Mitsch Bush eager for third term
Incumbent Diane Mitsch Bush, a Democrat, is a Steamboat Springs resident running for a third two-year term in the Colorado House of Representatives in District 26.
Her challenger, Republican Michael Cacioppo, lives in the Vail Valley.
Cacioppo has been invited to sit down for a profile interview with the Vail Daily. He’s also been sent a handful of questions to answer in his own words.
He declined the interview invitation — as well as an endorsement interview invitation — saying he doesn’t believe the Vail Daily will treat him fairly.
EAGLE COUNTY — Diane Mitsch Bush started learning about Colorado water the hard way, shoveling snow onto ski runs during the drought winter of 1976-77.
Mitsch Bush had moved from Minnesota while finishing her doctoral degree in political science.
That winter, Mitsch Bush skied at Vail for the first time, because Steamboat had to shut down — there was no snow. When that resort re-opened in March of 1977, Mitsch Bush was among a crew of locals who shoveled snow from the trees onto the ski runs.
“The concept of drought was new to me,” Mitsch Bush said. “That’s when I started reading about Colorado water and water law.”
Mitsch Bush’s academic career led her from the University of Arizona, then to Colorado State University. Through it all, she and her husband maintained their place in Steamboat.
While working at Colorado State, Mitsch Bush was a commuter, leaving on Monday and returning home on Thursday night or Friday.
A longtime believer in community service, Mitsch Bush couldn’t do much work in Steamboat Springs, but helped in community groups in Fort Collins.
After more than a decade at Colorado State, Mitsch Bush landed a job at Colorado Mountain College’s Steamboat Springs campus. Living and working in the same spot allowed her to get involved in community projects there.
She worked with local ranchers and environmentalists fighting the proposed Catamount ski resort south of town. That effort, she said, showed her that groups with diverse interests could come together. Catamount never got off the ground.
Work with community groups led to an appointment on the Routt County Planning Commission, where she spent 10 years in the 1990s and early 2000s.
From courthouse to state house
In 2006, Mitsch Bush ran for, and was elected to, a seat as a Routt County commissioner, a job to which she was re-elected in 2010, running unopposed for her second term.
Then, the state’s legislative map changed.
The Colorado Legislature re-drew district maps for the state’s Senate and House of Representatives after the 2010 census — which it does after every decennial census. That redistricting work drew a new map for House District 26, putting it entirely into Eagle and Routt counties. When that happened, Mitsch Bush set her sights on a job in Denver.
“I thought, I know a lot of people and issues in Eagle County,” she said, adding that there’s a host of similarities between the two counties, from airports to the resort business to hospitals. In particular, the two counties are the headwaters of much of the state’s Western Slope water.
Spending a lot of time between Steamboat and Eagle County, Mitsch Bush ran for the seat in 2012 and was elected, then re-elected in 2014.
The first significant bill she sponsored and saw passed saved funding for the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, followed by a bill to tighten reporting requirements for the oil and gas industry.
As a county commissioner, Mitsch Bush and her colleagues created regulations requiring energy companies to immediately notify emergency management officials.
“You get in right away, so the cleanup can start immediately,” she said.
In Denver, the Routt County model was greeted with skepticism.
‘You can’t do that’
“People said you can’t get environmentalists and oil companies together. There was a lack of trust,” Mitsch Bush said.
Instead of taking “no” for an answer, Mitsch Bush emailed both environmental groups and energy companies, then started hosting meetings.
Those meetings turned into a bill. At the first committee meeting, the first witness in favor of the bill was from an industry group. The bill passed out of committee on its was to final passage.
The timing was good for the reporting bill. It became law in July of 2013. In September, massive flooding hit the Front Range, and several oil wells and storage tanks began leaking.
Other bills have had a tougher time.
In 2014, Mitsch Bush and Don Corum, a Republican from Montrose, co-sponsored a bill that would ease the regulations for small hydroelectric generators. While it was supported by agricultural interests and rural electric co-ops, state inspectors couldn’t be convinced the plans were safe.
That bill was re-introduced in the 2015 session and was passed.
Then there’s the tire traction bill. First introduced in 2014 — with Carbondale Republican Bob Rankin as the co-sponsor — the bill followed a model set by current law regarding heavy trucks. From Nov. 1 through May 31, truckers driving Interstate 70 between Dotsero and the Morrison exit have to carry snow chains. Truckers without that equipment face stiff fines if they cause an accident that closes the highway.
The Mitsch Bush-Rankin bill would apply the same standard to passenger cars. The bill in 2015 was turned into a study by the Colorado Senate Transportation Committee. Despite no public opposition, and broad support from police departments, business interests and the Colorado Department of Transportation same Senate committee killed the bill outright in 2016.
If re-elected, Mitsch Bush said she and Rankin will take another shot at the bill in the 2017 session.
If elected, Mitsch Bush hopes to work in the next two years on transportation funding, which might involve asking voters for an increase in the state’s gasoline tax. That tax hasn’t been raised since 1992.
Citing the example of a transportation tax passed twice by voters in usually tax-averse El Paso County, Mitsch Bush said doing good, detailed work is essential.
“You’ve got to say to the voters, ‘Here are the projects, this is why they’re important, and we’re going to (put an expiration date) on this tax,” she said.
Mitsch Bush also wants to continue work to expand broadband Internet service into rural areas, and said she’ll keep working to help bring down health insurance rates on the Western Slope.
And there’s always water, especially as Front Range governments try to assert their interests through a new state water plan.
“We’ve really got to keep our eyes on that one,” she said.
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, firstname.lastname@example.org and @scottnmiller.