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Southwest Colorado lawmakers put rural concerns above party politics

Transportation bill cited as biggest disappointment of session
Reps. Marc Catlin, R-Montrose, and Barbara McLachlan, D-Durango, talk during the budget debate in the House. McLachlan said she worked closely with Catlin and Sen. Don Coram, R-Montrose, throughout the session to ensure they were serving Southwest Colorado.

DENVER – While the final days of the legislative session brought elected officials together in support of a measure to buoy rural Colorado, lawmakers from the southwest corner of the state had been working to do just that all session.

“We all kinda decided at the same moment we shouldn’t be Republican versus Democrat, but urban versus rural,” Rep. Barbara McLachlan, D-Durango, said of herself, Rep. Marc Catlin, R-Montrose, and Sen. Don Coram, R-Montrose.

That isn’t to say they saw eye to eye on everything, but when it came to bills that would directly benefit their districts, they closed ranks and defended each other from well-intentioned urban lawmakers who might not realize the realities of rural life.

“That’s one of the biggest surprises that I’ve had, is the division between urban and rural is really wider than the division between Republican and Democrat a lot of times,” Catlin said.

The Republicans from Montrose listed bills on water rights among the achievements of which they were most proud.

Senate Bill 36, which addresses what information can be presented during an appeal of a water rights ruling, was Coram’s top achievement.

For Catlin, it was SB 117, which recognizes hemp as a legitimate product for the purpose of determining water rights usage.

McLachlan cited House Bill 1003, her signature bill of the session, which requires the departments of Education and Higher Education to conduct a study on the teacher shortage and craft a strategic plan to correct issues of decreased enrollment and teacher retention.

The three lawmakers agreed that the biggest disappointment was the death of HB 1242, the big transportation funding measure, which would have raised hundreds of millions dollars annually for transportation infrastructure through a half-a-cent sales tax increase.

While they didn’t believe it was necessarily the best transportation option, they said the fiscal conservatives on the Senate Finance Committee stripped the opportunity for taxpayers to weigh in.

“Did I like everything about it? Absolutely not, but I have been elected four times here because they trusted my opinion,” Coram said. “Now, for me to come back and say, ‘I don’t trust your opinion on this transportation issue’ I think is a little disingenuous.”

Lperkins@durangoherald.com

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