The election quickly approaches. Among many choices, between candidates and propositions, Roaring Fork Valley residents will elect their representative for Colorado House District 57. Whereas House District 57 previously contained Moffat and Rio Blanco counties, as well as Garfield County, the district now includes Pitkin County and the Roaring Fork Valley portion of Eagle County.
Republican Perry Will seeks to defend his place as the district’s representative at the Colorado General Assembly. “I’ve been told I’ve brought a wonderful perspective, a rural perspective,” Will told The Sopris Sun, “a perspective that’s much needed here.”
His challenger, Democrat Elizabeth Velasco, similarly vows to bring a much needed perspective to the Golden Dome. “I’m ready, I’m qualified. I’m going to bring a new perspective to the legislature as a Latina immigrant that had to go through the immigration process for 26 years. I see this as an honor and a responsibility; to serve our community.”
The Sopris Sun interviewed each candidate separately and alternates their answers to the same questions in this article.
First, give us a brief introduction.
Will has lived all of his life in Colorado, “this state is near and dear to me,” he told The Sun. Growing up on a ranch in southeast Colorado, hunting and fishing, he decided at an early age to become a game warden. After receiving a degree in wildlife management, Will had a career of more than 40 years with Division of Wildlife (DOW) and later Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW).
“Probably my biggest joy in life, at this point in my life, is watching my grandkids compete at sports,” said Perry Will. In addition, “I love everything to do with western culture.” Courtesy photo
Velasco has lived in the Valley for 20 years. “I know the issues because I’ve lived them,” she said. Velasco is a small business owner, offering interpretation services to hospitals, courts, nonprofits and emergency communications. She is also a wildland firefighter who helped with communications during the Grizzly Creek Fire and was later deployed to assist at megafires in California and Oregon.
“I feel like we live in a postcard, a beautiful postcard,” Elizabeth Velasco told The Sopris Sun. She enjoys camping, snowboarding, mountain biking, hiking, rafting and all sorts of outdoor adventuring. Courtesy photo
What in your experience prepares you to represent the district?
After testifying in committees at the capitol with DOW and CPW, Will gained an interest in state politics. When former District 57 Rep. Bob Rankin moved to the state Senate, replacing Randy Baumgardner in 2019, Will was appointed to fill his vacancy. He was then elected in 2020 and now serves on many committees. “I work for the people,” he said. “And I’m in no trajectory anywhere. Y’know, for some people, it’s like a stepping stone — they have higher political aspirations or whatever … I’m just there trying to do good for the West Slope of Colorado.”
“I come from grassroots organizing…” Velasco continued. “We are a diverse community with multiple stakeholders, and it’s important for all of us to come to the table.” She aspires to “expand the electorate, to engage the community [and] have a transparent government that serves everybody.” Her work with governments, from local to federal, has given her skills to “work together to get big things done.”
What inspired you to join this race?
Will is inspired to run for reelection because he enjoys the work. “I enjoy creating good legislation that helps people,” he said. “Y’know, you’re allowed five bills — to run five bills. I had 33 last year.” Thanks to his bipartisan reputation, Will has been invited by other legislators to coprime bills. “I don’t care if it’s Democrat, Republican, whatever, if it’s a good bill.”
Velasco’s community service reached new heights during COVID, as she helped at vaccination clinics, helped with contact tracing and helped with disseminating critical information. All the while, Velasco was part of organizing against the mine expansion above Glenwood Springs. The experience taught her that “for change to happen, we have to be at all levels.” She hopes to serve as a bridge between policy and local needs, “to make sure we’re serving community.”
How can we navigate social division?
“We have to get away from this divisiveness, we truly do,” said Will. “When you get elected, you represent everyone in your district, and that’s how I approach it.” He gave the example of House Bill 1155, a tuition bill he cosponsored, despite its lack of Republican support. “Will this help students and our young people in House District 57?” he said of his rationale. The bill passed, and, “it’s a good thing.”
Velasco agreed that the social division is troublesome, but said we have more in common than not. “Our working families, we all want our kids to have great education no matter where we live, we want to be able to afford to pay rent, we want to have access to healthcare. I will work really hard to put our district first, and Western Colorado.”
What are the greatest challenges you see ahead?
The greatest challenges that Will sees ahead for the district are affordability, public safety, education and water. He admitted, however, he would jokingly say, “Water, water, water.” “Protecting West Slope water is a huge issue that we’re facing,” said Will. Meanwhile, he is concerned to see inflation much higher in Colorado than the national average, and our state listed as number one in auto theft.
If elected, Velasco would like to work on fire mitigation and support for emergency responders; also, making sure that people have access to emergency alerts in their language. Her number one issue is community resilience. “We know that our house is on fire,” she said. “We have to be proactive and to be ready for any natural disasters.” Other issues of importance for Velasco are access to healthcare, supporting reproductive rights, supporting families and education.
What ideas, strategies or goals will you represent?
Will says that he has multiple bill ideas to help the district, much of which is a continuation of work he’s been doing. His focus is on supporting physician assistants, rural healthcare, behavioral health, cheapening prescription drugs and protecting critical access to hospitals. “Healthcare is a huge need,” he said. “We need to protect our critical access hospitals, make sure they’re viable.”
One concern Velasco heard often from families while campaigning was about inflation. “I look forward to supporting our working families, so we’re able to have a dignified life,” she said. Additionally, she heard about water quality concerns, especially at mobile home parks. One family in Silt, she said, has seen their well run dry and they now haul water every day. “This is our community and I look forward to serving everyone,” she concluded.
Find Perry Will’s website at www.voteperrywill.com
Learn more about Elizabeth Velasco at www.elizabethforcolorado.com