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From left: State Rep. Yadira Caraveo, a Democrat , and state Sen. Barb Kirkmeyer, a Republican. The two are running against each other in Colorado's new 8th Congressional District. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

Colorado’s new 8th Congressional District was formed in 2021 during the state’s once-in-a-decade redistricting process to reflect population growth in communities north of Denver.

Democratic state Rep. Yadira Caraveo, of Thornton, and Republican state Sen. Barbara Kirkmeyer, of Brighton, are battling to be the first person to represent the 8th District, which has the highest percentage of Hispanic voters of any U.S. House district in Colorado and is considered a toss-up. The outcome of the race may determine which party controls Congress.

Here’s what you need to know about Caraveo and Kirkmeyer.

The candidates’ background

Caraveo, 41, is the daughter of Mexican immigrants. She was born in Colorado and grew up in the Denver area, graduating from Regis University. She then attended and graduated from the University of Colorado School of Medicine and went on to work as a pediatrician. She was elected to the state House in 2018.

Kirkmeyer, 64, is a fourth-generation Coloradan. She grew up on a dairy farm in Jefferson County and attended the University of Colorado. The mother and grandmother served for 19 years as a Weld County commissioner, first from 1993 to 2000 and then from 2009 to 2020. She  was elected to the state Senate in 2020. She ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2014. 

The candidates’ top priority in Congress

Caraveo said her top priority in Congress will be health care. 

“It’s the reason that I ran,” she said. “Affordability and access is always going to be at the top of mind for me.”

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Specifically, Caraveo said she will focus on passing a public health insurance option “to make sure that we’re providing pressure on the marketplace, providing an option for people to access health care affordably and make sure that we’re expanding the the universe of people who are covered.”

Kirkmeyer said her first priority in Congress will be learning the ins and outs of the place. Once she does that, she plans to focus on strengthening the economy and focusing on affordability, namely by boosting energy production and striving to make the U.S. energy independent. 

“That will help with the inflationary costs,” she said.

She also plans on prioritizing changes to the immigration system and “securing our border.”

Inflation & recession

Kirkmeyer said she wants to focus on balancing the federal budget to combat inflation.

“We need to stop spending so dang much,” she said. “We need to quit doing things like the student loan (forgiveness) program that’s transferring debt from people who got to go to college to people who couldn’t go to college or weren’t able to afford college.”

She also wants to take another look at the increased funding for the Internal Revenue Service that’s aimed at helping it boost its staffing levels. 

Caraveo said her “focus is going to continue to be lowering prices for working families, whether it’s around health care, whether it’s around housing.”

She said she could do that as a member of Congress by lowering taxes for the working class and making sure that corporations and the wealthy “pay their fair share.”

Abortion 

Caraveo voted for a bill in the state legislature that guaranteed abortion and contraception access in Colorado with virtually no restrictions. She believes Congress should pass a law reinstating Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court precedent guaranteeing a minimal level of abortion access across the nation that was recently overturned. 

Kirkmeyer voted against the abortion access bill in the Colorado legislature. 

Kirkmeyer said abortions should be banned except for when a pregnancy threatens a mother’s life, a determination that should be made by a doctor. Kirkmeyer previously said there should be no exceptions but says her position has shifted.

“I’m pro-life,” Kirkmeyer said at a recent debate with Caraveo hosted by 9News. “I’ve always said I was pro-life.”

She told The Colorado Sun she’d be “willing to support legislation (in Congress) that stipulates a common-sense limit on abortions after 15 weeks” of pregnancy. She feels a 15-week ban would “align American policy with most of the rest of the world.”

Immigration 

Kirkmeyer said the U.S. needs to secure its southern border with Mexico and overhaul its immigration system “to make sure that we have a fair, rigorous process so that we have people who are coming through the front door and not trying to get through the (back door).”

She said America can deter unlawful immigration by helping improve the economies in Latin American countries, like El Salvador, Mexico and Honduras. She didn’t elaborate, however, on how to do so.

Kirkmeyer wants the U.S. to create a pathway to citizenship for young immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children and who are temporarily shielded from deportation by an Obama-era program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. As for the millions of other people living in the U.S. illegally — an estimated 11 million in total — she doesn’t think it’s realistic to remove all of them. 

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“At this point, I don’t think you can,” she said. “So I think we just need to put a hold on things and see what kind of processes we can put in place and then have an expectation that people need to follow through and go through that process in a certain timeframe. We need to know who’s in our country, who’s coming into our country and who’s been in our country.”

Caraveo, who has a relative who has DACA status, said the border should be secured using new technology and the immigration system should be totally reformed.

“It’s been decades where we’ve just been talking, talking, talking,” she said. “We have increased prices for people to apply for citizenship. We need to reform the system so it doesn’t take so long. We’ve been delaying, because of political reasons, changing people’s lives.”

