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Q&A with Erin Kelley

Salida resident Erin Kelley is running for Colorado House District 60, a seat held by Rep. Jim Wilson since 2013. The District encompasses Chaffee, Park, Fremont and Custer Counties. She represents just one of the many younger women nationwide who have decided to run for office in 2018.

Kelley is currently the secretary/treasurer for the South Arkansas Fire Protection District and Public Information Officer for the Salida Fire Department.

CC: What prompted you to toss your hat into the ring for HD60?

EK: I think when you decide to run there are many reasons. I’ve always been very interested in national, state-level and local politics. I worked in the Florida legislature for six years and have been very involved in the party since I moved back to Colorado and I had an interesting situation at Salida city council where I spoke about all the turnover we were having at city hall and how much money we were wasting hiring people, paying severance and the loss of institutional knowledge, and how much more that was wasting. And the next meeting I attended, my ward representative harassed me in the parking lot and I became tired of the bullies running the show. I think that instead of people who only care about their egos, we need representatives who care about people, good policies and working together. I think we would all benefit.

CC: Why this particular seat?

EK: I decided to run for the House because of my legislative experience. I did nonpartisan, bills-tracking work for both the Florida House and Senate, and you could say I was an expert in the bill process in Florida. That was my first job after grad school, and it was really an honor to work there. I grew to love the institution. I totally believe in the dream of democracy, and thought that was an arena that I could do a great job in. I will work across the aisle in a bipartisan fashion and work with Senator Kerry Donovan to push legislation our rural area needs.

Also, this past session in Colorado, house leadership decided they were going to expel Representative Steve Lebsock. I spent that day watching all the debate happening on the floor, and the first thing that really hit me was that I couldn’t believe how many women there are in the House. How many women were my age and younger. I couldn’t believe that most of the House leadership were women, and I thought, “I didn’t know there was a place for me there.” When I worked in Florida, there were very few women (in the House). I didn’t think that was an opportunity thatwas actually open to me, but watching that days proceedings, I realized, “wow, there are a lot of people there that I could work with and learn from.”

CC: Are you a native Coloradan?

EK: Yes. I was born in Aurora and come from a military family, so we moved a lot. I’ve lived in Colorado,  South Carolina, Virginia, Alabama, Arizona, then Germany and grad school in Florida, then back to Phoenix and then to Oakland, California. We were then ready to leave the rat race and moved to Salida.

CC: What do you consider some of the biggest issues facing residents of HD 60?

EK: Certainly affordable housing is a huge issue and we are all trying to figure out a solution for that. I would like to work on broadband and cellular service. We know our broadband is terrible here. I’ve noticed that cell service has gotten substantially worse. Our service is bad here, but in Park and Custer Counties it’s much worse, and I don’t think we can have a thriving economy if we don’t have functioning technology. We also have a complete lack of childcare in Salida, long waiting lists and virtually no newborn care. Another issue is that in Park County they don’t have a single health clinic or pharmacy, so these hard-working people have to go to Breckenridge or Buena Vista when they need health care.


CC: Why do you suppose there is a lack of child care in Salida?

EK: From what I understand, the regulations involved in new facilities make it difficult to make money, given the teacher-to-child ratio and that child care is essentially a private business, so the profit margin is small. Because of the high cost of real estate, any sort of commercial building is expensive, and if there is no profit margin it is difficult to get started.

Another reason I’m concerned about it is that I know a lot of parents who are highly-educated, where the mom or the dad needs to stay home because there isn’t child care, so the husband or wife may lose out on years of career advancement, regular benefits, health, dental and vision insurance, life insurance, lifetime savings, saving for kid’s college and emergency fund. So there are all of these other implications of these years out of the job market and I think, in this country, if somebody wants to work, we should make that happen.


CC: Your opponent is an NRA member who supports Constitutional Carry Legislation. Any thoughts on that?

EK: This is a touchy subject in this district because it is very rural and very red, but I think we can all come together to recognize that red flag laws would be a very good starting point. If we know of anyone in our families who is exhibiting signs of violent mental illness, threatening harm to themselves or others, I think common sense tells us they probably shouldn’t have access to a weapon.

     I was at a forum a couple of months ago where our current sheriff (John Spezze) said he would be in support of that type of legislation. My opponent was not in support of that legislation, he was concerned that his heirloom guns would be taken from him and not given to his children. I absolutely have no interest in taking anyone’s guns away and believe in the Second Amendment. I am a gun owner, but think we all need a little common sense and personal responsibility.

CC: Your opponent is also an advocate for Right to Life legislation, although he claims abortion is a decision between a mother and her God. He just doesn’t want to see public tax dollars funding abortion. Your thoughts?

EK: It is my understanding that public tax dollars do not fund abortion. I will say that since November 2016, I have been a monthly donor to Planned Parenthood. Recently I saw Phil Weiser who is running for Colorado attorney general and he said, “When a woman doesn’t have her right to make a decision over her own body, she is not equal to a man,” and I think most women I know are sick and tired of men and people in general telling them what to do. We are integral to society and to the job market, we do a lot with raising kids, working full-time, managing households, and I think it’s time we get the respect we deserve and that people let us choose how we live our lives. Also, when we talk about children and life, one thing for me is that I want this country and community to hold every child harmless. I think it is silly to talk about abortion when we’re not talking about children who are going hungry in this country and the 1,200 new families we need for foster care in Colorado this year. We are not doing a good job of taking care of the children we currently have. I think that is shameful and we can do better as a first-world country.

 When I say that we should do everything we can to hold children harmless, I mean that every decision we make, in every piece of legislation, we should be asking, does this improve the lives of our  children?  Does it make their lives more difficult?  What are the impacts? If it hurts children, I’m a “no” vote.

CC: In 2016, your opponent won with 63.55 percent of the vote. Do you have a strategy to beat those kinds of numbers?

EK: My strategy is to talk about local issues affecting Chaffee, Fremont, Park and Custer Counties, that are negatively impacting our families. I want to be an advocate for families and holding children harmless, and my strategy is basically reaching out to  independents who’ve probably felt their concerns have not been addressed. I think we’ve all seen a new sense of involvement from independents, specifically here in Salida, and I think they are an untapped resource for information to make the state better and for compromise.

CC: What are your best qualities to prepare you for the rough and tumble world of state politics?

EK: The ability to put my best foot forward every single day, my six years of legislative experience, my background coming from a military family who always chose to give back, my education, my degree in political science, my master’s in criminal justice and my current work with the fire department and the South Arkansas Fire Protection Board. ?