Spotlight on Colorado House District 29
This is another installment in a series detailing some of the key Colorado races. The Colorado District 29 race pits incumbent Representative Robert Ramirez against Tracy Kraft-Tharp, a former middle school teacher, youth counselor and social worker.
District 29 includes Westminster and Arvada and leans Democrat in terms of voter registration. Ramirez won in 2010 by 147 votes, a nail biter that helped tip the Colorado Assembly House to a one-seat Republican majority.
Ramirez is a United States Navy veteran who gave up his position in management to serve full-time as his district’s representative. His wife, Suzanne Stone Ramirez is an elementary school teacher in JeffCo and their daughter, Lauren Sides, attends JeffCo schools. The whole family is involved in competitive martial arts. Ramirez has volunteered on a middle-school PTA, acted as a delegate to the board of directors of a local retirement community and has helped raise money for other local causes.
Kraft-Tharp is a Minnesota native who has lived here in Colorado with her husband of 18 years, Vern, for many years. She has run a large Colorado-based organization, is an attorney and has worked in the State Legislature as a policy advocate. She has taught at the college level and also does a lot of volunteer work. Find out more about Kraft-Tharp at www.tracyforstaterep.com.
Kraft-Tharp and I were unable to connect for this piece. I did get to interview Representative Ramirez and asked him the standard questions for this series of interviews. Below are his responses.
1) What is the most important issue(s) families and women are facing in your district?
RR: Putting food on the table and keeping a roof over their heads. Making sure their kids have an option to get a job when they come home from college.
We’ve knocked on 23,500 doors and most of the women I’ve spoken to are wondering what their kids are supposed to do that are coming home with great degrees and working at McDonalds because they can’t find a job. They’re concerned about the opportunities their children are going to have.
That’s not just women; that’s families in general. How are they going to make ends meet? There are just not many opportunities right now.
2) What are your favorite public policy issues you feel you can speak about best?
RR: Usually, I don’t have pet issues. When people have concerns, I address them.
K-12 is a passion of mine because my wife is a teacher, my mother-in-law is a teacher. Our daughter goes to our public schools. My grandmother was a teacher. I’ve been around schools my whole life. We keep fighting about funding. We need to look at the bigger picture; what are we getting for our dollars? Are our kids learning? Do we need to be more active within our schools as parents?
Also funding for higher education. Less than 3% of our budget goes to higher education. That’s ridiculous. Not only are our kids coming home now, and can’t get a job, but they have so much debt because the cost of going to school is astronomical.
It all boils down to one thing. When the economy fell apart in the United States, in Colorado, we were sailing along asking, “What’s wrong with the rest of the country? We’re doing just fine.” Just like Texas and North Dakota and a couple other states.
What changed Colorado was one executive order by Governor Ritter, and that was changing our Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. This is one of the things I like to talk about because it relates to everybody. Instantly, he sent almost 100,000 jobs away from the state. Those were directly involved in oil and gas. Those didn’t include almost 300,000 jobs that are not directly involved like restaurants and gas stations, hotels, builders, apartments, car dealers. What that directly affected was our ability to produce funds to support our lives. (While he did not specify which bill this refers to, research suggests it may be the “Clean Air-Clean Jobs Act” of 2010.)
It is vitally important we bring those people back to work so our kids have the opportunity to succeed. The bill would have put about 100,000 people to work immediately and would have brought about $1.2 billion in severance directly to K-12 and a little over $1.0 billion in severance taxes directly to the state. And that doesn’t not include the income tax, sales tax, property taxes, lease taxes or any other taxes whatsoever.
Did you see that 7 counties in Colorado now have over 20% unemployment?
Absolutely. The whole Western Slope is falling apart. The eastern plains are in trouble. It’s all around us. It’s not limited to one area. It’s all around the state. People talk about 8%. Honestly, we’re at about 15% if we look at the average. If we don’t use the government’s numbers, we’re sitting at about 20% statewide.
I met a lady yesterday who said she and her husband and kids are having a hard time. They’re all master’s educated. Two of them are working in a Shell station. They can’t find a job in their field. These are the things people are concerned about.
One of the other problems of this recession is the burdensome regulations such as in healthcare which is going to end up costing families almost 2 and a half times what their current medical insurance costs. And if they don’t have it, a lot of them still won’t have it even with the subsidy, so they still won’t have it and they’ll be fined because they won’t have it.
Companies that do have money are afraid to spend it because they don’t know what it’s going to cost them. They’re thinking they’re on the low side of what it’s going to cost them and they barely have enough to cover it.
One lady I talked to yesterday is starting her own peanut brittle business out of her home and just realized she’s now going to get fined by the federal government for not supplying insurance to her employee, even though she’s covered by her husband’s insurance but because her business doesn’t provide that insurance, she’ll be fined.