She added: “There’s 11 million people who have been waiting for some sort of reform and we need to provide a way for them to finally legalize their status.”

In 2021, Caraveo signed a letter with other state lawmakers and elected officials from across the country  urging the federal government to “divest from immigration enforcement agencies like (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and (Customs and Border Patrol).” The letter was sent to President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and the top Democrats in Congress.

Caraveo said during the 9News debate, however, that she wouldn’t defund ICE and CBP.

Climate change

Caraveo said she believes climate change is human caused and the government should take action to limit greenhouse gas emissions and move Colorado and the U.S. toward renewable energy. She has worked on and voted for legislation to that effect. 

Kirkmeyer said humans contribute to climate change but “we just don’t know to what extent.” (The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations initiative, says “it is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land” and that “human-induced climate change is already affecting many weather and climate extremes in every region across the globe.” ) 

“I’ve never been a climate-change denier,” Kirkmeyer said. 

Oil and gas facilities in Weld County on Oct. 19, 2018. (Jacob Paul, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Oil and gas

Kirkmeyer is a big supporter of the oil and gas industry and often talks about how important it is to the economy in Weld County. She said too many regulations, both state and federal, have been placed on the industry.

“Instead of continuing going after oil and gas, maybe the Environmental Protection Agency for the United States of America should be talking to China,” Kirkmeyer said of efforts to clean up Colorado’s air. 

She is highly critical of a 2019 law passed by Democrats in the Colorado legislature, Senate Bill 181, which rewrote the state’s oil and gas regulations to prioritize public and environmental health and give local governments more control over their drilling regulations. One of the measure’s prime sponsors was Caraveo. 

Caraveo, during the 9News debate, called the bill — which was opposed by every Republican in the legislature and many in the oil and gas industry — “very moderate.”

“It’s an important industry that provides great jobs with great benefits, but that doesn’t preclude us from investing in future renewable energy sources,” she said. “They’re going to make us independent, they’re going to create more jobs in Colorado.”

Changing one’s mind and compromising

Caraveo said compromise dominated her work on a 2021 bill in the legislature changing Colorado’s regulations around agricultural workers. The measure was fiercely opposed by Republicans and many in the farming and ranching industry. 

“Every single meeting was about compromise, to make sure that we were protecting the Latino community — workers that had been left out of legislation for decades and decades — while making sure that the agricultural industry could still operate in Colorado and continue to be a big part of our economy,” she said. “Those were some of the most contentious meetings that I’ve ever been in, where it was really my job to see compromise between the two different groups.”

State Rep. Yadira Caraveo, D-Thornton, speaks during a town hall event. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

Deals were made on provisions around equipment, workers’ duties and minimum wages, she said.

“Sometimes it was small compromises, sometimes it was big issues to make sure that we could get the bill through,” she said.

Kirkmeyer said her position on same-sex marriage has evolved over time. She used to believe marriage should be limited to only a man and a woman, but she now thinks “it’s really not my business.”

“I have friends who are gay,” she said in explaining why her views have shifted. “And also some of my relatives are.”

One more thing you should know about each candidate

Kirkmeyer, when she was still a Weld County commissioner, was a leader in a 2013 movement among 11 northern Colorado counties to pursue secession from Colorado to form a 51st state. 

Commissioners in the 11 counties asked their residents to vote on whether they should proceed with the secession push, which was fueled by rural Colorado’s frustration about how Denver-centric environmental and economic policies were thrust on them by the state legislature. The initiative failed in six of the 11 counties, including in Weld.

“I think it was successful,” Kirkmeyer said, pointing to how Democrats, including then-Gov. John Hickenlooper, vowed to try to make rural Colorado a bigger part of the policy conversation in response to the initiative. “It made us stronger. It made us better.”

State Sen. Barbara Kirkmeyer speaks at forum for Republican candidates for the 8th Congressional District on March 3, 2022. The forum in Fort Lupton was hosted by Republican Women of Weld. (Thy Vo, The Colorado Sun)

Caraveo has been a prime sponsor of a number of Democrats’ most hotly debate bills in the legislature in recent years, including Senate Bill 181, a measure increasing regulations around marijuana concentrates, and legislation placing Proposition EE on the November 2020 ballot, which successfully asked voters to approve nicotine and tobacco tax increases to fund expanded preschool access. 

The bill placing Proposition EE on the ballot was negotiated between Gov. Jared Polis’ office and tobacco giant Altria, the maker of Marlboro cigarettes. In exchange, Altria secured some policy provisions favorable to its business in Colorado agreed not to fight Proposition EE. Expanded preschool access was a 2018 campaign promise for Polis.

Jesse Paul

The Colorado Sun — jesse@coloradosun.com Desk: 720-432-2229 Jesse Paul is a political reporter and editor at The...