The last year in the Colorado legislature was a trying one for Senator Larry Crowder and he talks tiredly and heavily of the way partisan politics played out this last session. “Yes,” he says with a sigh, “It was very partisan this year. The reality of it is there were a lot of bills that I believe over-stepped the values of the people of Colorado.”
Crowder, a Republican, was first elected to the Colorado Senate in 2012 and represents the almost laughably large Senate District 35 (covering about one-fourth of the state), which encompasses parts of Pueblo County and all of Alamosa, Baca, Bent, Conejos, Costilla, Crowley, Custer, Huerfano, Kiowa, Las Animas, Mineral, Otero, Prowers, Rio Grande County and Saguache Counties.
It’s a wide swath, one Crowder has felt he is uniquely qualified to serve, having been born in Manzanola, before moving to Alamosa in 1976. “Wherever I go, I’m home,” Crowder is fond of saying of his district.
Yet, this coming year, will be Crowder’s last. He says it’s time for him to get back home and it’s time for new blood to lead the district. Yet, he has some concerns and believes the district, more than anything, needs to find leadership that lives in, knows and loves the district — all of it — from Wolf Creek Pass all the way to the Kansas border and south to Oklahoma and New Mexico.
“As I’ve said, it’s my last year,” said Crowder. “I’m over 70, so it’s time for young blood. The problem is, if you live in an area you don’t realize it, but a situation like mine, where you leave and come back, you can see the subtle changes as they happen and they happen rather rapidly. So, you need somebody from that area that lives with the changes to keep up with that…”
And what does he see in Trinidad? “Trinidad has done a remarkable job around here,” said Crowder. “Once they identify which flavor they want to go, they will be doing well.”
The following is our full interview with Senator Crowder taken at The Chronicle-News office where he discusses what he believes were the success and failures of this legislative session and what he hopes to accomplish in his final year in office.
Q & A with Senator Larry Crowder
The Chronicle-News: Have you had a chance for a breather after this session? How is being in session versus out different?
Senator Larry Crowder: “No. I normally know where I am at during session and as soon as session is over I’m out on the road all the time. I’d have to look at my calendar to tell you where I was at the day before yesterday and I’d have to do the same to tell you about the day after tomorrow. But, it’s a big district, and you have to get out.”
TCN: How is being out in your district different than being in Denver?
Crowder: It’s a different world. A lot of what happened this year represented Boulder and Denver. There was some successes, it wasn’t all bad, but I think the values is what’s at issue, because we are multi-generational community down here and we don’t like to see this much change at one time.
TCN: Were you, as a member of the minority party this year, able to get much done? Did you feel Democrats were over-reacting due to Trump’s presidency?
Crowder: There was quite a bit of good stuff. I normally run about 40 bills a session with about a 60 percent success rate and the same was about true this time around. As long as you bring bills up that are non-political, non-partisan, that just actually help the people, you don’t have much problem… I felt there was (over reaction from Democrats), but I’m speaking as someone who serves as the minority party now.
And you have to remember, when I was first elected, I served as part of a minority party and it was nothing like this. It’s a whole different… Back then we all got along and could get things done for the state. But this year, it was an overreach.”
TCN: There has been a call from some in your party to recall Governor Jared Polis. Where do you stand?
Crowder: It’s funny you should ask that. A woman approached me after the (Las Animas County Commissioner’s) meeting and asked if I supported the recall. I don’t support recalls. That’s why you have voters. They are the recall.
TCN: Another issue you didn’t support was this year’s gas and oil bill SB-181. Why?
Crowder: ‘181’ was an issue that I could not support, because of the gas and oil industry here. As I indicated at the (Las Animas County Board) meeting, you have 2.5 percent of it here in this (part of) the state. So, there are a lot of people depending on this oil and gas movement for their livelihood. So, once you start threatening to take that away, it becomes an issue. That’s why I told the commissioners that it is important to know what is coming for you. We (as legislators) are no longer are involved in it, per se, you will now be at the forefront of it. It would be my hope that they will stand tall like Weld County did and continue on.
TCN: Any other issues this year where you felt power was being abused?
Crowder: One example would be what they wanted to do with the Lieutenant Governor. The Lieutenant Governor, basically, right now is in charge of Indian Affairs and other various duties. So, for her to take one another (duty) over they created another funding source to do that and pay her to do that, in conjunction with her Lieutenant Governor pay.
My opinion is if you were elected Lieutenant Governor at a set salary, you should be able to do whatever you want, but not be expected to be paid for something in addition to your salary. That’s just one example. They came up with $67,500 just for serving two positions.
There are also some county issues too. One of the county commissioners entities (in the metro area) — they had a floodwater problem in Denver. These were county commissioners throughout the six-county area and what they were looking to do was to pay themselves more to attend the watershed meetings.
And I’m saying, well, ‘this is corruption.’ Our county commissioners here will go to meeting after meeting on the pay that they get as county commissioners and now you give them a stipend for going to this one meeting and now you want more. To me, that is a form of corruption. As a county commissioner, you already make $89,000 a year, are you serious about stuff like that? That was one of the egregious bills that there was.
TCN: You also opposed a bill that desired to raise the minimum wage in certain resort areas. What was at issue there?
