Republican Cullen vs. Democrat Lee: Race is on in Statehouse District 18

       The contest to represent Statehouse District 18, whose area includes much of the older Westside, is wide open in this year's election with 10-year incumbent Michael Merrifield having to step down because of term limits.
       Into the void has stepped one candidate from each party, with no prospects of others seeking to make the ballot. So there will be no party primaries; the battle leading up to the Nov. 2 election has already begun between Democrat Pete Lee and Republican Karen Cullen.
       Here are short backgrounds on both candidates:
       Lee is a lawyer and 35-year Colorado Springs resident with volunteer work including membership on the board of the Pikes Peak Mental Health Center. He drafted a restorative justice bill for juveniles that was approved last year. He has Merrifield's endorsement.
       Cullen is a third-generation Coloradan, originally from Castle Rock. She and her husband own the Victoria's Keep bed-and-breakfast in Manitou Springs and she was recently the president of the state bed-and-breakfast association. She also provides a software consulting service.
       To offer an early sense for the candidates, the Westside Pioneer asked both of them the same four questions:
       1 - If you were to carry one (or two) Statehouse bills addressing direct or indirect needs on the Colorado Springs Westside, might you pick… funding for a new Cimarron/I-25 interchange? Funding for continued restoration of Fountain Creek? Programs that could aid its predominantly Title 1 public schools? Tax breaks that could boost its small businesses? Other(s)? And your reasoning? .
       2 - The Statehouse this year used a combination of tax/fee increases and spending cuts to balance the budget. Did this represent a good balance? Too many increases? Too many cuts?
       3 - The new Arizona law gives police the right to ask any individuals whom they stop, detain or arrest whether they are in the country illegally. Should we have a law like this in Colorado? Why or why not?
       4 - While supporters say the recently passed federal health care reform bill will make health insurance affordable to many more people without adding to the deficit, critics say it will trigger tax hikes and give government excessive control over people's lives. What is your position?

Karen Cullen

1 - BILLS. As a long-time Westside resident and business owner in Manitou Springs, I understand first-hand the importance of tourism and small business for the creation of jobs. As our state representative in House District 18, one of my top priorities would be to fund the Cimarron and I-25 interchange. We must improve our gateway to Pikes Peak, Old Colorado City, Cave of the Winds and Manitou and our great park systems, especially from a jobs perspective. With a $90 + million price tag, extensive collaboration among all levels of government will be needed. I plan on working with people such as County Commissioner Sallie Clark, Manitou Mayor Marc Snyder and Colorado Springs Vice Mayor Larry Small to make these things happen. The interchange would reduce traffic congestion, pollution and provide a welcoming Westside entrance for our visitors and neighbors and ultimately benefit our entire region. In addition, collaboration will be necessary to support projects such as the Westside's “No Man's Land” for improved neighborhood safety.
       2 - BUDGET. A tax-and-fee increase during an economic recession ultimately hurts small business owners and the creation of new jobs. I opposed the repeal of the 13 tax exemptions that the state's majority party proposed, which ranged from utility bill increases to software and online purchase taxes, as these are job-killers. I've spoken to numerous small business owners, our local Chamber of Commerce and legislators about how these negatively impact not only businesses but the customers they serve. As I mentioned in my announcement speech in January, the way to succeed is to provide a well-trained work force, good roads and public facilities. In addition, providing access to global markets will also improve our economy, which our Chamber is working on. We need to offer a tax and regulatory environment that encourages job growth so we are advantageously competitive. The Colorado Springs lifestyle is highly regarded with its cultural and recreational opportunities and reasonable tax incentives. We need them to play a role in our recovering economy and job creation.
       3 - ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS. Colorado must take the issue of illegal immigration seriously and should crack down on those who are not legally entitled to be in this country. If a person is not in this country legally, then he or she should be deported. El Paso County is fortunate to have an Immigrations and Customs Enforcement Office (ICE). The focus on behalf of our local law enforcement currently serves to streamline the system of arresting and deporting those who have committed crimes. According to Sheriff Terry Maketa, the El Paso County jail has housed as many as 100-150 illegal immigrants, costing taxpayers approximately $1.2 million each year. This is money that could be used to support other public safety initiatives. As the Arizona law begins to take effect, it is ultimately the responsibility of the federal government to protect our borders according to our Constitution.
       4 - HEALTH LAW. Government-run health care is not the solution to the challenges that we face. Federal health care reform is an unfunded mandate for Colorado citizens. Without federal dollars to support these programs, an enormous burden will be placed on the taxpayers of Colorado. This burden will cost our state multi-millions of dollars year after year once it takes effect with other programs suffering due to budget cuts. In addition, it is being challenged by many states, including our own, as being unconstitutional because of states' rights. However, in our area we have access to many community health centers, such as Peak Vista which is also opening a center on the Westside, SET Medical Clinics and others for the uninsured and underinsured, and those who qualify can apply for programs such as Medicaid. As our state representative, I will continue to support these outreach programs and fight for changes in state laws that impair the purchasing of insurance across state lines for increased competition and much needed choice at a lower cost.
Pete Lee

