ALAMOSA — This may be her first run for office, but if elected Donna Lynne will be the most familiar with her new job as governor, she explained during her inaugural campaign tour in Alamosa on Sunday.
Lynne, 63, has been serving as lieutenant governor and chief operating officer for nearly three years and said she could provide a smooth transition from term-limited Governor John Hickenlooper to the next administration.
“I know how to get things done, and I will continue to do that,” she said at Milagros Coffee House, her final stop on the campaign tour she began after announcing her official candidacy late last week.
Colorado Insurance Commissioner Marguerite Salazar, who served as executive director for Valley-Wide Health Systems for 20 years, introduced Lynne to the gathering on Sunday. Salazar said it was Lynne’s passion to build a strong health care system for Colorado that drew her to Lynne, and they have remained strong friends and proponents for health care.
Lynne was an executive vice president with Kaiser Permanente prior to her appointment as lieutenant governor and chief operating officer.
“She understands the rural issues,” Salazar said.
Lynne added that Colorado is like “a tale of two states” with the urban and Front Range area experiencing a different economic reality than the rural areas of the state. She said it is important to address the issues of rural Colorado and would plan to do that as governor. This is her fifth trip to Alamosa since assuming her role in state government, but she had previously visited the area as part of her goal to climb all of Colorado’s fourteeners, which she has accomplished, and as a participant in Ride the Rockies.
“This is the gateway to so many things I enjoy,” she said. “I love being able to enjoy recreation here in the San Luis Valley.”
Lynne shared some of her personal background being the daughter of World War II era Navy parents — “service was very much a part of my DNA” — and serving 20 years in government in New York City, but not as an elected official.
She recalled some of the tougher times in her past working as a waitress to get through college and raising her three children after a divorce.
She said the motto in her house, which she lives by professionally as well, is “you can and you will.”
It was the job with Kaiser Permanente that brought Lynne to Colorado 13 years ago, she said. She oversaw five states in a $9 billion enterprise with 16,000 employees. Her position broadened to a $30 billion enterprise with 31,000 employees when she joined Hickenlooper’s cabinet as lieutenant governor and chief operating officer. Health care continued to be a priority and part of her role in her new position, she added.
She said regardless of the groups of people she met around the state, affordable health care seemed to be the biggest issue for them. Affordable housing and infrastructure such as broadband were also important issues, and the third most critical issue she discovered statewide was the opioid problem. Education was another recurring issue, Lynne said. As a state, Colorado is ranked 47th or 48th in higher education spending, she explained, and not much better in K-12. She has been addressing the educational problems, which include teacher and funding shortages, as co-chair of the Education Leadership Council in Colorado.
“I am a big believer that spending money on education is critical, not only for higher education, K-12 education but our youngest and most vulnerable … preK.”
Lynne fielded a few questions from those who gathered on Sunday in Alamosa including a question posed by Alamosa County Commissioner Helen Sigmond about jail overcrowding and the opioid issue. Lynne said people with mental health and substance abuse issues should be receiving treatment, not incarceration.
Regarding an oil and gas question, Lynne said Colorado is a local control state, and individual communities should make decisions in the best interests of their local communities.
Regarding TABOR (Taxpayer Bill of Rights), Lynne said Colorado is in a better position now to live within its TABOR restrictions, especially with the recent exemption of the hospital provider fee. She said she believes TABOR needs to be fixed, but Colorado will be able to operate without exceeding TABOR restrictions in the next three years.
She concluded by saying that she believed she was well positioned to move Colorado forward in the next four years “and fight for the people of Colorado and what they need.”
Caption: Colorado Insurance Commissioner Marguerite Salazar, left, introduces candidate for governor Donna Lynne during a campaign stop in Alamosa on Sunday. Courier photo by Ruth Heide