Water, bipartisanship, reproductive rights, housing and gun rights took center stage last Friday, as two Montrose men vying to represent State House District 58 made their case to voters.

Marc Catlin, the Republican incumbent running for his last term, nor challenger Kevin Kuns, the chair of the Montrose County Democratic Party, didn’t disagree that these are serious issues. They even had common ground on some of them — such as the mental health component at play in many mass shootings.

Montrose Daily Press | October 31, 2022

Marc Catlin, left, and Kevin Kuns, right, speak during the Oct. 28 League of Women Voters candidate forum for State House District 58. Catlin, the incumbent Republican, is challenged by Kuns, chairman of the county Democratic party. (Cassie Kunst/Montrose Daily Press)

Although these were the nature of questions during the Oct. 28 League of Women Voters candidate forum, Kuns in his opening remarks said that while campaigning, he heard more about political pessimism than about hot-button issues.

“What I got from everybody was this sense of hopelessness, people being tired, feeling like they were lost. They’re at this point where they’re really discouraged with the political landscape. There’s nothing but a lot of finger-pointing, name-calling, screaming. We have elected people dividing us, not uniting us,” Kuns said.

He added he’s heard from many who are “really sick and tired of conspiracy theories” and worried about extremism.

“I want to be part of the movement that brings dignity, respect and empathy back to politics,” Kuns said.

Catlin would later say Colorado legislators strive hard to be civil and that, as a member of the minority party, he cannot pass bills benefiting the district without some Democratic buy-in.

“We try to get work done,” Catlin in his opening remarks said. “One of the things we’ve tried to do, we’ve tried very hard to bring bills that had something to do with the 58th, rather than bills that are ‘look at me, look at me’ statewide. We’re neighbors here in this valley.”

The concerns are similar throughout the district, even in counties that redistricting recently placed into the 58th, he said.

“People are wanting something from the government. What they really want from the government is to let them live. Let them do something. Let them work their jobs. Let them go back to school. Let them open their businesses. And let’s get back to living here on the Western Slope of Colorado. That’s really what I’m here to do.”

The candidate forum was in question-and-answer format, with the nonpartisan League selecting questions that were submitted in advance from constituents, who either viewed the forum online, or in person like the locals who packed the Montrose City Council Chambers on Friday.

The League endeavored to select representative questions that were not repetitive for the hour-long forum.

Catlin and Kuns were asked for their plans to address gun violence while also protecting the Second Amendment.

“I think probably the place to start is mental health,” Catlin said, opining that most people who commit crimes with a gun appear to have significant need for mental health resources.

“It seems to me like we’re missing the boat when it comes to people that have a problem,” Catlin said. Even though people at risk of committing violence are often recognized in their own communities, there is a reluctance by some to act. In HD58, like the rest of the Western Slope, there is a critical dearth of psychiatric resources.

But that, rather than restricting firearms, is what should be addressed, Catlin indicated, saying society needs to look at adding those critical resources.

“The idea that we would restrict guns, in my mind, goes against the Second Amendment,” he said.

Kuns, who grew up on a ranch and still owns guns, agreed mental health is a big issue. Colorado, he said, should consider strengthening the “red flag” law that allows family or law enforcement to seek a court order to keep firearms away from a person who is a danger to himself/herself or others. Doing so does not jeopardize other people’s gun rights, Kuns indicated.

“I’m not an anti-Second Amendment person at all. Anyone who thinks that amendment is going to be overturned is in denial,” he said.

Kuns said that in the two years Colorado’s red flag law has been in effect, 146 emergency orders have been issued, and when that is compared to the number of gun owners in the state, it clearly does not constitute a gun-grab. Rather, the law is working and should be strengthened, along with waiting periods for people who have mental health issues.

“I think we can do better and Colorado should do better,” Kuns said.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s June decision that effectively reversed Roe v. Wade was among the national issues that prompted forum questions.

Catlin said the ruling was correct in that it returned the question of abortion to the states.

Enshrining reproductive rights in Colorado’s constitution is an issue for voters, not the Legislature, he said. Voters should petition abortion questions onto the ballot for a vote: “I don’t think that the Legislature should be involved in trying to change the constitution. It has to go to the voters.”

