Much work remains undone
Annual reviews, report cards, or assessments — call them what you like, performance evaluations are a part of life. Whether in school or at work, we are all graded or evaluated at every level. And our elected leaders are no exception.
In the public policy space it’s known as accountability, the type of adamant encouragement offered to motivate elected officials to be more transparent and responsive to their constituents, whoever they may be.
Since 2021, my organization — Voces Unidas Action Fund — has released a scorecard at the end of each legislative session as a tool to evaluate the performance of state legislators in the central-mountain region against our legislative priorities. Our positions on legislation are informed by community leaders from across the region and polling research of Latino voters, and the scorecards serve as a method to hold legislators accountable for their votes on bills that impact the central-mountain Latino community.
The good news is that four of the five state legislators representing the counties we work in received a grade of B or higher, including an A+ for Rep. Elizabeth Velasco, whose district includes the western portion of Eagle County, as well as for Rep. Meghan Lukens, who represents the rest of the county. Sen. Dylan Roberts, whose district also includes Eagle County, earned a B for voting with us 17 times out of the possible 20 votes we tracked for him in the Senate this session.
In total, this year’s legislative scorecard examines local lawmakers’ votes on 25 priority bills across 6 policy areas — Immigrant Rights, Environmental/Climate Justice, Health/Reproductive Justice, Housing Justice, Gun Safety/Criminal Justice Reform, and Education Justice. It is both a measure of success and a marker for the work that lies ahead.
Rep. Velasco was named our Local Legislative Champion for voting in support of our issues 100% of the time and for partnering with Voces Unidas on three priority bills with major implications for the local Latino community — Mobile Home Park Water Quality (HB23-1257), Inclusive Language in Emergency Situations (HB23-1237), and Repeal Prohibition of Local Residential Rent Control (HB23-1115). And while only two of the three bills were signed into law this year, we intend to continue the legislative battle around local residential rent control in the 2024 legislative session.
Much work remains on the other two pieces of legislation as well. Both will require additional legislation to implement the actions determined by the respective water quality testing programs and emergency response language studies the new laws call for in the coming year.
Those are issues we’re confident will be addressed. The bigger picture is a bit murkier.
The hard truth is that Latinos from the Western Slope have been going to the Capitol for more than 17 years to lobby for economic and other justice issues, and still we don’t have the support we need at the Capitol to pass many policies that are being championed and informed by Latinos.
We are still far from where we need to be when it comes to ensuring all working families, regardless of immigration status, have access to affordable health care. Latinos comprise the highest percentage of uninsured residents in the central mountains. That’s a direct correlation to the cost of living in places like Eagle County, where the high price of housing is compounded by low wages, forcing Latinos to make impossible choices between critical needs like housing, food and health care.
Affordability continues to be a priority for our community, whether it’s through rent stabilization policies to protect mobile home park residents or creating actual affordable housing programs that reach beyond police officers, teachers, nurses and firefighters to include housekeepers, cooks and construction workers. Be it housing, health care or wages, our imperative is to push for policies that address these types of pocketbook issues for all working-class families.
Colorado’s General Assembly is only in session for 120 days of the year, and the to-do list is always hectic. The rest of the time, lawmakers are here, in the community, ideally gathering input from constituents. This is our time to get to know our elected leaders and identify the issues we want to work on, whether you have a specific piece of legislation in mind or just a general topic of concern. These are our representatives after all, and this is the time that work needs to happen if it’s going to be addressed in the next session.
True, it is hard work, often requiring many attempts to push for what is right before realizing success. But if we plan to continue holding our leaders accountable for their actions, then we must also do our part to live up to expectations. And that’s just what we intend to do.
Alex Sánchez is the founder and CEO of Voces Unidas de las Montañas and Voces Unidas Action Fund, non-profit organizations working in Summit, Lake, Eagle, Pitkin, and Garfield counties. His column appears monthly.