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Carlos Lopez describes his platform in Senate bid

Staff Writer
LA Junta Tribune
Carlos Lopez (D) is running for Sen. Dist. 35

Trinidad man Carlos Lopez (D) is challenging Republican Cleave Simpson in the race for the Senate District 35 seat to be vacated by Sen. Larry Crowder in January following the 2020 state elections.

Lopez said his experience on Trinidad City Council and paralegal trade has prepared him well for the role of Colorado State Senator.

Lopez attended K-12 grade school in Trinidad School District #1 and began his collegiate career at Trinidad State Junior College. He attended the junior college for one year before transferring to the University of Northern Colorado, where he earned a Bachelor's of Arts and Science in psychology and a minor in legal studies.

"After I got my degree I went down to Denver where I started working and I went to the Denver Paralegal Institute," said Lopez. "At the time, it was the only American Bar Association accredited school in Denver where you had to have a full four-year degree to become a certified paralegal.“

Lopez attained his certification after completion of the program and left to work for a large law firm in Denver.

In 2007 Lopez became a deputy probation officer for Arapahoe County where he worked with people in the probation field as a volunteer. He had aspirations of becoming a probation officer, Lopez said. But in 2013, Lopez returned home to Trinidad for two reasons: His family had reacquired a business they used to own or finance, and his father's lung cancer was making a resurgence.

When Lopez's father passed, he told his mother he would stay in town to help take care of the family. Not long after is when he took his first steps into politics.

"After my dad passed away, I told my mom, 'Well, I'm going to stay here and continue to help you with your businesses that you and dad had built,' and after doing so I was like, 'I'm going to stay here and help my mom, I might as well help my community.' So I ran for city council here in Trinidad, which was an 'At Large' election. I was able to receive the most amount of votes, even beating out the two incumbents, who also got reelected."

Lopez said he set out to help his community by running for city council, and it appears he did just that.

"That really kind of help me cut my teeth with politics," said Lopez. "Now, I've completed my term on city council, which I'm very proud of. We've done some great things here in Trinidad. We have changed our positioning economically. When I first came out we had a 60% vacancy rate in our downtown buildings, now we are at about 27%. We brought in a lot of retail applications, a lot of eateries, businesses in general."

Lopez also did work for his community beside his service on Trinidad City Council. He founded a nonprofit after school program that he remains chairman of called The Youth Club of Trinidad.

"And in this program we wanted to have a supplemental program for our local school districts, whether it's Trinidad School District #1, the Hoehne School District, Primero, Aguilar, even Goal Academy, Grace Christian Church. We want to be there for our kids in an after school setting to help them with tutoring and other more traditional programs."

The youth club offers home economics where kids are taught how to make basic, healthy meals, how to balance checkbooks and even how to purchase one's first car, Lopez said. The youth club is also pushing for more vocational or trade programs as well.

"Like I said, I have a trade as a paralegal. I think other people should be able to have a two-year program where they can turn out with a trade," Lopez said.

The youth club is able to get trades people to visit when they can make time for it in areas such as plumbing, electrical, HBAC and welding.

"We also have incorporated farming where we have a green house there. We're about to set up a hydroponic system where we'll teach them how to grow vegetables," said Lopez.

Lopez's term on city council ended at the end of 2019, he said, and he decided to run for state senate because he wanted to take the energy he was feeling to the next level.

The Democratic candidate has a passion for rural health care, vocational trade and protecting Southeast Colorado's natural resources. Lopez might have summed his platform up best when he said, "We need to preserve our way of life while preparing for the future."

When it comes to rural healthcare, Lopez said it's a matter of economics.

"I would love to say that I am born and raised in Colorado, but I'm not, because even 41 years ago, my mom had to drive over Raton Pass to have me delivered at the hospital there, because you cannot have a baby here in Trinidad. That is still the case," said Lopez. "There's a lot of other hospitals in the Southeastern quadrant, in the San Louis Valley, where you have to go to Pueblo to have your baby delivered.

Lopez proposed a midwifery program for rural hospitals.

"You have a midwife program in all our rural hospitals so we can start our families in our rural communities. It's hard to grow our communities when you can't even start them there. I want to change that perspective and that reality."

