SOME WELD CANDIDATES FOR STATE LEGISLATURE RESPOND TO MENTAL HEALTH COLORADO SURVEY, SOME DON’T
By: Terry Frei
October 13, 2018
DENVER — Andrew Romanoff, the former Speaker of the Colorado House of Representatives, has a top-floor corner office in downtown Denver, three blocks from the Colorado State Capitol.
On a cloudless Friday morning, the view was potentially distracting as Romanoff — in his role as president and CEO of Mental Health Colorado — talked about the eight-question survey on mental health issues his organization sent to 179 candidates for the Colorado House and Senate. The answers of those who responded are posted on the Mental Health Colorado web site.
So in the wake of Romanoff sending out those questions to candidates, the Friday conversation eventually got around to this: As of Friday, MHC said responses numbered “more than 100,” allowing breathing room if additional surveys are returned.
So if I’m a candidate, and I haven’t responded to this, what’s in it for me if I do?
“We don’t have any gold stars to give out or contributions to make,” he said. “What’s in it for you, and this sounds quaint, is good government, better democracy, more transparency. If you believe voters have a right to know where you stand, then that’s in it for you.
“And actually, I’ll make the argument that voters are more likely to support you if you support their mental health. It’s a popular position. We’re not asking people to go out on a limb here. You may not know about it as a candidate, but you’ll find that a lot of families in your community care about this issue and have been hit hard by it and may be more likely to vote for you if you listen to them and respond.”
MENTAL HEALTH COLORADO SURVEY
Here are the eight questions on the survey about mental health issues submitted to candidates for the Colorado Legislature in the Nov. 6 general election and the percentage of “yes” answers:
1. Do you support school policies and funding that increase the availability of mental health services in schools and early childhood settings? (94 percent)
2. Do you support additional funding for follow-up care for individuals after a suicide attempt or overdose? (95 percent)
3. Do you support extreme risk protection orders? (84 percent)
4. Do you support strengthening laws and transparency requirements compelling insurance companies to provide coverage for the treatment of mental health and substance use disorders that is equal to the coverage provided for a physical illness? (86 percent)
5. Do you support strengthening requirements that insurance companies have enough mental health and substance use professionals to guarantee their members have a choice of provider? (82 percent)
6. Do you support requirements that hospitals and other providers report information on treatment availability to help individuals, hospitals and law enforcement locate available treatment for people in crisis? (88 percent)
7. Do you support providing state funds to expand capacity for mental health and substance use treatment in underserved areas of the state? (88 percent)
8. Do you support additional state investments in affordable housing with supportive services for people with mental health or substance use disorders? (83 percent)
In state House or Senate races involving districts partially or entirely in Weld County, Mental Health’s tally as of Friday was that six candidates had answered the survey, while eight had not. Gbenga Ajiboye, Democratic House District 48 candidate; Rochelle Galindo, Democratic House District 50 candidate; Michael Thuener, Republican House District 50 candidate; Debra Gustafson, Democratic Senate District 1 candidate; Eric Joss, Libertarian Senate District 13 candidate; and Phil Kelley, Democratic Senate District 13 candidate responded to the survey.
Speaking of the overall response rate, Romanoff noted, “I’m glad that most candidates responded and I’m glad that most candidates responded yes. I’d be happier if everybody responded and everybody said yes. But short of that, I’m happy that people are engaging, not just answering blindly. . . We want to know what the candidates actually are going to do and whether they’ll put some of the state’s money where their mouth is when it comes to prevention, early intervention and treatment. Not just funding. Do you want to actually enforce the laws we’ve got? Do you want people to have equal coverage, do you want folks to have adequate networks, are you willing to do something about that, too? The answer appears to be yes and yes and yes.”
The catch, though, is that Romanoff acknowledges that affirmative answers to the eight questions endorse Mental Health of Colorado’s positions. In other words, “yes” is the “right” answer to gain approval from Romanoff’s organization. All know that going in. The percentage of “yes” responses to the eight questions from the candidates ranges from 82 to 95. So there isn’t unanimity, but it also could be a self-fulfilling prophecy if those who might answer “no” to one or more questions decide answering at all might be counterproductive.
Romanoff brought up former U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Sam Rayburn, noting he said, “You should always tell the truth because it’s easier to remember.”
He added, “I’m thrilled to have these conversations. You and I are having this conversation. Throughout the state we’re having this conversation. I’m sorry if the conversation is in response to tragedy, the crisis was in part a product of the Aurora theater shootings. But it’s become apparent to a lot of people who are running for office, and certainly for a lot of people in office, that this cause touches every single family in the state. We’re not talking about some exotic disease that’s confined to a tiny fraction of the population.
“I tell my team here, we have five and a half million potential supporters in Colorado. They just don’t all know it yet.”
Romanoff said he didn’t want to go over candidate responses in detail.
“I don’t want to say anything that can be construed as an endorsement of one candidate or another,” he said. “For us, when some of these candidates win, whether they agreed with us or not, we want to sit down with everybody who’s serving in the state House and Senate and the governorship to talk about these issues. This is not meant to be a pop quiz and then flunk them. This is an educational opportunity. We thought it was important to ask before the election so voters have some information before they cast their ballot.”
Romanoff, 52, served in the Colorado House from 2001-09, including as Speaker from 2005-09. He unsuccessfully challenged incumbent U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet for the Democratic nomination in 2010 and lost the general election race to U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman in Colorado’s 6th District in 2014. He has been with Mental Health Colorado since 2015.
Mental Health Colorado plans to update if additional candidates respond.
Originally appeared in the Greeley Tribune.