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The House District 26 Q&A: Butler, Lukens on guns, voting, abortion and more

March 6, 2024, 10:22 am

The opening salvo in the 2024 race for Colorado’s House District 26 was fired by incumbent Democrat Meghan Lukens over her Republican opponent, Craig City Council member Nathan Butler, “attending the riots in Washington D.C. on January 6th of 2021”. But where do the two candidates stand on a wide variety of other issues critical to Northwest Colorado?

RealVail.com (RV) emailed the two candidates – Butler (NB) and Lukens (ML) — eight questions each and received all their answers in email form. By way of some background, Lukens, a Steamboat Springs teacher, first earned the seat beating Republican Savannah Wolfson 21,212 votes (53.6%) to 18,376 (46.4%) votes districtwide on Nov. 8, 2022 — a margin of 7.2%.

Meghan Lukens

After redistricting ahead of the 2022 election, HD 26 now includes most of Eagle County, excluding the southwestern corner in the Roaring Fork Valley, and all of Routt, Rio Blanco and Moffat counties. The more populous Eagle and Routt counties went for President Joe Biden over former President Donald Trump by margins of 30% and 28% respectively in 2020.

The less populous Moffat and Rio Blanco counties went for Trump in 2020 by margins of 64% and 68% respectively. Overall, HD26 went for Biden 30,934 votes to 24,548, or 55.7% to 44.2%, not far off Biden’s 13.3% statewide win. For context, 18,588 Eagle County voters chose Biden to 9,892 votes for Trump. Routt saw 10,582 votes for Biden to 5,925 for Trump.

In the newly added and far more rural areas of HD26, Moffat (Butler’s home county) went for Trump 5,670 votes to 1,203 for Biden. Rio Blanco went for Trump 3,061 votes to 561 for Biden.

In the 2022 HD26 race, reproductive rights before and after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to undo 49 years of precedence by overturning Roe v. Wade helped shape the debate early on. But Lukens and Wolfson – an ardent Rep. Lauren Boebert supporter at the time who is no longer in that camp – differed widely on a variety of other issues.

Now, there’s just as stark a contrast for HD26 voters between Butler (NB) and Lukens (ML) on Nov. 5, 2024. Here’s RealVail.com’s HD26 Q&A:

RV: What is the most pressing problem facing HD26 in 2025, and how would you try to deal with it if elected in November?

Nathan Butler

NB: The economy is the biggest issue to tackle right now. Not only is this a national issue, but HD 26 is specifically impacted. One of our largest power plants in the state is shutting down, families are being crippled by inflation and employment growth has been slower in Colorado than the rest of the nation. During my time in City Council, I have learned how to look at budgets and balance them. My priorities will be to focus on pro-economic growth policies and put a stop to boondoggle legislation such as the stingier version of Prop HH that Democrats passed during January’s special session after voters soundly rejected the bait-and-switch Prop HH at the ballot box.

ML: Affordability. From Vail to Rangely, from Oak Creek to Maybell, I hear from constituents across House District 26 about the critical challenge of affordability, particularly in relation to housing and child care. In 2023, I co-sponsored and successfully passed SB23-001, Authority Of Public-private Collaboration Unit For Housing, which promotes innovative, affordable housing development through public-private partnerships on state-owned property. Currently, I am actively working on HB24-1237, Programs for the Development of Child Care Facilities, focusing on the development of child care facilities to alleviate costs and burdens, not only in HD26 but statewide. These initiatives aim to ensure that essential workers such as teachers, nurses, and construction professionals can afford to reside in the communities where they work. If re-elected, I am committed to continuing my efforts at the State Legislature to address the ongoing issues of affordability.

RV: Why did you decide to run for state office?

NB: Well, in fact, one of the factors presented itself after I ran for the Craig City Council because I wanted to make a difference at the local level. However, shortly after my election, I attended one of the meetings between the city, the county, Tri-State, and the office of Just Transition regarding the mine and power plant closure. Needless to say, I was sickened and appalled. It was less of a conversation on how we can move forward while improving the community and more of a hostage negotiation. The office of Just Transition and the state’s position was arguing, without directly providing solutions, leaving us with scraps on the backend if we played ball with them. It was at that moment I realized no one cared enough to fight for us, at least not here in Moffat County or at the national or state levels. Time and time again, it appears that the Democratic special interest agenda comes before the people of Colorado. I want to do everything in my power to change that.

