An Interview with Catherine Strode
Representative Tony Exum will be returning to the Capitol for the 2017 session to represent House District 17, after defeating his Republican opponent in the recent election. He had previously served in the Colorado House from 2013 to 2015.
In an interview with Catherine Strode, Representative Exum says he looks forward to being a ‘voice’ for his district this session, and, a ‘voice’ for the working poor.
What do you think is the significance of your reelection?
“The two things I think are significant are maintaining the majority in the House and the unique connection I have with the community. I’ve been in the community since 1957: growing up here, graduating high school here, and then staying in the community. I served the city as a firefighter for 36 years. This is what is called a ‘vulnerable seat’ because it is always competitive. The makeup of the district is: 34 per cent Democrat; 29 per cent Republican; and 41 per cent unaffiliated. There are almost 80,000 residents but only half of them are registered voters. I tried to change this trend of trading this seat off from Republican to Democrat every two years. I lost this seat because of low voter turnout not because of anything I did. I had good legislation that impacted this district in a positive way. But for some reason, there’s low voter turnout among Democrats in midterm elections nationwide. We worked really hard to change a few things that we didn’t have the opportunity to do in the campaign in 2014. We were reengaging people not to sit this election out. That was my fear: people not participating. I challenged people and said, ‘There’s going to be an outcome but if you don’t vote you have to live with whatever the outcome is.’
What past legislation are you most proud of?
“I was fortunate enough to run 15 pieces of legislation and 14 pieces passed. The significant pieces were Breakfast After the Bell, making sure every child had the opportunity to have a solid breakfast which enhances the learning environment. Statistics have shown that when kids are not hungry they pay attention. Their test scores go up. I got a lot of pushback because it was an unfunded mandate but it was a reimbursement of a government program where you’re reimbursed $1.85 for every breakfast that you serve. Another piece of legislation that was very successful was a Child Care Tax Credit for single moms or dads making $25,000 or less. I got a report from the Department of Revenue in July of this year stating that over 30,000 individuals took advantage of the tax credit for child care expenses. The other bill was Aid to the Needy and Disabled. It was temporary aid to those who have been certified as disabled for six months. My bill increased that (aid) 5 per cent for the next three years. The goal was to try and get it up to $268 a month, which was pre 2007 recession when there were major cuts.”
What are your goals for the 2017 session?
“I hope to extend some of that legislation. The length of the Child Care Tax Credit bill was 2014 to July 2017. My hope is to continue that and really look at the impact that has had. Before you had stakeholders testify on what it could do. Now we have numbers on what it actually did.”
What will you be focusing on as a member of the House Education and Local Government Committees?
“The main things that were important to people when we were knocking on doors in 2016 were: jobs, the economy, and education. My thoughts about education are I don’t care where a child is educated but about the quality of education in the schools. I care about making sure we don’t get out of balance to where public education is cut because of private schooling and charter schools, focusing on the achievement gap we’re trying to shrink among white students and minority students. The achievement gap is shrinking but not as fast as we’d like. We’ve got to continue to address that. Local control is always a big issue. That, and no unfunded mandates, is always a big push. But there’s a balance between regulatory things that are necessary for the safety of our community, and, not over burdening the businesses and developers that do business in the local counties.”
What are you most passionate about in representing your district?
“It’s the same I was passionate about when I first decided to run. This (House District 17) is a low income district. When I’m making decisions, it’s about the poor, the working poor. Folks who have been marginalized, our veterans. That is the arena I grew up in. I am one of 11 children and we grew up in poverty. I don’t wear that as a badge of honor. I wear that as reality. I don’t think the government is the fix all for society’s woes but I think the government should be the first one to step in helping people when they are in need. It’s people who have need because poverty doesn’t have a color.”
Catherine Strode is Advocacy Denver’s Communications and Policy Specialist. She holds a Masters degree in Public Administration with an emphasis in Health Care Policy. Catherine publishes Policy Perspective, featuring interviews with state policy makers on issues that affect the work and mission of Advocacy Denver.