Longtime Durango rep touts her work on Capitol Hill ahead of campaign trail
House District 59 Rep. Barbara McLachlan, a Democrat, has won re-election twice and aims to do so again this year.
McLachlan, a longtime Durango resident and former Durango high school teacher, will run for a fourth two-year term in November’s election. McLachlan has yet to begin the campaign trail as she sits in Colorado’s 73rd General Assembly, but she believes her work in the Colorado Legislature over the past five years shows a record. which will garner broad support from voters in the district.
“I think I have a pretty good track record,” she said. “I’m a moderate, I’m not far left. I work across the aisle. Most of my bills are bipartisan because I represent Republicans as well as Democrats and Independents. »
McLachlan was first elected to represent House District 59 in 2016, defeating incumbent Republican J. Paul Brown by a narrow margin of 675 votes. Since then, she has won re-election twice in 2018 and 2020, beating independent and Republican challengers by at least 10 percentage points.
Over the past decade, House District 59 has included La Plata, San Juan, Ouray, Archuleta, Hinsdale, and part of Gunnison Counties. However, statewide redistricting maps approved last year will shift the district to cover all of La Plata, Archuleta and San Juan counties and much of Montezuma County in January 2023.
McLachlan filed her affidavit to run in September 2021, but was stalled in the annual Colorado Legislature proceedings, which began Jan. 12 and will adjourn May 11.
“The campaign is slow when you’re in session and that’s all I can do,” she said. “I try to visit my district when I get home, but we finished in May and then I’ll get back in the saddle.”
McLachlan currently returns to Durango from the Capitol two or three times a month, she said.
Unable to campaign at the start of the election cycle, McLachlan views her work in the Legislative Assembly as a demonstration of her priorities and what she can accomplish if re-elected.
As chair of the House Education Committee for the past two years, she has overseen much of the education legislation that has passed the House while also sponsoring her own bills.
“I think we’re doing a lot for education,” McLachlan said. “We are doing some very good things and (there are) a lot of bills coming up and my committee is full. We listen to many ways to help our Colorado educators. »
McLachlan pointed to two bills signed into law this month by Gov. Jared Polis that she sponsored to address teacher shortages.
By law, retired public school teachers can only work 110 days a year before their retirement benefits are reduced. One of McLachlan’s bills removes that limit and allows teachers across the state to work as substitutes, while the other allows teachers in rural communities to work full-time without risking retirement.
“We think it could save (the) lives of teachers who have to give up their planning periods to be a substitute teacher. We could have enough teachers and enough substitutes to give everyone a little break,” she said.
McLachlan also sought to address health care in the region. She is working with rural hospitals and their business groups to fund a study that examines how rural hospitals in Colorado can attract more professionals.
The goal is to survey both what hospitals need and what they and their rural communities offer so doctors and nurses can get a better idea of the region and employers when applying for a job. posts.
“Rural hospitals are really excited about this,” she said. “They can’t always pay the most, but they offer so much more than just a pay scale.”
During the current legislative session, water has remained a priority for McLachlan, who serves as vice chair of the House Water Resources Review Committee.
The interim committee prepared bills this year that channel money from President Joe Biden’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to water projects in Colorado.
“We are still fighting the eastern slope and making sure to conserve our water,” she said.
McLachlan hopes her efforts this legislative session and her record can win votes in the fall, as she currently faces challenges from two Republican candidates for the district seat.
Shelli Shaw, a former Texas teacher and school district administrator who operates Blue Spruce BnB northeast of Durango, and Alexander “Skinny” Winkler, who represented Adams County on the Front Range in the regular legislative session of 2018, are vying for the Republican candidacy for the House. District 59.
McLachlan holds the fundraising lead, raising more than $14,000 in contributions from October to December 2021, while Shaw and Winkler have not yet released financial documents and will not be required to do so until the end. of this year, according to state campaign finance records.
McLachlan said she was confident she would keep her seat and voters would turn out for her campaign in November. She highlighted her bipartisan work and willingness to compromise to push legislation forward.
“I try very hard to be a district representative. I work hard and listen, and I’m not afraid to go into areas where people need to be heard,” she said. “I feel good in the race. I had a lot of good support in the past, and I think I will have good support in the future as well.