GREELEY, Colo. — A special committee held a public hearing Sunday at the Lincoln Park Library in Greeley and selected a new representative to fill the vacancy left behind by Rep. Rochelle Galindo.
Galindo resigned unexpectedly last month after facing allegations of inappropriate behavior. She was eventually ticketed by police for providing alcohol to a minor. Before she left, Galindo was also facing a recall election after supporting sweeping reforms for the oil and gas industry with Senate Bill 181.
Under Colorado law, when a seat is vacated, it must be filled by a person from the same political party as the representative who left.
“It’s like any kind of job interview,” said David Pourshoushtari, the communications director for the Colorado Democratic Party. “You have somebody who submits their name that they want to fill that seat and folks will look them up and see what their background entails, what their job history looks like, and then they decide from there.”
A special vacancy committee was chosen earlier this year in case someone stepped down, as is routine.
Six candidates, former Rep. Jim Riesberg, Brian Hughes, Laura Fischer, Ray Talley, Mary Young and Rhonda Solis, all applied to fill the position.
In a packed room, one by one, the candidates introduced themselves and answered questions from the panel that ranged from education to climate change to prison reform.
Each person was given a total of 15 minutes to make their case for why they would be the best person to represent the district.
In the end, Mary Young was selected to represent House District 50. Young is a school psychologist with a doctorate who has lived in the community for more than 30 years. She was formerly a special education teacher. Young specializes in identifying the signs of autism in children.
Young is the wife of former state Representative Dave Young. He was selected through a similar process in 2011 after then-Rep. Jim Riesberg was selected to serve as the Colorado Insurance Commissioner. Dave Young is currently serving as the state’s treasurer and was on the special vacancy committee but recused himself since his wife was one of the candidates. Riesberg was also one of the candidates trying to earn back his old seat. He unsuccessfully ran against Rep. Galindo in the previous election’s primaries.
Mary Young gave her first on-camera interview to Denver7 after being selected to fill the vacancy and said her first priority would be expanding mental health services.
“I have lots of experience around issues of mental health and school safety,” Young said. “I do suicide assessments, threat assessments, and I can see the absolute critical need in the state to move that agenda forward.”
Young said the approach to mental health needs to be broad since more children in classrooms identify with trauma and teachers are struggling to understand how to support those students.
“One of my sub-issues for being in this seat is to increase the capacity for mental health professionals in the state. I didn’t retire because I keep getting phone calls because they’re such a huge shortage in the state and many districts are having to contract with school psychologists at a much higher price than they would if they could employ them directly, but there’s a big shortage,” Young said.
Another major priority is to increase the economic viability of Greeley by diversifying employment opportunities.
“That’s with respect to the industries that are here, including oil and gas, but I think we have to prepare for the future,” Young said.
The first order of business, though, is swearing in and then meeting with the other candidates to understand what their priorities were and why. After that, she will be canvassing neighborhoods to introduce herself.
“I’ll be starting in the next few weeks knocking doors and listening to people and what they’re concerns are,” Young said. “My belief is if I meet with people and listen to them, they will allow me to be my own person as a legislator.”
One of the challenges Young will face is Republicans in Weld County pushing back after the 2019 legislative session with oil and gas reform, among other things.
“We have a lot of folks who know that the stakes are high and that every election matters and every election has consequences,” Pourshoushtari said. “Folks know that, in House District 50, it’s important to keep it in Democratic hands.”
Young will serve until the 2020 election. During the hearing, she committed herself to run in that election.