ML: As someone who grew up in, lives in, and works in House District 26, I have deep rooted connections within the community. I wanted to give back to my community in the best way possible – which, for me, meant running for the Colorado House of Representatives. As a high school government and history teacher, I have always told my students that my favorite activities are learning and listening. As a legislator, I have prioritized listening and learning. I am honored to represent every corner of HD 26 by working with stakeholders, experts, and our communities on each and every issue. 

RV: Utah is trying to increase the number of oil trains coming through parts of HD26 while Colorado is looking to increase passenger rail service through the Moffat Tunnel and extend it from Denver to Craig. How do you feel about those two issues?

NB: As a resident of Craig, Colorado, I am in favor of passenger rail service from Denver to Craig. As for this railroad project, I’m not against oil. My preference would be a pipeline as they are safer than railways.

ML: The opportunity for passenger rail connecting Northwest Colorado is an exciting possibility, and I have been working diligently with local community and business leaders, alongside our state agencies and Governor to make passenger rail a reality. In September of 2023, Senator Dylan Roberts and I sent a letter to the CO Department of Transportation outlining the potential for a regional passenger rail system. We requested CDOT to expedite the creation of a Service Development Plan, and that request was granted. This will make service more competitive for federal grant opportunities and serve as a roadmap to guide the strategic development of rail transportation in the region. In 2023, I stood with a bipartisan group of Western Slope legislators in opposition to the Uinta Basin Railway Project, and will always stand with my constituents when they are concerned about projects that could jeopardize our long-term health and safety.

RV: The move away from coal in Colorado has hit NW Colorado hard. How has the state handled the transition? Are there things you could do in Denver to help the situation?

NB: The State has done an abysmal job. I believe they are putting the Democrats’ national agenda above the people of Colorado, and I find it disgusting that they are taking good-paying jobs away from our constituents. As for what can be done in the House, I can work to ensure the taxpayers are in a more stable position and that the replacement industries are already fully established before the use of coal is entirely removed. To help facilitate that, we should roll back some of the burdensome regulations without sacrificing the major strides in clean coal energy that the Moffat power plant has made in recent years. Some of the unnecessary regulations prevent them from doing their jobs and cripple their function. It’s my belief we should be pushing for the rest of the country to catch up to where the Moffat Plant is. If the goal is less carbon emissions, let’s encourage other states to get on our level as we know they won’t “just transition” and cripple their local economies for an agenda.

ML: The coal plant shutting down in Craig and Hayden is detrimental to our local economies in those towns, and it is imperative we support diversifying the economy in our coal transitioning communities. In 2023, I was proud to work with a bipartisan group of legislators to pass HB23-1247, Assess Advanced Energy Solutions In Rural Colorado. I support an all-of-the-above energy strategy, and this legislation promotes exactly that. This legislation created a study to assess advanced energy opportunities in coal-impacted communities in Colorado in order to ensure adequate Just Transition efforts are funded and underway. I was proud to work with local leaders to pass this legislation in the State Legislature, and will continue to advocate for our coal-transitioning communities.

RV: It’s mostly a federal issue, but where do you stand on the border and immigration overall? Can the state be doing things to improve the situation? Do we need the labor?

NB: While I have spent most of my adult life in Colorado, I grew up in Texas. So I’m very familiar with issues at the southern border.

A. I believe we need to go back to the policies that were working to keep our border secure before Joe Biden took office. We need to do everything possible to end the human trafficking and sexual violence that is, all but verbally, endorsed by the Biden Administration’s border policies.

B. I believe the state could do more. We shouldn’t be housing people for free, or offering free medical care for everyone who enters the country illegally. People see that “kindness” and want to take advantage of the situation on our citizens’ dime. The best thing we could do for those people is send them back to their home countries. We can barely take care of ourselves right now; we don’t need to be taking care of everyone else. I want to be clear; I am all for LEGAL Immigration and legitimate asylum seekers. It is the ones abusing the system who are taking advantage of the kindness and compassion that American citizens have.

C. Concerning the labor, no absolutely not, laborers that can’t work legally only create an opening for them to be overworked and underpaid. I also believe it is inherently racist to assume that these people are nothing more than cheap labor to be exploited. We need to stop incentivizing people to come here illegally, as all we’re doing is setting them up for failure and causing many more to go through untold pain and suffering at the hands of the cartels. Many of the people who are trying to sneak in are not only sexually and physically abused but brought into a life of modern-day slavery.

D. Denver is busing migrants to rural Colorado. We did not articulate the position of a sanctuary city like Denver did! If Denver doesn’t want them, they should send them back to their home countries where they can be properly taken care of. This is just another example of a failed Front Range Democrat policy that rural Colorado has to deal with. 

ML: Immigration is a federal issue, and unfortunately, our federal government was unable to pass the bipartisan border proposal last month. I will continue to urge our Congressional delegation to take action on this critical issue which is both a humanitarian and security concern for us all. In the meantime, Colorado has been seeing an influx in migrants. I support comprehensive immigration reform, but from the state level, we are more focused on ensuring our local areas have the resources they need to address the migrant crisis. At the State Capitol, we are in the midst of the budget process, and supporting local areas while they navigate the influx of new migrants is an ongoing part of these conversations.

RV: Rural parts of Colorado need better health care and lower-cost hospitals and insurance. What can the state do to help? What about women’s reproductive health?

NB: I’m a disabled veteran, so I have Tricare through the VA and have been to VA hospitals. There are some things that these hospitals/insurance companies do well, but there’s a laundry list of things they do terribly. I’m weary of government-run health care and insurance programs. I do believe there is a lot that can be done to overhaul the system, but we need to go in the opposite direction. The government’s heavy regulation of insurance is the reason prices are so high. We could bring those prices down by opening insurance up to the free market and ending the government’s monopoly on it. Cut red tape!

As for women’s reproductive health, I fully support women’s rights to the highest quality of healthcare. Medically induced abortion, however, is a different situation entirely, considering there is more than one life involved. To be clear, any laws should codify the difference between the premeditated taking of a viable human life, i.e. 24+ weeks, and a miscarriage, known in the medical community as a spontaneous abortion. I believe the “pro-abortion” extremists have been intentionally conflating these things as an emotional manipulation tactic. 

I like to say that I am “pro-choice with caveats”; Colorado has some of the most extreme abortion laws in the country. Under the current laws, a person can decide they want to abort their baby while in the delivery room. I consider that to be no different than infanticide. I also understand that it took nearly half a century to send the issue back to the States, and it could take another half-century to change hearts and minds regarding the unborn. Overseas we had to win hearts and minds — that’s what we have to do here in Colorado.

I have taken the position that I am Pro-Choice with the caveat that, in the vast majority of situations, the choice comes before conception. You can choose from a wide variety of contraception, you can choose abstinence, you can choose adoption, and you can choose motherhood. 

Personally, I believe the taking of innocent human life should be reserved for extreme situations, such as rape and incest, and the life of the mother. The premeditated killing of the unborn, especially post-viability, isn’t really a choice outside of those instances. That being said, I do believe access to Plan B and other contraceptives should be expanded, and programs be made available to provide it to people who are victims of rape as well. The purpose of restructuring abortion laws isn’t an attempt to control women’s healthcare, and I believe the situation is wrongfully portrayed as such. It’s to empower women to make their own choices while still acknowledging the sanctity of innocent human life, particularly viable human life.

ML: I am a proud supporter of women’s reproductive health care, and will continue to advocate for women’s reproductive decisions to be between her and her doctor – not the government. As for the high costs of health care, I will continue to advocate at the State Capitol for proposals that lower the cost of health care while maintaining a high-level of care. During the 2023 legislative session, I supported strengthening the Prescription Drug Affordability Board (PDAB) to lower out-of-pocket prescription drug costs. The PDAB, along with the Colorado Option, our state reinsurance program and other state led initiatives are all great examples of how our state government can help deliver real results in this area and I look forward to continuing to work in this area.  

RV: Lawmakers are currently debating a new round of gun safety laws but rural Colorado has a long history of safe gun ownership. Where are you on these issues?

NB: As a veteran, I’m a huge advocate for constitutional carry. I believe less is more. Criminals are going to do criminal things, regardless of what the laws are. What we should do is better prepare our law-abiding citizens and empower them to take care of themselves, their families, and their communities, while also increasing prosecutions and minimum sentencing guidelines for criminals. If a criminal commits a gun crime, they should fear the punishment. I believe that an armed society is a polite society. The answer is not to disarm more law-abiding citizens, but to expand their abilities to protect themselves, their families, and their communities.

ML: In our diverse community and state, opinions on gun legislation vary. I approach each gun safety bill with careful consideration, evaluating amendments and language throughout the legislative process. With every gun safety bill, I take my time to evaluate and decide how I will vote on a case-by-case basis, taking all viewpoints into account, and prioritizing input from constituents. I have a duty to uphold the Colorado Constitution and the US Constitution, and any bill that potentially violates the 2nd Amendment raises concerns for me. As a teacher, I know how our schools have changed due to the increase of mass shootings in our country, and I thought about that each month while doing active shooter drills with students. As many in our community have told me, common sense gun regulation is necessary to protect our kids, and this is at the forefront of my mind while voting on gun safety legislation.

