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For El Salvador RPCV John Kefalas, running for the District 52 seat is a natural
For El Salvador RPCV John Kefalas, running for the District 52 seat is a natural
Little Guy In The Big House
For John Kefalas, running for the District 52 seat is a natural
By Taylour Nelson
It seems that you can't go 10 feet in Fort Collins without tripping over some reminder that John Kefalas is running for public office: from letters to the editor touting various aspects of his campaign to the ubiquitous campaign signs decorating lawns and shop windows to spotting the candidate himself biking around town, Kefalas already seems to be an ingrained piece of the city's political landscape.
Funny, then, to remember that he still has to overcome two elections for that to actually be the case. Kefalas faces fellow Democrat Bill Bertschy at the Aug. 10 primary, and the winner of that contest will seek to unseat Republican incumbent Bob McClusky. Kefalas got an early boost during the Democratic County Assembly by winning 65 percent of the vote and earned top billing on the November ballot.
The Weekly spoke to Kefalas recently after one of his regular Saturday morning public meetings at the Oak Street Café, and he eagerly discussed the many aspects of his campaign.
Fort Collins Weekly: Outline the five major aspects of your campaign and why you decided to focus on those.
John Kefalas: The five issues that I am focusing on are economy and jobs, affordable housing and homelessness, education, protecting the environment and healthcare reform. I've identified those issues because in going out and meeting with people and in the work I've done in the past as a public policy advocate, those are the issues that have come up time and time again. I view them as core issues and I've gotten a lot of input from people saying that these are the things people are concerned about.
On the issue of the economy and job creation, the basic principle there is the idea of a sound and just economy. Sound refers to sustainability and that we need to look at economic activity that is sustainable to future generations. Looking at industries and technologies that are focusing on renewable energy types of activities and other types of things that will focus on rebuilding the infrastructure in Colorado as well as creating jobs that pay living wages and prevailing wages. Another aspect of this idea of a sound economy is the idea of fiscal reform. Because of the TABOR Amendment and other kinds of issues, we have a structural deficit in the budget and I support reforming the TABOR Amendment to eliminate the ratcheting down effect and changing the formula by which the budget can grow and also establishing the rainy day fund for hard economic times.
In the matter of a just economy, that gets back to this idea that economic systems should work for people. It shouldn't be the other way around that people work for economic systems and there, I think, it's very important that as a state we more comprehensively work to address and alleviate poverty in Colorado.
On the issue of health care. I've talked to seniors and I've talked to working families. The cost of health insurance is always a big thing and the cost of prescriptions is always a big issue. I believe that I am one of the few candidates at the state level that is talking about universal health care coverage. I think the time has come that we have greater dialogue and look at the specifics of developing either single payer health care within the state of Colorado or some type of universal heath care coverage so that people who are working have access to health insurance and people who are not working have access to health insurance as well.
With regard to education, another basic thing, I think we need to protect the funding that is going to public education right now through Amendment 23. I think we need to be very cautious about that. We also need to look at the fact that higher ed, both community colleges and public universities, because of the budget crisis in Colorado have cut a lot of their fund dollars. By doing fiscal reform we can reprioritize those resources back into higher education. We need to put greater emphasis on post-secondary education or training like apprenticeship, short term job specific training that community colleges are very good at offering.
The last two pieces are affordable housing and the issue of homelessness. Having a secure place to live is fundamental to family well-being and I think to our economic vitality. I've been involved in the affordable housing issue quite extensively, one of the proposals we have developed is for the Colorado Housing Trust Fund. We did an economic impact study that showed a typical household, if they're paying 30 percent of their income towards their housing costs … on average a typical household will have about $2,600 annually of additional income that they can use toward child care (or) helping to pay for some kind of health care coverage.
The fact is that we still have problems with chronic homelessness. We have examples where cities like Denver are developing 10 year plans to essentially eliminate chronic homelessness and I think that we can do that comprehensively on the state wide level also.
Finally, in terms of protecting our natural environment, issues like the use of water, transportation, how we grow, the issue of smart growth and managed growth, all those are very important. On the issue of transportation, I think that this goes back to job creation as well, if we can focus our resources and innovation on rebuilding our infrastructure, that includes creating a better balance between mass transit and automobile travel. I am a proponent of the high-speed rail system up and down the I-25 corridor.
The last thing I would say—and this is such a mega-answer, I'm sorry—is that we need to create greater incentives for how to design things, in terms of green design and to focus on clean renewable energy and the advent of hybrid automobiles. For example, Colorado has a state tax credit if you own a hybrid car. I think we need to create more incentives for things like that.
FCW: Bill Bertschy has his three E's, and you have the three C's. Can you explain those a bit, what they mean?
