Hill challenges Morse in State Senate District 11

       Four years after he defeated incumbent Republican Ed Jones, Democratic District 11 State Senator John Morse will seek to retain his post in the November election.
       His Republican challenger will be Owen Hill, the economic director of Compassion International. Like Morse in 2006, Hill has never held an elected office before.
       Neither candidate faces a primary election.
       The hodge-podge district includes much of the Westside. Senate District 12, which includes the rest of the Westside and is held by Republican Keith King, is not up for election this year.
       Before his election Morse had served as CEO of Silver Key, police chief in Fountain and as a CPA.
       Originally from Virginia, Hill is a 2003 graduate of the Air Force Academy.
       To provide a feel 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 - Senate Bill 191, which was enacted this session, allows the state to take steps toward evaluating public teachers on their effectiveness. Please express your views on this legislation.

John Morse
1 - BILLS. The 2012 session is two sessions from now. A lot can happen during the next 18 months that could easily change my response. Having said that, education is critical now and likely will still be critical then. So, my answer is likely I will support efforts to make sure that our system of education improves. We need to make sure that our efforts to educate our children are transparent, accountable and effective. This applies equally to our K-12 system as well as our system of higher education. Most of my bills are more concerned with criminal justice, health care, seniors, and governmental efficiency since those are more my areas of expertise.
       2 - BUDGET. This year our budget started out about $650 million out of balance. Our approach was to make roughly $500 million in cuts including about $360 that hit our K-12 education system and about $140 million in new revenue by eliminating some sales tax exemptions. It was a balanced approach that was not easy for anyone. K-12 education represents about 44% of our entire general fund spending, so it is impossible at this point to make half a billion dollars in cuts without having to cut K-12 education. In fact, we cut K-12 last. If we had cut another $140 million from K-12 throughout the state it would have resulted in the elimination of at least another 2,000 jobs, most of them teachers. We worked hard to be balanced, but taking another $140 million from K-12 would not have been balanced it would have been even more devastating.
       3 - ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS. We should not have a law like this in Colorado. The Arizona police are already finding that people talk to them less after the implementation of this law. I know from my years as a police officer that people talking to the police are the greatest asset to the police in keeping crime from happening in the first place and from solving it when it does happen in the second place. Lack of cooperation from residents is a death knell to good policing. This law creates fear and fearful people will not talk to the police about anything. Clearly our immigration law is out of whack and needs to be reworked, but this is federal law, not state law, and changing state law doesn't fix the problem. It will only have negative unintended consequences. We need to address the root of this problem not the symptoms. And the root is people immigrate to the United States because it offers their families a better life. They do it illegally because doing it legally is too difficult.
       4 - SB 191. This was a very complicated piece of legislation that underwent significant changes as it went through the process. I did not support it as it left the Senate because I thought there was more work to do. By the time it came back from the House, I was convinced that it was workable and represented an important step forward in how we ensure that our children are getting the best education possible. I think it is important that we provide our teachers with the very best resources with which to educate our children. We have not done this for many years in Colorado. We have grossly underfunded our investment in our children's education and we have suffered the consequences. It is easy to blame our teachers, but in reality like everything else, some of them are very good and some are less good. I still worry that we are increasing demands on our teachers without providing the additional resources needed to meet those demands.
Owen Hill
1 - BILLS. The Colorado Springs Westside is a community strengthened by the interaction of small business and beautiful neighborhoods. The success of this community is dependent upon the opportunity to work, play, and sleep without having to travel very far. One of the chief factors that brought our family to Old North End was this sense of community, with family close by, the grocery store in walking distance, and where local businesses meet most of our needs. Decisions made in Denver, which have to apply to the whole state, will never help preserve or strengthen our many local sub-communities. Rather, they have the adverse effect of taking local control and money out of our community. Tax credits for small businesses will help reward those who provide needed products and services to the local area. It is local small businesses who employ our family, friends, neighbors and their success should be a priority for the coming year as we seek to spur job creation and economic recovery.
       2 - BUDGET. Before analyzing the balance of cuts and increases, it needs to be stated that the increases violated the Colorado Constitution. The Taxpayers Bill of Rights prohibits tax increases unless they are approved by a vote of the people.
       It is true, as many have noted, that the combination of rules built into our Constitution make it very difficult for a representative government to make important funding decisions. Nevertheless, we have undermined our core values as a free people by increasing taxes and fees without a vote of the people. In the past four years, we have increased per-pupil K-12 funding in Colorado by 13 percent. During the same time, we have witnessed a 9 percent increase in state employees and a 10 percent increase in our General Fund expense. The increases this year included $93 million taken from seniors and disabled veterans through property taxes. We increased general fund spending by $400 million this year. In the worst recession in two generations, the increases were way too many and the cuts far to few..
       3 - ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS. The new Arizona law (Arizona Senate Bill 1070) is an attempt to enforce federal laws already on the book to address a significant problem they face as a state. We all want our state legislators to work to find solutions to problems rather than engage in partisan debate without any real solutions being proposed. Fortunately, Colorado does not have the same magnitude of an illegal immigration problem as the state of Arizona faces. However, those who are in the country and in Colorado illegally do threaten our local jobs and put a heavy strain on local resources. I do not think that we need a law like Arizona's at the present time, but we would benefit our communities by cracking down on those who employ illegal immigrants, by requiring police to report illegal immigrants to federal officials, and by requiring proof of citizenship for any taxpayer-funded services. These measures are consistent with the interests of our community.
       4 - SB 191. Senate Bill 191 is about accountability to the students and to the parents in our school districts. We all expect accountability from those who provide services to our community. My wife worked as a teacher's aide for three years in District 11 at Stratton Elementary and agrees that evaluations will help improve our education system if we can account for local issues. This year, I hope that local school boards become active in shaping the evaluations to take into account local nuances. It is unrealistic to expect District 11 to use the same standards as Denver or Limon. Local control of these evaluations will serve our communities in the long run because we can walk down the street to talk to local school board members, but very few of us have the resources to drive to Denver to address the State Board of Education. I always want to see local citizens have the opportunity to shape decisions that affect us locally.

Editor’s note: Both candidates were allowed up to 175 words per answer, but did not use that entire allowance in all their responses.

Westside Pioneer article