Catlin was a no-vote on Colorado’s Reproductive Health Equity Act, which passed and was signed into law in April, in advance of the SCOTUS ruling. The act cited the then-upcoming SCOTUS case and other concerns. It protects the right to abortion and contraception in Colorado.

Catlin said Friday the bill allowed abortions right up until the end of natural gestation.

Kuns noted the U.S. Constitution says “We the people. It doesn’t say ‘We the men.’” The issue is that a small number of men are trying to legislate women’s health care decisions and reproductive rights — and that isn’t where government needs to be, he said.

“I don’t think anybody should be in the room when a woman is talking about her reproductive rights but herself, her doctor, her significant other and maybe her spiritual leader,” Kuns said.

In terms of the state Legislature, Kuns said he would like to be on the committee that gets reproductive rights into the state constitution.

The state’s Democratic majority and the Democratic governor are what stands between Colorado women having full reproductive rights and having severe restrictions, like in Texas or Oklahoma, he added, before going on to share a sign he saw while driving past a farm field. “‘Women are not livestock.’ To me, that says it all,” Kuns said.

Responding to the water shortage and crisis on the Colorado River is going to require better conservation and Upper Basin states like California and Arizona cutting their uses, said Catlin, who also sits on the Colorado River Conservation District Board.

“They’ve created the problem,” Catlin alleged, saying Colorado adheres to its allotments as per the Colorado River Compact, which split the Colorado’s water between seven states and parts of Mexico.

“We use only what Mother Nature provides us. People downstream from us (in Lower Basin) have a bucket above them,” Catlin said. The Lower Basin requests delivery from that, does not base its uses on hydrology like the Upper Basin does, and does not account for evaporation in its uses, he said.

Colorado needs to better care for its water, Catlin said. “Conservation is working in Colorado. We’re doing our part,” he said.

Kuns said he could not disagree. He alleged about 80 farms in California are using the same amount of water as the entire state of Colorado — but said Colorado needs to be on notice, because of how political power is concentrated to favor California.

“I hate to say this, but if you look at the power, California has a heckuva lot more power than we have,” Kuns said. Going toe-to-toe with California would be an expensive battle, and avoiding the legal fight will require significant collaboration. That would include steps as changing the way the state irrigates. Right now, despite changes in water supply, people mostly still irrigate the way that was done more than 100 years ago, he said.

Catlin and Kuns weighed in on the housing crisis that is pressing people’s wallets to the breaking point.

Kuns said although there have been good bills to address housing, legislators need to be more creative. The dream of a big home is mostly gone; people need to “think smaller,” and be innovative, he said. As an example of innovation, he pointed to Norwood’s recent Pinion Park, which is building 27 manufactured homes at a more affordable price.

Kuns said he is alarmed by the number of manufactured homes in Montrose County whose owners do not own the land upon which the homes sit, but instead, they pay lot rent — a “horrible model” for affordable housing. The state must be aggressive and give builders incentives to create affordable housing, Kuns said.

Catlin pointed to bills from the last legislative session. One allows municipalities to apply lodging taxes to affordable housing, if voters in the municipality approve it. Another bill allocated $25 million to help people with down payments and also incentivized builders.

Affordable housing has been on the radar for years, but what starts out as affordable housing doesn’t always remain that way when it is resold; instead, the market continues to dictate prices, Catlin noted. He said he sees opportunities for deed restrictions that might help keep the housing affordable.

The one bright side is that housing needs are at the forefront, he added — but the challenge is where the state finds the revenue without harming other needs.

Catlin and Kuns also fielded questions about accepting money from political action committees and lobbyists; school safety measures; education and teacher pay; drought and the state’s role, if any, in enforcing federal immigration law. The entire forum can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/user/MontroseCityGov.

Montrose Daily Press (icon)Katharhynn Heidelberg is the Montrose Daily Press assistant editor and senior writer. Follow her on Twitter, @kathMDP.
Montrose Daily Press | October 31, 2022
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