropriations Committees during the 2019-2020 fiscal year.
In January 2020, she was appointed to the six-person Joint Budget Committee of the Colorado General Assembly, which is responsible for studying the management, operations, programs and fiscal needs of the agencies and institutions of Colorado state government.
In that role, she helped pass a reinsurance program, which was intended to bring down health insurance premiums on the Western Slope’s individual marketplace, and passed education bills, including one to drive more funding to schools with at-risk students.
She championed a tax on nicotine, which was created to help fund rural schools and free preschool. She also helped pass investments in wildfire mitigation, response and suppression, along with funding for watershed restoration, in the aftermath of the East Troublesome Fire and in the face of the West’s continued water crisis.
These days, McCluskie says her key issues are saving people money during economic downturn, supporting education and conserving natural resources. When pressed on Grand County-specific issues, she said affordable housing is one of the most important to tackle.
“How do you fix the affordable housing crisis in Grand County?” she asked. “That’s the million dollar — no millions of dollars — question.”
In 2021, she sponsored a measure to help drive money to rural counties and municipalities. “In that bill, we tried to provide money to reduce barriers and red tape and incentivize more affordable housing development,” she said.
McCluskie helped form “a great coalition of partners in developing a menu of incentives: land banking, reducing red tape on permitting, and helping to build infrastructure around utilities and zoning,” she added. “We looked at rules and regulations that get in the way (and asked) how to we apply resources to help expand zoning and ordinances?”
Money from that act has been flowing into communities, she said.
“In 2021, I participated with both Democrats and Republicans on board. And this past session I am proud to have co-sponsored a $428 million bill — House Bill 1304 — which funneled $178 million to rural housing. Because we designated that $178 for rural communities, I believe there is a strong effort to support smaller communities, like those in Grand County.”
When asked how she would help health care in Grand County, McCluskie said, “That might be a two-hour conversation, but we put $450 million into behavioral health care services reform, including capital into building residential beds, so we can provide those more acute services for individuals that may be in crisis.”
She also highlighted a program through the Department of Agriculture that put $250,000 into creating a behavioral health care hotline.
But she acknowledged challenges with Grand County’s community mental health care provider, Mind Springs.
“Things became very acute last year, and we pressed hard on state to take action. The executive director has left and I believe the state is providing both good support and accountability to make sure we are improving the structures and services to bolster the providers. But I believe there is much more to do,” she said.
Beyond health, she says some of the needed work includes reaching farming and ranching families with services when they need help, finding more funding for public colleges and universities to help keep tuition flat or with “very, very minimal growth,” and supporting a program called “finish what you started,” which is intended to provide funds to universities and tech schools in exchange for “asking them to reach out to students who dropped out — to incentivize them with support, not only with tuition but housing,” she said.
Speaking on major issues surrounding the Colorado River, McCluskie called it “the question of the century.”
“We’ve done a great deal to invest in water infrastructure. … We’ve helped lead conversations around demand management and in-stream flows … but there is not county that has suffered more than Grand County, and I have made I my priority to invest in Colorado’s water plan, because I do believe, whether through storage or improvements in water delivery, there are ways to protect those resources,” she said.
McCluskie then spoke to her commitment to Colorado’s agriculture community, in response to claims she said her opponent, David Buckley, has made about her.
“I do want to point out that I carried the state’s budget, and investments we made in the Department of Agriculture and initiatives are important to me. I co-sponsored several bills where we made investments (in things like) the Agriculture Relief Program, which helped support the National Stock Show and State Fair. We put money into programs to help support our agriculture workers. I want to make sure that’s acknowledged.”
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