For rural junior and community colleges, Lopez wants to push for more vocational trade programs.

"Let's be honest, we don't have a whole lot of crafts people any longer," Lopez said. "They've all gone up to the bigger front range communities because there's more work."

Lopez said Southeast Colorado needs more tradespeople in its rural areas. Tradespeople who will provide valuable services, make money and spend that money locally.

"It's an economic boom for everybody," said Lopez.

In the realm of grade school education, Lopez wants to turn how much money is allocated from the state marijuana sales tax fund upside down.

"What I would like to do without raising any taxes, is move around some funds from the Marijuana Tax Cash Fund, which is a statewide fund that collects monies from all the sales of the marijuana industry. What we will do is we will change percentages of how monies are spent and divvied out among communities."

K-12 education only receives about 12% of marijuana tax cash fund dollars, a reality Lopez suspects most Coloradans did not see coming.

"Originally, I think people had the conception that it was all going to be going toward these schools. That is not the reality," said Lopez.

The candidate said he wants to invert what percent of funding is being directed to schools. He wants to move the percentage to 70% for schools with the remaining 30% going to other entities that utilize the fund.

Water and farmlands are deeply entrenched in the history, culture and current day lives of Southeast Coloradans, and so are state politics around those topics. Lopez said as Senator he would address protecting those natural resources.

"I want to make sure that folks don't feel that they need to sell their water rights or turn their properties into conservation easements that live on these rural areas," said Lopez. "If I can demonstrate that people can continue to keep their land while creating a passive income, and they can allow their lands to go fallow longer to protect the soil and conserve and use less water, I think that is going to be a win-win for all of us.“

Lopez said he wants to give Southeast Colorado the opportunity to become a source of new energy resources, too. Lopez serves on the Arkansas River Power Authority board and said he has been learning "tremendously" about other applications of energy production.

"What I'd like to do is start getting into these new types of innovative trades through our junior colleges, and create jobs that protect our people's lands. That way, if we have the rural broadband, their children can stay home, still continue to work remotely, while having passive income from energy production. So this is my thought: What we can do is we can create our own farm electrical cooperate that sells power, not water, to the front range."

Lopez elaborated, saying he could help create mobile solar fields with a state investment on the capital infrastructure. If farmers want to buy in and own their own cooperative, he said, they can pay back the state investments over a years-long period, depending on the costs involved and what the real numbers are that would be needed to build and lay out the infrastructure.

Lopez said there's one key issue that ties many of his ideas and plans together: Broadband internet access for rural Coloradans.

Lopez said in downtown Trinidad he can only get 7mB per second at his home. He said he couldn't upgrade to Comcast service because the infrasturcture is too old.

"That is a problem, because how are we supposed to compete in a global economy when we don't have the same infrastructure that gives us the same playing field as the rest of the people in other parts of the state?" said Lopez. "We're just as smart, we're just as talented, we just don't have the same resources at our disposal, and I want to change that."

Lopez left some parting thoughts for Coloradan voters:

"I would like to let people know that I am a rural Democrat," he said. "I am not a crazy right-wing or left-wing, I'm right in the middle. I'm looking to create opportunities. I'm not looking to stoke fear, I'm looking to use what we have and turn it around. I'm an opportunist, I'm optimistic, and I'm a hard-working son of a gun. And I'm a fighter. When I get elected, I'm going to go up to the capitol and work for everybody. R's, D's, Independent's, Unaffiliated, I'm going to work for everybody. I'm a hunter, I'm a fisherman — I like to think I'm a catcherman, but sometimes I'm just a fisherman — I believe in the second amendment. I'm right in the middle, I have common sense, and I'm going to try to apply that to everyday life, including legislation that I'm going to bring forward."

Lopez is running against Republican Cleave Simpson for the seat in Sen. Dist. 35.

Lopez has received endorsements from Democrats John Hickenlooper and Andrew Romanoff.

"I am proud to be endorsed by all of my endorsements," said Lopez. "Sheriff Kirk Taylor of Pueblo County and Colorado House Representative Donald Valdez are very special. But my most proud endorsement is of Retired Chief Justice of the New Mexico Supreme Court, Hon. Patricio Serna."