Derek Franz

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February 6, 2013
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State rep misses her days in Eagle County

Now in her second term as a state representative, Millie Hamner misses Eagle County.

"Losing Eagle County in the House District change was a big disappointment for me," she said during a recent interview from her statehouse office.

Eagle County is where Hamner started her teaching career, which ultimately led to her political career when she was appointed to HD56 in 2010. At that time, HD56 included Eagle County. Then all the districts changed at the end of 2011. Eagle County is now in HD26 and Hamner represents HD61, which encompasses Summit - where she lives - and Lake, Pitkin, Gunnison and Delta counties.

"I found out about the house district change in November 2011 and I had a very short window of time to get familiar with my new constituents before the January legislative session," she said.

Apparently she became familiar enough with the new district, as she beat four competitors in last November's election. It could be said that it was her initial success in Eagle County that got her there in the first place - her time as a local teacher, her leadership at the school district administration or maybe even her time with the band Soft Touch.

When Hamner came to Vail in 1978, she never imagined herself as a politician. She didn't even have a job.

"We came out from Ohio to stay with my (then) husband's brother, who lived in Vail," she said. "I ended up getting a job at Red Cliff Elementary and then at Red Sandstone Elementary."

That was between 1978 and 1990.

"I saw education was more than a job to me, so I started working on my masters and Ph.D.," she said.

She taught a computer class at Minturn Middle and eventually moved to Eagle in 1998 when she became the school district's director of curriculum. She worked at the district office until 2000.

"There were so many wonderful mentors in the school district," she said, listing several people. "They believed in me and were very encouraging and motivating."

She wanted to find a new job in Eagle County but was disappointed.

"That was a real turning point," she said. "I applied for a job in Vail and didn't get it."

So she took a job offer as assistant superintendent in Summit County.

"It was hard to leave a good job and friends in Eagle County," Hamner said.

In 2004, she became superintendent of Summit County schools, which led to her next big change.

"In December 2010, I announced I was going to retire," she said. "At that time there was a vacancy in HD56 and people approached me to fill it."

The vacancy opened when Democrat Christine Scanlan was tapped for a job in Gov. John Hickenlooper's administration.

Hamner was surprised to get the job.

"I was selected for an interview and I hoped they would pick someone else," she said. "I wasn't sure I could do it. A day in the life of the legislature was unknown to me. I learned quickly, though - how to be effective - and started loving it."

It was during Hamner's time in Eagle County that she developed a stage presence, which is a good quality for any politician.

"I got a part in the Vail Community Theater production of 'Pippin,'" she said. "That was around 1984. I tried out just for fun and ended up getting a lead role. It helped me get comfortable singing and dancing in front of people."

That came in handy when Hamner's second husband got her involved with his band - Soft Touch.

"He is a wonderful musician," she said. "Soft Touch was really him, on guitar, and our saxophone player. We would bring in others to fill out the rest of the band."

After some prodding, Hamner related her role in the band. "I sang and I picked up the keyboard to round out the sound - I was never very good."

They were good enough to play a variety of gigs over the years, however, and she and her husband still perform occasionally.

"Apparently we are a popular silent-auction item," she said. "For some reason, people bid on it. Last time, we were part of a package offered at a Democratic fund-raiser in Boulder."

"I don't know what I'll be doing at any moment when I'm working in the Capitol," Hamner said. "I learned to be adaptable and informed. There's so many moving parts and pieces moving at the same time."

Between June 1 and January, Hamner recorded more than 20,000 miles on a new car.

"The best part about this job is feeling that I can have an impact on so many but it's also overwhelming at times," she said. "The hardest part of the job is juggling so many impacts on my time. It's hard to think sometimes. I try to stay positive and present myself well."

She plans to serve in her current office as long as she can.

"If I continue to thrive and my constituents approve of the job I'm doing, I'll try to serve the full eight-year term limit," she said. "Afterward, I have no idea. I know my husband would like me to retire but I don't know if it's in the cards."

Hamner's top issue has naturally been education. She chairs the state's education committee and is also involved with transportation issues surrounding the Interstate 70 corridor and biomass energy.

"I am working closely to incentivize the use of biomass energy," she said. "We have the fuel supply. The main issue seems to be getting the material to the plant."

In January, she met with members of Eagle Valley Clean Energy LLC, the company that is building an 11.5-megawatt biomass plant in Gypsum.

"I'm surprised more hasn't been done to address the pine beetle problem," she said.

The Gypsum biomass plant has been touted for the fact that it will be using wood killed by pine beetles, among other wood material. Some Gypsum residents have said that the plant will cause health issues and pollution. Hamner said she hasn't heard much opposition against biomass energy.

"There hasn't been any resistance, really," she said.

Regarding education, she said Colorado has a long way to go.

"Colorado is one of the leaders in education reform and I would say it will continue to be," she said. "The schools would like a chance to catch up and slow down with the unfunded mandates, but there is still work to be done."

When asked if there was one thing the legislature could do immediately to help schools, besides increasing the budget, she didn't have an alternative.

"We have lots of ideas but we need money to implement them," she said. "Schools need more resources to keep class sizes small and give extra help to kids who need it."

As far as guns in school, such as allowing teachers to carry weapons and increasing armed security?

"I have a hard time believing it's the right thing to do," she said. "I get the Second Amendment, but if we're committed to safety, reducing violence and the message we send to children, that's not the way to go, in my opinion."

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The VailDaily Updated Feb 6, 2013 01:46PM Published Feb 6, 2013 01:40PM Copyright 2013 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.