Cary Kennedy on the stump: Change TABOR, give locals more control on fracking, ban military-style guns

At a Tuesday campaign stop on a liberal arts campus in Colorado Springs, Democrat Cary Kennedy said if she becomes governor she would want to ban military-style firearms, increase local control of fracking and run a statewide ballot measure to permanently change the state’s tax laws.

Speaking for about an hour, Kennedy, one of nine Democratic candidates running in the 2018 governor’s race, leaned on her record having served as Colorado’s state treasurer for one term from 2007 to 2011. During that time, she said, she protected tax money from risky Wall-Street banks on the brink of collapse and launched a state program to renovate aging schools in rural Colorado, name-checking small towns like Cooper, Mosca, Cotopaxi, De Beque and Del Norte.  

For the 40 or so students and locals who turned out to hear her speak at Colorado College, where her son attends, Kennedy also gave a lesson on the state’s byzantine tax policy tied to the 1992 budget-limiting constitutional amendment called the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, or TABOR. Among other provisions, the law requires voters to approve all tax increases and caps government spending at a certain level.

Calling TABOR “an out-of-state, extreme anti-tax agenda,” she said it has hindered Colorado from keeping up with its growth, and that as governor she would seek to alter it permanently. That would come, she said, through a statewide ballot measure that would change or waive required revenue caps so more money could be used for infrastructure and education in the state budget to meet the demands of Colorado’s growing population.

Citing public education as her top priority, Kennedy said the state focuses too much on high-stakes testing, which leads to more narrow curriculums. Her plan includes raising teacher pay to at least the national average and launching a scholarship fund with state and private money to pay for university students who commit to teaching in schools where they are needed.

As governor, she said she would lower health care costs by allowing anyone in Colorado the ability to buy into the state’s public health care plan. Currently, Medicaid covers 1.4 million eligible Coloradans who qualify because of their income level. Kennedy’s proposal, which would require approval from the administration of President Donald Trump, is aimed at offsetting high premiums some Coloradans pay when there’s only one health insurer offering coverage in certain parts of the state, especially mountain communities.

Related: Cary Kennedy’s public option healthcare plan

Climate change, she said, is “the most pressing issue of our time,” and she pledged if elected that Colorado would meet targets in the Paris Climate agreement “with or without the help of Washington.” In June, Trump said he would pull the U.S. out of the global climate accord signed by 195 nations in an effort to combat global warming. Current Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper signed an executive order in July that set a goal similar to the Paris agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 26 percent within the next decade. The order also directs state agencies to work with power companies to use more renewable energy.

Meanwhile, Kennedy said Colorado could do more to make sure communities impacted by fracking trust how the government works with oil and gas companies by making sure state regulators have more authority to protect public health and the environment.  

“I believe there are places in our state that are just too special to drill,” Kennedy said.

A showdown over oil and gas extraction is playing out in the early days of the Colorado governor’s race. Democrats and Republicans are seeking to position themselves on an issue that galvanizes voters in a state where drilling and residential development are increasingly at odds and the oil-and-gas industry has spent tens of millions of dollars on politics. Current Republican State Treasurer Walker Stapleton often says one of the main reasons he is running for governor is because he fears the oil-and-gas industry is under attack by Democrats.

Kennedy on Tuesday acknowledged oil and gas extraction as an important industry that provides economic independence and security to Colorado and the nation, but said drilling must have a minimal impact on the environment. She does not support a state ban on fracking, she said in an interview, but favors allowing cities and counties increased local control to make their own rules about it. In 2016, Colorado Democrats failed to get a law passed that would give local governments more control over fracking. And the Colorado Supreme Court has ruled that municipalities are not allowed to ban fracking on their own, and that state laws trump local power. 

“I want this industry to be successful and profitable in this state,” Kennedy said. “But it has to be subject to public health, safety and welfare, and environmental regulations.”

The Colorado Supreme Court is deciding whether to weigh in on a landmark ruling by the state Court of Appeals, cheered by environmentalists, that requires development of oil and gas in Colorado to be regulated “subject to the protection of public health, safety, and welfare, including protection of the environment and wildlife resources.” The ruling came from a lawsuit against the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC), which regulates fracking and whose commissioners are appointed by the governor. The lawsuit pivots on whether Colorado should put public health first when considering oil and gas development rather than trying to strike a balance between oil and gas interests and public health, safety and welfare. Colorado’s Republican attorney general, Cynthia Coffman, appealed the appeals court ruling to the state’s highest court.

Related: Colorado’s governor said he didn’t want to appeal a controversial oil-and-gas ruling. The attorney general did it anyway.

If the High Court were to reverse the appeals court decision, Kennedy said she’d use her power as governor to urge lawmakers to tackle the state agency’s regulatory authority with new laws.

“I would propose legislation to clarify that the COGCC has the authority to have oil and gas development subject to environmental safety and public welfare protections,” she said.

On gun issues, Kennedy said Colorado already has strong laws requiring background checks and limiting to 15 the number of bullets a gun magazine can hold, but that she’d step up gun control even further.

“I support a right to bear arms,” she said, “but not the kind of assault weapons that we see used in these mass shootings. They have no place in this country or on our streets in private ownership.” She said she would want to “get all of those military-style weapons off the streets,” including accessories like bump-stocks, which were used by a shooter to fire more rounds faster during a mass killing at an outdoor concert in Las Vegas last month. A handful of states such as California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Washington, D.C., have passed laws banning such weapons. 

Kennedy, married to a doctor who moved to the U.S. from India when he was seven, also took aim at Trump, calling his anti-immigration rhetoric personal. She said Trump’s agenda would drag the country back 50 years on protecting the environment, on human rights and health care.

“We will not let Donald Trump and the Republicans in Congress take our state backwards,” she said. “We will fight him in the statehouse, we will fight him in the courthouse.”

Also running in Colorado’s Democratic primary race for governor are Congressman Jared Polis, former State Sen. Mike Johnston, businessman Noel Ginsburg, Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne, Republican-turned-Democrat Erik Underwood, and Adam Garrity, Moses Humes, and Michael Schroeder, three other lesser-known candidates who have filed paperwork to run.

“There a lot of good people in the Democratic primary for governor,” Kennedy said Tuesday. “This is a tough race, but I know what needs to get done in this state and I have proven that I can get it done.”

Photo by Corey Hutchins