Hopes to learn about Western Slope issues
When the District seven seat in the Colorado House of Representatives opened up in 2002, Terrance Carroll didn’t like anyone that stepped up to fill it. At the urging of some friends, he decided to run for the chance to represent his district in northeast Denver and won.
Seven years later, the Denver democrat, attorney and Baptist minister that came from humble beginnings as the only child of a sharecropper’s daughter in a tough Washington D.C. neighborhood, rose to the top of the ranks, elected as the first black Speaker of the House.
Now, in the waning days of his term and with no political ambitions in the future, he’s making the rounds, visiting Western Slope communities, like Crested Butte, to learn about the hopes and fears of people in the other half of the state in hard economic times.
Carroll sat down Monday, June 15 with the Crested Butte News for lunch to talk about local interests in the present and in the future.
News: As a term limited representative from a district a long way from Gunnison County, why did you come here?
Carroll: Even though my district is in Denver and the Front Range is the population center, I represent the House and people from all over the state. I thought it was important for me to get around the state and be visible and figure out what kinds of things are going on outside of Denver on the Western Slope and on the plains.
I am done after next year and I’m not running for anything else, but I still think it’s important that I get around the state. For better or worse, I’m one of the leaders of the state and we make some important decisions that impact the entire state from water, mining and agriculture issues that are important out here.
It’s hard to make those decisions in a vacuum and this is a great opportunity for me to get out and meet the people that are impacted by the decisions we make under the dome.
News: Before getting into local issues, what do you think of the Western Slope so far?
Carroll: I like it. I’ll be back in Crested Butte for the Fourth of July weekend camping and mountain biking with some friends. I love it out here. You’ve got an unobstructed view of the mountains, you can’t pass on that. I woke up in my hotel in Crested Butte this morning and looked out the back and there’s a mountain right there. You just can’t beat that with a stick.
In terms of policy, anybody that has been in the legislature for a while knows how important water is out here. When you come out here to talk to folks, you really start to understand just how important water is, how important tourism is to economic development. There are also agriculture issues, especially the credit that has dried up for farmers and ranchers and mining issues.
News: Going with the topic of water, how do you view the transfer of water from Western Slope reservoirs like Blue Mesa to serve Front Range needs?
Carroll: This is the way I look at it: There will continue to be growth on the Front Range since that’s our population center. But at the same time that growth cannot drive us deeper into drought. And so there is a need for us to have balanced growth management that makes sense. So we can’t have a place like Aurora grow and grow without accounting for their water needs.
So my perspective is that we need to encourage conservation on our side of the state and at the same time we need to think really hard about what this “beneficial use of water” means, especially when agriculture is so huge out here and it demands so much water. And so we have to look at better ways of conserving water and storing water.
Another part of it comes from tourism. There are some parts of tourism that require water, whether it’s rafting or the fly-fishing and fishing industry.
News: Speaking of tourism, is the state doing anything to bring vacationers to Colorado and to the Western Slope, in particular?
Carroll: We passed a bill this year called the Original Tourism Authority Bill, which is going to allow communities to use tax credits and tax income financing to build tourism facilities in order to attract tourists to Colorado.
We’re also encouraging people to do “staycations” this year and get out to see parts of Colorado that they may not have seen before. There are a lot of people that have moved to the Front Range in the past few years that have never been to Gunnison and they’ve never been to Crested Butte. We need to get them out here.
News: Do you think that would help grow an appreciation of Western Slope issues on the Front Range?
Carroll: Absolutely. I think that’s part of the problem; so many people from the Front Range never get out here. When you look at agriculture and tourism, they’re two of the top three industries in the state and sometimes there’s not an appreciation for that on the Front Range.
Moving on to mining on the Western Slope, what can the state do to manage mining operations to protect local populations, whether on Federal land or private land?
Carroll: We really can’t get involved with that. We can’t really control anything that happens on federal land. Our state and our executive branch has worked really hard with the Federal government to try to encourage them to enact rules and regulations that are environmentally friendly and in fact require miners to engage in environmentally friendly reclamation efforts.
And for mining that’s not on federal lands I think we’ve been working really hard to pass laws and rules that are directed at making sure that whatever mining is done is done in an environmentally friendly fashion and that reclamation that’s not just in name only, but significant reclamation so the land can be used again. We don’t want to have to be worried about the tailings from the mines getting into our water supply and surface water.
News: How do you, someone from the Front Range, balance the interests of your constituency with those of the Western Slope?
Carroll: I think one of the ways I balance those things is by listening to all sides. I always have a saying that I reserve the right to be wrong and I hope that allows me to be open minded.
I understand that I have a Front Range bias because I’m from the Front Range, so knowing I have that bias helps me work really hard at getting beyond it and talking with my colleagues on the Western Slope, like [Representative] Kathleen Curry, who does a great job.
News: Why did you appoint Kathleen Curry to be the Speaker Pro Tem?
Carroll: I’ve always had a good relationship with Kathleen. Speaker Pro Tem is someone the Speaker has to trust and I trust her completely. Second reason was I looked around and there was this perception that we could be Front Range heavy and I needed someone who had my ear that knew Western Slope issues, new water and “ag” issues and that’s Kathleen.
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News: Do you think that attitude is part of the reason you were voted to be Speaker?
Carroll: I think that was part of it because I had a reputation as chairman of the house judiciary committee as someone that was fair-minded and a straight shooter, yet tough minded and pragmatic.
News: How is that pragmatism going to help you steer the effort to balance the state budget? A piece published recently in the Denver Post suggested that the state budget could be as much as $300 million further in the hole than previously thought. Do you know where or how you might make that up?
Carroll: We haven’t even started having those conversations yet. We’ll have full conversations when the governor’s budget is being prepared sometime in September or October. Higher education and corrections are the two biggest places. We made some deep cuts this year and so there’s not a lot of room left to make bigger cuts before we start cutting in on essential services.
Seniors have already taken some substantial cuts. I think most of us are reluctant to go back there. So when you look at what’s available to us, it looks like there is only higher ed and corrections. But we may find some room to maneuver. Anything we’re saying right now is completely off the top of our heads.
News: On your website there’s a quote from Martin Luther King that says, “The real measure of a man is where he stands in times of challenge.” These are pretty challenging times, so where do we stand as a state? How sure are you that we’re making the right decisions, that we’re making cuts in the right places?
Carroll: All of us, our main goal is doing what’s right for state at the end of the day. And these really are challenging times. We have an economy that’s hurting, we’re in a recession. We have to make significant budget cuts and some of those cuts are coming from places that aren’t very nice or very convenient.
I think overall, when we talk about what we claimed to do at the beginning of the year, which was expanding opportunity, I think we’ve made significant headway towards meeting that challenge.
When you’re facing challenges like these, none of the decisions are easy decisions. In fact, if we think it’s an easy decision, then we’re probably making the wrong one.
News: Are there big tax hikes in our future?
Carroll: Unlike many other states, we don’t have the ability to raise taxes in the legislature. Because of TABOR, everything has to go to the people for a vote. Right now I don’t anticipate us putting a proposal on the ballot to raise taxes. We still have to balance the budget but we’ll do it by making further reductions.
We’ve really worked hard to try to minimize the impact of those cuts on the citizens of Colorado, but we may not have that option anymore. In fact we don’t. People will actually feel the cuts that we make this next round.