by D.J. DeJong
Mail Staff Writer
“Don’t make a point, make a difference,” read the sign Rep. Jim Wilson (R-Salida) kept in his Denver office at the State Capitol building.
That is what Wilson said he has strived to do in his eight-year tenure as house representative for Colorado House District 60. Term limited, his seat will be filled by representative-elect Ron Hanks in January.
As his final term comes to an end, he said he will miss meeting and working for the people of HD 60.
He never expected to end up in the State House. After a career in education, he retired in 2007 after nine years as Salida School District Superintendent.
In 2012, Rep. Tom Massey, who had served on the Salida School Board which had hired Wilson in 1998, and who was term limited, approached him about running for the seat.
Wilson said he and his wife prayed about it and he decided to run. The night he declared, one of the other candidates dropped out.
Wilson won the 2012 election with 5,336 votes or 55.68 percent of the 9,583 votes in the county defeating Democrat Pier Cohen, Libertarian Bruce Waters and write-in candidate Curtis Imrie.
Since 2013, he has been a part of some landmark education legislation, most notable HB19-1262, which cemented state funding for all day kindergarten. That bill was signed in Salida by Gov. Jared Polis. The bill paved the way for the state to relieve the burden of funding all day kindergartens from districts, and made the program possible statewide.
“Few people have the opportunity to be named in a proclamation,” he said. June 3 is Full-Day Kindergarten Day in Colorado, and Wilson is named in the declarative proclamation.
“I ran that bill for six years,” Wilson said.
Other education-related bills Wilson sponsored included HB13-1165, the Manufacturing Career Pathways bill, which opened the door for legitimizing apprenticeships and school-to-business partnerships.
HB19-1134 provided for identification and interventions for students with dyslexia.
Other non-education bills Wilson said he is proud of working on include:
• HB19-1287 – Treatment For Opioids And Substance Use Disorders, which included grants for rural treatment facilities.
Wilson said locally Solvista Health was able to apply for and receive a $700,000 grant for treatment resources.
• HB18-1004 – Continue Child Care Contribution Tax Credit, which Wilson said benefitted Boys & Girls Clubs.
• HB18-1284 – Disclosure Of Prescription Costs At Pharmacies, which allowed pharmacies to inform customers of non-insurance prices for medication.
• HB17-1070 – Study Drone Use By Public Safety Agencies, which Wilson calls the “Wendell Pryor bill,” after the Chaffee County Economic Development Corporation director, which opened the door for unmanned aerial systems study and use in several sectors.
Wilson said the best part of the job has been, without a doubt, being able to meet people in the four counties he has represented and serve them in the legislature and includes his involvement with conservation easements and broadband access for the rural communities he has represented.
Being in the minority in the Colorado House has been a challenge, but he said he stuck to his basic principals in being able to work with people on the other side of the aisle.
When he first began making inroads toward that cooperation, he was told by Democrats, “The bottom line is we really don’t need you.”
As time passed, however, Wilson gained a reputation among his colleagues not only as being knowledgeable about education but for being a resource for rural Colorado, having been raised on a farm, living in a rural area and having from-the-ground-up perspective of rural life many representatives do not have.
“They think they know rural. The rural voice is not being heard,” Wilson said. He said he has worked on having HD 60 be respected in the state house, noting Colorado still has counties that are not only rural, but are considered “frontier counties,” including Custer county, which falls in HD 60.
In a recent special session, Wilson’s colleague, Matt Gray (D-Broomfiled) voiced his respect for Wilson and the legacy he leaves behind, calling Wilson the conscience of the house chamber.
Wilson said the respect he has gained from his colleagues was not his goal.
“My goal was to hold that high standard,” he said.
Something he said he will not miss is the infiltration of national politics to the state level.
“I strived to be a statesman, not a politician,” Wilson said.
He said representatives owe it as a common courtesy to listen to what is being said about a bill when it is presented on the floor.
“You might learn something,” he said with a chuckle.
He said representatives need to honor the institution, do the right thing for Colorado and remember once they are elected, they represent everyone in their district, whether Republican, Democrat or independent.
Wilson said his future plans are to go back to what he was before. Retired.
He plans to enjoy hunting and visiting with his grandkids among other things.
“Who would ever have thought that I would end up in the state house growing up poor on a farm in Kansas,” he mused.
Wilson had this advice for those who wonder about their own abilities, “Don’t underestimate what you aspire to do. Don’t be surprised when opportunity knocks on the door. You can do far more than what you think you are capable of doing,”