1 - BILLS. I will work in collaboration with the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments, Manitou and Westside community leaders to determine the needs of the district. It seems likely that the state will face budget challenges in 2011-12 even more severe than this year as a result of the depressed economy and the end of federal stimulus money. It would be disingenuous to suggest that all the projects, Fountain Creek, Cimarron/I-25, Title 1 schools and tax breaks for businesses could be funded from the state budget. I have been a consistent and vigorous advocate for school funding, serving on the D-11 Budget Committee and a local school board. I have also been a supporter of small businesses, both as an owner and legal advisor. This year, I worked with the bipartisan Coalition for a Prosperous America to pass a Colorado law to support American manufacturers. I will work to ensure that HD 18 gets its fair share of funding for education and public projects and that Colorado continues as a low-tax, business-friendly state.
       2 - BUDGET. Facing an unprecedented economic recession with lower tax revenues, the Legislature cut $1.5 billion from the budget in order to balance it. Included were cuts of $260 million from K-12 education $62 million from higher education, and $17.9 million from Medicaid providers. To avoid further cuts in education, healthcare, prisons and other vital state services, the Legislature suspended and repealed tax exemptions which totaled $148 million, including one on candy and soft drinks. They represent 5 percent of the total corporate tax exemptions. I disagreed with suspending the tax exemptions on fuel and software products as disproportionately impacting large businesses and innovative product creators. But I realize cuts had to be made. The Legislature spread the pain of budget balancing to all stakeholders, students, teachers, consumers, state workers, and businesses. The budget cuts eliminated 270 state employees, created 8 furlough days for the rest, and reduced employee paychecks to fund their pension plan. In general, I believe the Legislature allocated the state money and budget cuts appropriately.
       3 - ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS. I would not support an Arizona immigration law in Colorado. Our first priority has to be to secure our southern border and provide for legal immigration. Arizona's does neither. It resulted from Congress' failure to enact comprehensive immigration reform. We need a sensible guest worker program that satisfies our need for agricultural, construction and technical employees. We need a law that respects the dignity of hardworking law abiding immigrants and gives them a path to citizenship. In 2006, Colorado passed immigration reform focused on employers and found it expensive and ineffective. Arizona's law allows law enforcement personnel to inquire into the immigration status of people based upon “reasonable suspicion.” The opportunity for discriminatory enforcement is obvious with racial profiling, reliance on skin color, dress or speech. It could lead to intrusive government interference into personal lives increasing tensions between groups. Arizona's law is of questionable constitutionality. It may be a violation of the due process and equal protection clauses of the US Constitution. Immigration is a national issue requiring a national solution.
       4 - HEALTH LAW. Prior to the passage of the federal law, health care costs and premium increases were escalating at unsustainable double digit rates. Without reform, it was certain to continue with tens of millions lacking coverage and facing disastrous consequences, including bankruptcy, when ill. Health care reform implements cost controls and extends coverage to over 30 million people, so 95% of us will be covered. With coverage extended to more people, it seems inevitable that costs will rise. However, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office states that the bill will be “deficit neutral.” Mandatory participation, with tax credits for small businesses, and large pools, containing healthy and ill alike, spreads the risk and increases the number of payers. It remains to be seen whether the greater participation coupled with increased competition and Medicare/ Medicaid cost controls will result in the predicted “deficit neutrality.” While I have concerns with governmental control over people's lives, it is exceeded by my concern with insurance company's denial of coverage and claims for people who become ill, unemployed or have pre-existing conditions.

Westside Pioneer article