Snowmass Village democrat Gail Schwartz wrapped up her career as a state senator this week. The lawmaker is term-limited after spending eight years under the gold dome in Denver. Her impact on issues like education, healthcare and water have been felt around the state, including here in the Roaring Fork Valley. Aspen Public Radio's Marci Krivonen reports.
On the last day of the 2014 legislative session, Schwartz’s colleagues saluted her service, including Senate Majority Leader Rollie Heath.
"Whether it’s water issues, whether it’s energy issues, whether it’s the “R” in rural, whatever it is that Gail Schwartz takes on, we’ve all been exposed to those words we’d use to describe her," Heath said.
Schwartz was first elected to the Senate in 2006 and managed to keep her seat through close elections and changing district boundaries. She represents a rural, western slope district that covers seven counties, including Pitkin and Eagle. Her focus has been on protecting water and agricultural lands, as well as growing the state’s energy portfolio. This session, she supported expanding internet access in rural areas and lobbied the State’s insurance commissioner to bring down high health insurance costs.
In an interview in January she talked about the legacy she’d like to leave behind.
"I hope the impact I’ve been able to make with rural schools, rural jobs, developing rural resources, and really supporting economies in this part of the state, I hope that I will have made an impact and impression in those areas."
Chris Treese with the Colorado River Water Conservation District worked closely with Schwartz. He says her involvement with water started early in her legislative career.
"To her credit, I think she recognized that water really wasn’t her background and she had no prior expertise in water but, I’m sure when she was campaigning, quickly learned that water was a priority," he says.
In a state where water is limited, Schwartz helped conserve and protect it. In 2011, she supported a measure that continued a Healthy Rivers fund that uses taxpayer donations to provide clean water. This session, she sponsored bills that expanded participation in a statewide water plan and created incentives for farmers to be more efficient with irrigation. She’s also worked on bills that establish water banking - or storing water for future needs. Treese says her work may not be seen for years.
"A number of these issues will have to play out in the future. The water quality, the alternative transfer methods to avoid the permanent buy-up of ag lands, even water banking has yet to play out."
Rachel Richards is a county commissioner for Pitkin County and has worked with the lawmaker on water issues.
"She has just, as a woman, been a powerhouse of a leader for issues that matter to us in Pitkin County," she says.
Schwartz’s policies created a path for the county to conserve more water. Richards is impressed with Schwartz’s dedication to the job.
"One of the things I admire most about Gail Schwartz is the care and tending of her district that she takes. She’s on the road constantly, over mountain passes and roads that are closed in the winter."
Schwartz estimates she and her husband Alan have driven over 350,000 miles during her time in office.
"As my husband would say, ‘Gail, you go to Alamosa like some people go to City Market!'"
All jokes aside, Schwartz says out of all of the legislation she’s supported over the years, her proudest achievement has to do with education.
"I have to say the BEST school program - Building Excellent Schools Today - really is something I think has had phenomenal impact. That’s a program in the last four years, we’ve been able to build a billion dollars of new schools in rural communities that could never replace a school building," Schwartz says.
Schwartz remains a senator until January when her replacement steps in. She’ll continue to serve on committees and travel the district. She says she’ll be looking to identify another opportunity to serve.
Gail Schwartz Exit Interview
We interviewed Senator Schwartz the day following her last legislative session. Here's our discussion: