OURAY COUNTY – Undeterred by a vitriolic recall effort that sought to neuter his first term in office, Democratic State Rep. Mike McLachlan announced to supporters in Ridgway and Ouray on Tuesday, June 4 that he already has his sights set on a second term.
“It will be a hard-fought race,” he predicted.
The attorney from Durango was elected to represent Colorado’s District 59 by the slimmest of margins last November, beating incumbent J. Paul Brown (R-Ignacio) by only 911 votes in a district whose lines were redrawn halfway through Brown’s term, making it more competitive for Democrats. It was among the most bitterly fought and expensive races for state legislature in the history of Colorado politics, with individual contributions and “dark money” from Political Action Committees (PACs) totaling $1.4 million.
Upon arriving in Denver for this spring’s legislative session, McLachlan’s support of gun control, coupled with his notoriety as the most vulnerable Democrat in the House, put him squarely in the sights of gun rights advocates in District 59, who mounted a recall effort but failed to gain enough signatures to put the issue on the ballot.
Nevertheless, the experience was unpleasant for McLachlan, who said he received thousands of nasty emails, “unreasonable people yelling at me,” and even a few death threats over his support for gun control. But in the end, he came out of the grueling session feeling toughened up and invigorated for his second year in office.
“I have the top, Number One most vulnerable seat in the House, and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else,” he joked at a reception in Ouray on Tuesday evening. “I am right on the firing line. I tell my colleagues in the House from less competitive districts that if you are not facing a recall, you are not doing shit.”
The Ouray reception followed on the heels of a Town Hall meeting in Ridgway held earlier that day, one of a series of such meetings McLachlan has held in recent days in towns throughout the sprawling district, which encompasses Archuleta, La Plata, Hinsdale, San Juan and Ouray counties, and the southern half of Gunnison County.
At some of these meetings, he has been grilled by pro-gun crowds who have taken him to task for failing to represent their view on the issue. Not so in Ridgway, where a crowd of about 25 apparent supporters came to hear him speak.
McLachlan spent quite a bit of time outlining the reasons he supported the quartet of gun control laws that passed this session.
“When people come up to me and say, ‘Don’t take away my God-given right to own guns,’ I have to say, ‘God didn’t give you your guns. The constitution gave you the right to own guns. And there’s nothing in there that says gun ownership can’t or shouldn’t be regulated,’” he said.
“Mike, thanks for your votes on gun legislation,” one supporter said. “You got a lot of crap for those votes.”
“That would be an understatement,” McLachlan said. “I believe in the Second Amendment. I believe in God. I’ve read the Bible. The Bible doesn’t mention hand grenades. Or assault rifles. Or magazines....”
McLachlan has taken some heat from supporters, however, for his stance on fracking, which he said he supports as part of an across-the-board strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
As a member of the Agriculture Committee which also has jurisdiction over oil and gas issues, McLachlan had a chance to weigh in on some anti-fracking legislation that failed to gain traction in the recent legislative session, largely due to the opposition of Gov. Hickenlooper and other centrist Democrats.
In Ridgway, McLachlan heard the anti-fracking sentiment loud and clear. “The fracking has got to stop,” one impassioned constituent implored. “There’s nothing good about it. It’s poisoning our water. Poisoning our air.”
McLachlan countered that his views on fracking are based in science. “My information comes from the Director of the Department of Natural Resources and the head of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, and their scientists,” he said. “They’ve been testing the water in La Plata County for 13 years. Fracking has been around for 50 years. And they tell me that fracking in and of itself has not been proven to constitute a threat to underground water.”
While in the area, McLachlan touted the success of ten bills which he sponsored during the legislative session, including a bill to encourage doctors to come to rural areas, a bill to boost school safety by making it easier for schools to hire resource officers, and, close to his heart as a Vietnam veteran, a bill allowing active duty service members who are not yet eligible for veterans benefits, to “fish free anywhere in Colorado.”
As a freshman, he said, he didn’t have the chance to sponsor any of the more heavy-hitting bills that were passed this session, but he relished the opportunity to help usher them through. It was a session where Democrats drove the agenda and made strides not only on the issue of gun control but also social issues like civil unions and the ASSET bill, allowing undocumented students to pay in-state tuition at Colorado colleges and universities as long as they attend a Colorado high school for three years and graduate, or earn a GED.
McLachlan also stressed the importance of the passage of a new school finance bill which seeks to restore funding to public education that has been stripped away in recent years; and a slate of bills related to water rights and water conservation.
McLachlan apologized for not making more headway on the issue of broadband accessibility, one of his campaign promises a year ago. He did come close to sponsoring a bill which was introduced just eight days before the end of the legislative session, but pulled out at the last minute when he learned that the bill had “too many moving parts, and would only help one provider.”
That bill died in the House. McLachlan pledged to pick up the issue again next year. “I consider broadband to be one of the major issues,” he said. “It’s the future of this area.”