RV: Please address election integrity and your thoughts now on the 2020 election and Jan. 6, 2021. Are you at all concerned about the 2024 election?

NB: The issue in the 2020 election was the rapid adoption of drastically altered voting procedures in many states due to the “emergency” COVID situation. States that had never used mail-in ballots, and therefore had no experience running an election with mail-in balloting, opened themselves up to potential fraudsters and an increased likelihood of human error. Combined with rapidly implemented ballot harvesting rules, it makes sense that there were concerns about election integrity.

In Colorado, we have had universal mail ballots since 2013, and we only transitioned to a universal system after nearly 70% of Colorado voters had opted-in to a “permanent mail ballot” list — meaning our local election officials had years of practice and slow ramp-up in processing mail ballots before the system went universal. Though the system is not perfect, it has been improved over the course of more than a decade, unlike in states where universal mail-in ballots were first used in the 2020 election. 

I do believe tighter restrictions need to be put in place on ballot harvesting. In Colorado, an individual can legally drop off 10 ballots at one time, but there is no limit on the number of times an individual can drop off ballots. Additionally, there should be at least semi-annual audits and cleaning of voter rolls — this will help improve the perception of fairness and election integrity among the skeptical. 

I am of the opinion that the act of voting is a civic duty — there is a difference between making voting accessible and straightforward to all eligible citizens and catering to the lowest common denominator. Voting is a right and a privilege. If you cannot make the minimal effort required to mail your ballot back to the clerk, drop it off in a drop box yourself, or vote in person, I believe you are giving up the privilege of having your voice heard.

ML: Colorado has a safe and secure election system. I am confident that the 2024 election will be conducted with transparency, fairness, and a commitment to upholding the democratic principles.  

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David O. Williams

Managing Editor at RealVail
David O. Williams is the editor and co-founder of RealVail.com and has had his awarding-winning work (see About Us) published in more than 75 newspapers and magazines around the world, including 5280 Magazine, American Way Magazine (American Airlines), the Anchorage Daily News (Alaska), the Anchorage Daily Press (Alaska), Aspen Daily News, Aspen Journalism, the Aspen Times, Beaver Creek Magazine, the Boulder Daily Camera, the Casper Star Tribune (Wyoming), the Chicago Tribune, Colorado Central Magazine, the Colorado Independent (formerly Colorado Confidential), Colorado Newsline, Colorado Politics (formerly the Colorado Statesman), Colorado Public News, the Colorado Springs Gazette, the Colorado Springs Independent, the Colorado Statesman (now Colorado Politics), the Colorado Times Recorder, the Cortez Journal, the Craig Daily Press, the Curry Coastal Pilot (Oregon), the Daily Trail (Vail), the Del Norte Triplicate (California), the Denver Daily News, the Denver Gazette, the Denver Post, the Durango Herald, the Eagle Valley Enterprise, the Eastside Journal (Bellevue, Washington), ESPN.com, Explore Big Sky (Mont.), the Fort Morgan Times (Colorado), the Glenwood Springs Post-Independent, the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, the Greeley Tribune, the Huffington Post, the King County Journal (Seattle, Washington), the Kingman Daily Miner (Arizona), KUNC.org (northern Colorado), LA Weekly, the Las Vegas Sun, the Leadville Herald-Democrat, the London Daily Mirror, the Moab Times Independent (Utah), the Montgomery Journal (Maryland), the Montrose Daily Press, The New York Times, the Parent’s Handbook, Peaks Magazine (now Epic Life), People Magazine, Powder Magazine, the Pueblo Chieftain, PT Magazine, the Rio Blanco Herald Times (Colorado), Rocky Mountain Golf Magazine, the Rocky Mountain News, RouteFifty.com (formerly Government Executive State and Local), the Salt Lake Tribune, SKI Magazine, Ski Area Management, SKIING Magazine, the Sky-Hi News, the Steamboat Pilot & Today, the Sterling Journal Advocate (Colorado), the Summit Daily News, United Hemispheres (United Airlines), Vail/Beaver Creek Magazine, Vail en Español, Vail Health Magazine, Vail Valley Magazine, the Vail Daily, the Vail Trail, Westword (Denver), Writers on the Range and the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. Williams is also the founder, publisher and editor of RealVail.com and RockyMountainPost.com.

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