Mike Johnston, a Democrat running for Colorado governor, on Monday addressed local issues such as education funding, renewable energy and water rights during a campaign stop in Cortez.
Johnston grew up in Vail working at his family’s bed-and-breakfast, then became a teacher, principal and state senator in Colorado.
He touched on many subjects during his meet-and-greet, hosted by the Montezuma County Democrats at The Farm Bistro, 34. W. Main St.
Johnston cosponsored Colorado’s ASSET Act, which provided in-state tuition rates to Colorado college students who were in the U.S. illegally. Gov. John Hickenlooper signed Senate Bill 33 into law in 2013. To get the votes, Johnston said, he reached across the aisle for Republican support.
“What I’m most proud of in my seven years in the state Senate is that more than 90 percent of the legislation I sponsored also had Republican cosponsors,” Johnston said.
Some of the bills he sponsored that passed include economic development for rural counties, methane capture requirements in the oil and gas industry, a 30 percent renewable energy standard for the state, and police reform for communities of color seeking more equitable treatment.
“I find it is still possible to solve the big problems,” he said. “It requires a bold vision and building coalitions with folks who may be on the opposite side of an issue.”
He said the state faces “massive challenges,” from economic development and education, to the environment and health care.
“The reason I got into this race is to build a coalition to govern in a way that will solve problems long-term,” he said. “Let’s prove to the country it is still possible for government to work. It means working with good people who may disagree on some things but find common ground on the big things.”
Jack Schuenemeyer, president of the Re-1 school board, asked Johnston how he would address the lack of school funding for rural schools.
Johnston attributed the school funding problem to Colorado’s Taxpayers Bill of Rights, which limits spending in favor of tax refunds.
“TABOR limits growth of government to pay for state services such as education and infrastructure, no matter how well the economy does,” he said. “The only way to solve problems is to make changes to TABOR so that if the state generates more revenue, it is allowed it to reinvest in state services like education.”
One of Johnston’s goals is to have 100 percent of Colorado run on renewable energy by 2040.
“It is the most ambitious plan in the country,” he said. “My goal is to get to a renewable-energy economy using wind and solar, and the route to get there includes natural gas, not coal.”
Responding to a question about hydraulic fracturing, a controversial drilling technique known as “fracking,” Johnston said it should not be done in ecological sensitive or unstable areas, and drilling close to homes needs to be avoided.
“Drilling it safely will allow us to use natural gas as a bridge to get to 100 percent renewable energy,” he said.
Johnston said there needs to be more water conservation strategies in agriculture.
He criticized the “use it or lose it” state law regarding water rights because it encourages hoarding, and is not a good incentive for conservation.
“If you have entitlement for 100 acre-feet of water but only need 50 acre-feet, you are at risk of losing the other 50 acre-feet, so let’s give you credit so you can sell it to someone else who needs it. That creates a market and conserves water – right now, the policy is the opposite.”
Johnston was also scheduled to speak Monday night in Durango.
Republicans in the race include Doug Robinson, a former investment banker; Victor Mitchell an entrepreneur and businessman; and George Brauchler, the district attorney for the 18th Judicial District, which includes Denver-area counties.