JK: The three C's that I'm referring too are the ideas of community, communication and cooperation. In order for change to happen, even legislatively, people have to be involved. What I have experienced in these seven years down at the state capitol is that unless you know the system, it's very difficult to get involved. … So the idea of a community is being a citizen legislator who is going to be very available to people so they can better understand the system. …
We need to make sure we are communicating our vision of how we see the future of Colorado, the future of Fort Collins and articulating how we want to get there and making sure that there is communication between elected officials and the people they represent.
We need more solution-oriented communication between the Democrats and the Republicans. There's a lot of polarization down there and if we're going to achieve anything we have to go beyond this bickering and some of the extremism that I've observed down there. We have differences, but we do have things in common as well, and identifying those common values as well.
That of course ties into cooperation. The mentality down there often is "it's us and them." It kind of goes with this theme thing, "Working together we can do better" and I think we can do an awful lot better than what we currently have in terms of the status quo. That means there has to be a willingness to work with people and realize there are things we are not going to agree on.
FCW: Explain the Colorado Housing Trust Fund.
JK: Essentially the proposal we want to offer to the people is to establish a reliable revenue stream. We identified the gap to be about $26.5 million and these funds would basically be used to leverage private funds to be able to create rental affordable housing opportunities as well as ownership affordable housing opportunities. So essentially it would be funds that would not be used for any other type of thing. This money wouldn't necessarily be available to individuals or families—organizations, non-profit (and) for-profit developers could apply for grants or low-interest loans. And use the public dollars to leverage private capital and other kinds of financing to be put into a project for affordable housing. If we invested $26.5 million we would create 3,200 jobs in construction.
FCW: Your Web site says you want to find a way to end homelessness and not just manage it. What are some of your solutions?
JK: We need more permanent support of housing that meets the needs of people who are dealing with a variety of issues like mental illness or addictions. Supportive housing means that they wouldn't necessarily be in a shelter but in a collective housing situation, there would be case management services to help people deal with whatever issues they're dealing with.
FCW: You are very active in social justice and in the early '80s you were arrested for certain political and social reasons.
JK: You've done your research.
FCW: I have, and I was wondering what that entailed.
JK: Everything that I've done—like what you're alluding to here, being arrested—has always been done as a matter of conscience, has always been done openly and honestly, has always been done with the understanding that I'm willing to accept the consequences. These have been acts of civil disobedience based on my faith, based on my values as a person. The last time—and I guess you could say I am reformed because I haven't committed civil disobedience since 1987—there was a train that was carrying nuclear weapons from Texas to Washington. These were warheads that actually came through town. It was to inform people that these trains carrying H-bombs were traveling through our community. So the example of civil disobedience was getting on the tracks, kneeling and stopping the train. I think it's important to note that in some of these cases the charges were dropped. It's a part of who I am and I do love this country. I've been labeled as unpatriotic, but I really think that the essence of this country is that we can disagree. We have a responsibility to disagree with our country's policies and to do it without violence and to do it knowing there might be consequences.
FCW: You seem to have effected a lot of change in your role with these advocacy groups and as a citizen activist. Why get out of that and into politics? Aren't you afraid your voice might get lost in the legislature?
JK: I see this somewhat as a logical progression. In my adult life I've always been involved in things to try to help people to help themselves, to try to serve the public interest. My nature is to be involved in the grassroots community. The logical progression is that I believe I can still effect change in a representative form of democracy. Because of my experience in the capitol, I know there are good people down there and I want to add to that mix. I want to bring a perspective that I don't think is down there. It's sort of like an experiment to see if someone who is a grassroots person, very involved in the community, how successful that person can be as an elected official to also effect change.
FCW: Why did you decide to run for office?
JK: I definitely care a lot about people and I care a lot about this democracy and I see that working families and vulnerable members of our society oftentimes don't get represented as well as they should. I want to work to improve the lives of these groups.
When this story was prepared, here was the front page of PCOL magazine:
This Month's Issue: August 2004
Teresa Heinz Kerry celebrates the Peace Corps Volunteer as one of the best faces America has ever projected in a speech to the Democratic Convention. The National Review disagreed and said that Heinz's celebration of the PCV was "truly offensive." What's your opinion and who can come up with the funniest caption for our Current Events Funny?
Exclusive: Director Vasquez speaks out in an op-ed published exclusively on the web by Peace Corps Online saying the Dayton Daily News' portrayal of Peace Corps "doesn't jibe with facts."
In other news, the NPCA makes the case for improving governance and explains the challenges facing the organization, RPCV Bob Shaconis says Peace Corps has been a "sacred cow", RPCV Shaun McNally picks up support for his Aug 10 primary and has a plan to win in Connecticut, and the movie "Open Water" based on the negligent deaths of two RPCVs in Australia opens August 6. Op-ed's by RPCVs: Cops of the World is not a good goal and Peace Corps must emphasize community development.
Read the stories and leave your comments.