Crowder: Yes, the wage increase for individual areas. Once you start making this checkerboard deal, what brought this on was the ski areas thought they should pay more. And I said ‘well let them pay more if they want to.’
But to say the minimum wage for a specific area is going to be set across the board without the due process of all the businesses there, you lose control. To set a minimum wage, you don’t need it, you offer more money. I understand housing problems, but the market actually regulates that.
TCN: You’ve generally been a strong proponent for improving health care, yet there was one healthcare bill that did not get your support. Why was that?
Crowder: On the surface it was a very good bill. What it said, basically, was on insulin, for diabetics, the user would pay no more than $100 a month. And that bill passed, and insulin right now will be no more that $100. There is a reality, with our system, if that were to happen, something else will go up to compensate. Unless you want to target a price for all medicines — but just doing one, might help that person with that insulin but it does not help anybody else.
TCN: You’ve also been vocal about your fears on crime and what some bills might do that would affect that. Do you feel Democrats have gone ‘soft’ on crime?
Crowder: You can get soft on some crimes, but you have to be careful, there are public safety issues involved. When you start cutting funding for prisons and what not and some of the crimes no longer qualify for a felony, they are now a misdemeanor.
You have to be carful with this, now is not the time to be soft on crime. There is also talk of early parole. I was also on the board where it is a science: when to release someone and by what criteria, how to treat it once they are released, so you do not have the recidivism of coming back.
My opinion on early release, on going to cumulative corrections, etc., has the potential to increase recidivism, not decrease. Time will tell, but it might be one of those unintended consequences that you speak of.
TCN: You’ve also been against repealing the death penalty. Why?
Crowder: Yes, another big issue we had up there was the death penalty. It was defeated, but the only reason it was defeated was one of the Democrats had a son whose [murder] perpetrators are on death row. We have three inmates on death row right now; two of them are connected to her son’s murder.
In retrospect, California has over 40 on death row. We have only three. The crimes are so heinous that I could not support doing away with the death penalty.
One of the things that we have with the death penalty, if there is a serious crime without the possibility of being mistaken, if the death penalty is brought up, you can use that as a bargaining tool to cop a plea to life in prison without parole if they would no seek the death penalty. So, in my opinion, the death penalty serves as not only a deterrent, but as a tool to lessen the cost of the major criminal activity. That’s why you see many heinous crimes and they cop a plea so they don’t have to deal with the death penalty…
One (of the death row inmates) was the Chucky Cheese murderer. We’re talking a 17-year-old girl, first day on the job, she got caught up in this, she was on her knees begging for her life and the guy shoots her in the head anyway. Do we really expect not to have the death penalty for that? Then he goes on to kill four more people… I couldn’t get that picture out of my mind…
TCN: You have gotten a lot of attention state-wide recently for your desire to take on the issue of school shootings. Where do you stand with that issue currently?
Crowder: Right now, I am working on gun safety. In fact, I have already submitted the bill paper for it. What this is about basically, is what we need to do, in my opinion, we have 173 school districts in this state and what I would like to see, if feasible and if people agree with it, is we need security experts to come and evaluate every school in the district and take that information to the school board and have them go over this with the security expert on what is needed for their school.
We do not believe in one-size fits all, but I believe that if we can get security experts, now I’m not talking about a Sheriff’s Deputy, not to be detrimental, but their not trained in security, they are trained in law enforcement. Talking about people that can understand exactly what that school district needs. Once a school district has formulated a plan on what is needed, I would then like to fund that through the state...
We need to take measures on security. What I’d like to do is have the school boards tell us that we can fund this through the state coffers and not mandate it per se. What we are talking about goes well beyond education it is a social issue that persists. I think we ought to stay on top of it and go from there... Working in that direction anyway, there are still some ideas formulating.
TCN: There’s been a recent movement to do away with the Electoral College. Where do you stand on this issue?
Crowder: I do not support the vote to (do away) with the Electoral College. I don’t think people really understand the ramifications of that and to be honest with you, sir, I’m not sure I understand it either.
The state of Colorado since the inception of Colorado, I believe it has been 11 times that we have elected a president against the majority of the state of Colorado. Up until now it’s never really been an issue. But, with the current president, people are just coming out of the wood work with ways to stop somebody who did not get the majority of the vote.
The Electoral College does save rural Colorado, their voice, I believe. But I guess it depends on how you look at it. I do know the founders actually had quit a serious debate over this same subject back then. So it is something that may never be settled.
TCN: Can you recount some of your successes from this session?
Crowder: We had a situation in Lamar, the state went to this ‘Drive’ system, a new IT program and what happened is they realized we had been licensing these military vehicles all these years, illegally.
So, we have a situation in Lamar where a guy deals in hundreds of them throughout the United States and to agriculture (businesses) in the area. So, we did run successful legislation where they can get them titled, but they are off-road. That was a success that took quite a while and quite a fight to get that done…
We were also successful in prioritizing the dredging of the Arkansas. We’ve had silt buildup in several areas, Trinidad was involved and Pueblo and the creek from Colorado Springs to Pueblo. Its just been silting in, 20-30 feet of silt and what is happening in the town of La Junta you can really see it in the railroad yards when the river is running full it will sub-up. So we’re working with the Corp of Engineers to get that dredged. It’s just everything is a huge fight with the federal government…