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Democratic candidate for governor talks health and taxes in Colorado Springs

September 8, 2017 Updated: September 8, 2017 at 12:10 pm
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Colorado Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne speaks Friday morning at Rico's Cafe & Wine Bar in Colorado Springs. Photo by Conrad Swanson, The Gazette.

Health and taxes were on Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne's mind while holding court at a Colorado Springs restaurant Friday during her second full day as a candidate for the Democratic nomination to run for governor next year.

Lynne formally announced her bid Thursday in Denver to succeed Gov. John Hickenlooper, who is prevented by term limits from running again in 2018.

Lynne addressed a small gathering at Rico's Cafe and Wine Bar on Tejon Street downtown which is owned by Colorado Springs City Council President Richard Skorman. She touted her experience in state government and praised Hickenlooper, also a Democrat, for the progress he's achieved for Colorado despite Washington, D.C.'s dysfunction.

Sitting quietly on the cafe's back patio was John Hanks, of Colorado Springs. A Marine Corps veteran who served in Vietnam, Hanks said he has considerable health care issues due to Agent Orange exposure and he was eager to hear Lynne's thoughts on health care.

"As a veteran, I'm living off Social Security and a military pension," Hanks said. So, continually increasing premiums pose a problem.

Early in her talk, Lynne said she believes health care is a fundamental right and the process of becoming insured is becoming more confusing and expensive. She served as the executive vice president of the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan Inc. and Kaiser Foundation Hospitals. She also oversaw Kaiser's operations in Colorado, Oregon, Washington and Hawaii, supervising an $8 billion budget, 16,000 employees serving 1.4 million patients.

That experience gives Lynne a leg up on her competition, said Marcy Morrison, who served as Colorado's insurance commissioner under Gov. Bill Ritter.

Morrison recalled President Donald Trump's comment in February that "nobody knew that health care could be so complicated."

"He exposed something that is true of the corporate world and of regular consumers. It is really complicated," Morrison said. "Many of our political people don't get into the nitty-gritty."

Lynne stressed stabilizing the individual insurance market, which covers about 8 percent of the state's population, to rein in runaway insurance premiums.

One way to keep that market steady is to create a reinsurance program that funnels extra payments to insurers, effectively subsidizing them for high-risk customers and ultimately lowering monthly premiums.

That approach was a hallmark of a joint proposal by Hickenlooper and Ohio Republican Gov. John Kasich, which included nearly a dozen other recommendations.

For some of his medical treatment, Hanks said he often travels to Denver. Additional transportation options, either a wider Interstate 25 or a light rail proposed along the Front Range, could make the trip easier, he said.

Lynne said Colorado has about $9 billion worth of transportation needs, extending far past the Front Range. That work would include new roads, guard rails and a bevy of other infrastructure projects.

Tackling much of that work would require tax hikes because "there's not $9 billion in the state's budget" for transportation issues, Lynne said.

Ultimately, any tax hikes - and what they might look like - would be left up to the voters, who should be supplied with as much information about the projects and funding plans as possible, Lynne said.

"There are different types of taxes, there's a gas tax, there's a sales tax," she said. "There are multiple ways it can be funded."

Lynne also said wage erosion, job creation and affordable housing are among the other issues she would address as governor.

Alongside her experience at Kaiser Permanente, Lynne also served as chairwoman of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce and directed operations for New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and in 1997 was named by Giuliani as senior vice president of the mayor's Office of Labor Relations.

Lynne joined an already crowded Democratic primary field with four other announced candidates: U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, former state Treasurer Cary Kennedy, former state Sen. Mike Johnston and Denver civic leader Noel Ginsburg.

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