RBC | Glenwood Springs attorney Colin Wilhelm is running for Colorado House District 57 as a Democrat this election. He faces incumbent Rep. Perry Will, R-New Castle for the district encompassing Garfield, Moffat, and Rio Blanco counties.
Starting this week Wilhelm begins a “socially distanced tailgate tour” to hear from people around the district.
“It’s gonna be very informal, I’m not gonna be giving a speech or anything. I’d love to hear what they wanna say, hear what they want from their representative down in Denver, hear what issues are most important to them.”
Wilhelm is focused on a message of unity, working together and resolving differences.
“I want to get us talking about these issues, and talking about different ways to solve the issues. If me and six other people sit down at a table and have a calm rational discussion, we can come up with seven great ideas that could turn into one really good idea that might solve that issue.”
Wilhelm believes that for too long, Americans have avoided some of the difficult conversations needed to really move the country forward.
“That has actually led us to having a much more divisive country and not listening to other people and their ideas.”
One example of this divide in HD57 pertains to the energy sector, specifically the subject of fossil fuels versus renewable energy.
“We can expand the renewable footprint while at the same time not diminishing the oil and gas industry footprint,” Wilhelm said.
“What we need to do, while keeping those [energy] jobs, is to diversify our jobs. We need to incentivize new companies coming in, and that’s a broad range of companies.”
Wilhelm shared examples like outdoor equipment manufacturers and retailers, a new railroad line through northern Colorado as a goods distribution satellite hub for Salt Lake City, and bringing in tech companies looking to do remote work.
“We’ve spoken to some front range companies like Lockheed Martin and defense contractors who would like to put satellite offices up here on the Western Slope.” Wilhelm said.
He emphasized the urgency of economic diversification, but described the current moment as an opportunity.
“We need to work now and get these things lined up, and if we do that then we can have a really phenomenal transition to an even better, diversified economy,” he said.
Aside from long term economic strategies for the district, Wilhelm is focused on mitigating the impacts of COVID-19, both economically and healthwise.
“Garfield County, Rio Blanco County and Moffat County have very few ICU beds for the size of their population. And those beds need to remain available while the pandemic is going on for heart attacks and car accidents and hunting accidents and the various things we get throughout the year. We can’t be filling up those beds with COVID-19 patients,” said Wilhelm. Wilhelm acknowledged that we need to get through the health crisis as quickly as possible, so that we can begin to address the economic crisis. He cited wearing masks as one way to accomplish this goal.
“It is one of the most useful and least imposing things that somebody can do to help protect their neighbors,” Wilhelm said.
Wilhelm, a practicing attorney, also said he does not believe mandatory mask orders violate the U.S. Constitution.
“Governments under the Constitution are allowed to make laws and pass ordinances for the health and safety of their constituents. Those laws are reviewed by the Supreme Court under what’s titled ‘strict scrutiny.’”
“I believe it would stand up to strict scrutiny and would therefore not be unconstitutional. That would be my legal analysis that I would do if I was presenting it to the supreme court, or to a judge,” he said.
As long as the pandemic is still happening, Wilhelm says workers need to be supported. One way to do that, is to continue the $600/week pandemic assistance payments mandated as part of the federal CARES act.
“For now it’s necessary. If in the future we need to lower that, we need to start in a trickle down way. Not from $600 to $200 to zero. We need to lessen that burden on our workers.”
“As we do these things in the interim to protect people now, we develop a plan for the future in case another economic collapse comes like this. So that way we have some benefits there that protect people and keep them from all of the sudden being out of work for 12 months with no income, and unable to pay their rent.”
PROTECTING WATER RIGHTS
Also on Wilhelm’s radar: water rights. He said we “can’t diminish the importance” of the Colorado River as a water source for 37 million people, but he notes the importance of avoiding a call on the Colorado River for as long as possible.
“We are the headwaters up here in these districts. So we need to stand up and protect our rights first and foremost,” Wilhelm said.
He mentioned a few ways to prevent a call on the Colorado anytime in the near future.
“I like some of the programs that reduce the use when people aren’t necessarily needing to use all their water.”
Wilhelm believes these kinds of measures can be achieved within the existing legal framework and policies like “use it or lose it.” For example, water lease-back programs, which give rights-holders the option to lease water they don’t need for a given period of time.
“Previously that had been done in a 10 year block system where you had to lease those rights for 10 years. Recently it’s gone down to about five. I wouldn’t mind seeing it go down to one year programs.”
“There’s also incentivizing some agricultural businesses to lower their water use consumption and build new agricultural water distribution plans that are more efficient.”
“Really what we’re looking for here is preventing water waste, which will prevent a call on the Colorado River,” Wilhelm said.
Wilhelm had more to say about issues like improving healthcare access, bolstering restaurant workers, expanding broadband access throughout the district and more. You can listen to the full interview in our podcast feed at soundcloud.com/heraldtimes1885
Colin Wilhelm begins touring the district this week, starting in Meeker on Saturday, Aug. 15, at City Park from 1-4 p.m. He will be in Rangely the following week on Saturday Aug. 22 at Elk’s Park from 1-4 p.m.
Wilhelm has multiple trips to Meeker and Rangely scheduled through October. You can find the full list of dates at facebook.com/ColinWilhelmForColorado/
By LUCAS TURNER | firstname.lastname@example.org