Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mike Johnston offered state-centric solutions to questions about water rights, health care, education funding and renewable energy during campaign stops Monday in Cortez and Durango.
Johnston, who represented northeast Denver as a state senator from 2009 to 2015, is running for governor in 2018 to replace term-limited Gov. John Hickenlooper. During a meet-and-greet hosted by the Montezuma County Democrats at The Farm Bistro in Cortez, Johnson, a former teacher and principal, touted his ASSET bill, which provided in-state tuition rates to Colorado college students who were in the U.S. illegally. Hickenlooper signed the bill in 2013.
Johnston said he reached across the aisle for Republican support. “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 challenges with development, education, the environment and health care.
Jack Schuenemeyer, president of the Montezuma-Cortez Re-1 board, asked about increasing funding for rural schools. Johnston attributed the problem to Colorado’s Taxpayers Bill of Rights, which limits spending in favor of tax refunds. “The only way to solve problems is to make changes to TABOR so that if the state generates more revenue, it is allowed to reinvest in state services like education,” Johnston said.
Speaking in Cortez, Johnston highlighted bills that he sponsored, such as economic development for rural counties, methane-capture requirements, and a 30 percent renewable energy standard.
He also spoke about water conservation. He criticized the state “use it or lose it” law on water rights, saying that it encourages hoarding. “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,” he said. “That creates a market and conserves water – right now, the policy is the opposite.”
In Cortez and Durango, Johnston said he would like Colorado to rely 100 percent on renewable energy by encouraging wind and solar generation and improving the ability to store power in batteries. He also wants to accelerate closure of coal plants. “My goal is to get to a renewable energy economy using wind and solar,” he said.
Responding to a question about hydraulic fracturing, a 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.
Speaking Monday night at the Durango Public Library, Johnston faced questions on topics that have captured the national spotlight, such as renewable energy, health care costs and the changing job market. He repeated his position on renewable energy, and added that he wants to provide two years of training to anyone willing to provide services, such as working on fire mitigation or trail repair.
Johnston also said it is important that Democrats keep control of the governor’s seat to ensure that public lands are not sold, because they are an economic lifeblood for certain parts of the state.
To help control health care costs, Johnston proposed financial accountability for the long-term health of patients and an emphasis on preventive care.
The race boasts a crowded field of Democrats. Others are U.S. Rep. Jared Polis; former state treasurer Cary Kennedy; and businessman Noel Ginsburg. Democratic U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter dropped out on Tuesday.