3) What is the most important piece of information you want women to know about you and why would a woman vote for you?
RR: I was raised by a single mother. I’ve got a sister. I married a single mother. My stepdaughter is not my stepdaughter; she’s my daughter.
I understand things, especially growing up in a single-mother household. I have a sister and a brother. A lot of times we were starving, trying to help (Mom) try to find food.
I understand what women are running into.
We need to give opportunities to people where they can afford to live their lives they way they want to, live their lives the way they want to. And we need to listen to them.
4) What motivates you to serve in public office?
RR: When I was first thinking about getting involved, it was really just me helping someone on a campaign. It suddenly turned into me running for office.
My wife and daughter were sitting in the living room. I was looking on the computer. We were all competitive martial artists at the time. I was in school full-time. I was working a job. I didn’t have time to mess with this.
My daughter got up, walked out of the room, and came back with a rock. And on the rock she had written, “Concentrated power will always be the enemy of liberty.” (Ronald Reagan) She said, “Put that in your pocket and when you think of quitting, remember that when I grow up, I want a country like this to live in. If you don’t do something, I won’t have that.” That was my original motivation. She was 11.
My motivation has been the little things. There’s some big things I’ve done. I did the Safer Schools Act to keep violent felons from working in our schools. When I say violent, I mean murders, rapists, domestic violence, convicted felons, people that do pretty bad things. I was fought. The schools fought me at first but then we came together. Do you really want someone like that working in our schools? I had the schools telling me, “Oh, we don’t hire those people.” Right after the bill went into effect, I had news channels calling me, saying, “Did you know at such-and-such a school there was a man, who five years ago pled guilty to 2nd degree murder?” “Did you know that there’s a guy at this school who pled guilty to felony drug trafficking?”
It’s the little things too. A lady that I know who owns the last drive-in theater, 88 Drive-In Theatre in Commerce City, calls me and says, “I’m going to have to close down my theater.” And I said, “Why?” She said the health department was making her put in a 3-section sink or they would close her down. And I said, “What’s the big deal? I’ll do it for you.” She says, “No, Robert, you don’t understand. It has to have special plumbing which means I have foundation work that has to be done. It has to be a precisely-made sink which costs about $9,000 for the sink alone. It has to be put in a certain place, which means I have to remodel to make sure it gets there, which is going to cost me $15,000. And another $5,000 because they want me to move my hand sink 10 feet over.
“Forty years I’ve been here. We’ve never had an incident. I use 20 dishes a night. The staff use them. It’s not like they touch people’s food, except for a spoon for the cheese. That’s it!”
I said, “Well, let me make a phone call.” One phone call to CPHD (Colorado Public Health Department). And they were able to give her a waiver to say you’ll never have to worry about this. She was able to keep her business open, which employs about 9 young people and provides low-cost entertainment to that part of town.
So it’s the little things I’ve been able to do to directly help families. That’s what I like. In the long run, the big things are nice and they make big news, but the little things are the ones that make real change in the community.
5) In what ways have you/do you support K-12 education?
RR: I’d like to pay every teacher $150,000 a year. Everyone thinks, “Oh, they get half the year off.” My wife gets two weeks at Christmas but in the summer she only gets about one week off. She in reaccreditation class, continuing education courses. My wife’s been working on her Master’s for 3 years and finally got it.
A lot of them spend time in their classrooms doing tutoring and things like that in the summer. There aren’t that many teachers that just take off.
Our teachers, for the most part, regardless of political belief, are trying to do what’s best. We’re just not giving them the right environment and not giving them the right tools. And our kids are suffering and our parents are not involved like they should be.
Anything else you would like people to know about you?
RR: Being a Representative is exactly what the word says, and that is, representing the people that you’re supposed to represent.
I knock on every door. I don’t choose parties. When I knock on that door, whoever comes to the door is who I get. It doesn’t matter who it is. I represent the people in my district and I listen to what they have to say.
For more information, please visit Representative Ramirez’s website at www.ramirezforcolorado.com.
According to Kraft-Tharp’s website, she is endorsed by the AFO-CIO, Planned Parenthood, NARAL, Emily’s List, Teamsters and various other labor organizations.
Colorado Women’s Alliance Director Debbie Brown endorses Ramirez with this statement: “Active for many years in his community, Robert Ramirez is a man who has earned our support. He has served us well, working with members of both parties, to help all citizens. He’s in touch with the real-life concerns of all of us who worry about the quality of our children’s education while we wonder from one day to the next if we will be able to keep our jobs and our homes. He’s been a helpful neighbor and friend to many, in the caring tradition of the true Westerner. We know Robert Ramirez will continue to make citizens proud of his work in the Colorado House.”