AURORA | State Democratic reps. Rhonda Fields and Su Ryden say they are both looking forward to serving a larger, more diverse district in the state Senate.
The two Aurora Democrats face off in the June 28 primary for the Senate District 29 seat held by Morgan Carroll, who is term-limited after 2016.
Ryden, who has served eastern Aurora’s House District 36 since 2008 and is term-limited, said education would also be a priority for her in the district’s eastern portion if elected to serve SD 29.
Ryden said she wants to scale back standardized testing that makes teachers “teach a test.”
“Unfortunately, there aren’t enough legislators listening to what our teachers need, and I want to continue to be their champion. I will continue fighting to defeat the corporatization of our education system,” she said.
Ryden said underfunded schools are not only a problem in eastern Arapahoe County.
“Regardless of what part of the district they live in, our educators’ pleas for more funding, smaller class sizes, and less standardized testing are too often ignored,” she said.
Fields also has been branching out beyond her current district to listen to the concerns of the broader Senate district’s eastern areas.
“It’s been exciting for me to leave north Aurora and get a sense of what’s going on in other areas,” said Fields.
She said when recently visiting the town of Strasburg, one of the issues she heard about was a pervasive prairie dog problem on farmers’ properties.
“I’ve been hearing a lot about (prairie dog) colonies on some of their properties, a situation where they believe someone is dumping prairie dogs on their property,” Fields said. “This increase of prairie dogs in the area is causing some hardship for livestock out in the I-70 corridor.”
Fields said, if elected she would not only try to find solution’s to the eastern part of the district’s prairie dog problem, but also address concerns she has heard from constituents there about water rights, few public transportation options and a lack of public amenities, such as sidewalks.
She said she will also focus on addressing education gaps in the eastern portion of the district.
“In a rural environment, the funding level is not where I would like to see it to be. The (per-pupil) funding for Strasburg and Bennett is at the very low end,” Fields said.
Ryden said however her approach would be different from her opponent’s.
“The campaign is a clear choice for the voters of SD 29. There are two very different options. I have been a champion for teachers, veterans and seniors. Rhonda is the chosen candidate for insurance companies and groups looking to corporatize our education system.”
Ryden’s endorsements include the Aurora Education Association, the Colorado Education Association and the Colorado AFL-CIO.
Fields expressed some surprise at Ryden’s jab at her.
“I don’t even know where that’s coming from,” responded Fields.
Fields has also championed several education bills, including one last year that reduced incidents between law enforcement and students for low-level misbehavior in Colorado schools through encouraging formal agreements.
This year, Fields also co-sponsored a bill that failed but would have given parents guaranteed time off work to attend school obligations such as parent-teacher conferences.
Fields added that she has never passed a bill with the intention of benefiting insurance companies.
“It’s a game of political football. People are trying to redefine who I am. It’s too late,” Fields said. “You can always tell who a legislator is by what they talk about.”
“I am for teachers, kids, I am for labor. I am for public safety. You’ve never heard me say I’m a champion for insurance. I’m a fighter for the people. I’ve never been an insurance agent. I came from this community. My voice is for them.”
Fields said she also respected Ryden for being a strong advocate for veterans.
“I’m not going to go negative on her. The work she has done is good,” Fields said of Ryden.
Ryden said she can relate to rural communities, having grown up in a small town in Hastings, Neb., and from serving as the former chair of the Colorado Agrimarketing chapter.
“I have also been working with a group named I-70 Corridor Regional Economic Advancement Partnership that is aiming to bring investment and jobs into the I-70 corridor around Bennett, Byers, Deer Trail, Strasburg and Watkins,” she said. “Having served four years on the (state) Agriculture Committee I have spent a lot of time working with our rural neighbors. Many have told me to help them when they need it, and to leave them alone when they don’t.”
Ryden said her biggest accomplishment this legislative session was passing a bill that will direct the Colorado Department of Human Services to complete veterans home at Fitzsimons by providing space for homeless, low-income and disabled veterans and their families. Today, the 180-bed facility provides nursing care and a specialized 21-bed, short-term rehabilitation unit.
“That’s one reason I want to get to the Senate, to make sure it gets done this time and that someone else doesn’t interfere with it,” Ryden said, noting the project to complete the facility has languished for the past 15 years.
Ryden said Buckley Air Force Base is also a primary focus for her. She said that protecting the base from encroachment is particularly important with the potential for base realignments and closures in coming years.
As for Fields, she said her greatest accomplishment this legislative session was passing a bill that will grant more time for justice to be served in sexual assault cases.
The bill will remove the state’s 10-year limitation on filing sexual assault charges that do not include DNA evidence. The state already has no statute of limitations for sex assault charges involving minors.
Fields said she was approached last year by two Colorado women who accused Cosby of drugging and sexually assaulting them in the 1980s who asked her to craft the bill.
Fields said her strength as a candidate for the seat comes from her ability to craft bill’s from real-life experience. She points to a bill she sponsored that criminalized cyber bullying as well her role in crafting gun-control legislation passed in 2013 after the Aurora theater shooting and Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre.
Fields was the first African American woman elected to serve House District 42. She became active in politics after becoming involved in victims rights and criminal justice issues after her son, Javad Marshall-Fields, and his fiancée, Vivian Wolfe, were gunned down in 2005 just days before Marshall-Fields could testify in another shooting.
“My bill ideas come from people. I’m not interested in issues from a lobbyist’s point of view,” she said.
According to June 13 reports filed by the candidates with the Colorado Secretary of State, Ryden has raised $4,730 since May and has $16,372 in cash on hand. Fields raised $2,972 in the same period and ended the reporting period with $5,319 in cash on hand.
The winner of the primary faces Republican Sebastian Chunn and Libertarian candidate Michele Poague in the November general election.