House District 55: Democratic challenger puts focus on bipartisanship
Dan Robinson is no stranger to uphill battles.
As a young Grand Junction lawyer in the 1970s, Robinson wanted to find a way to help troubled youth stay out of trouble.
His idea was to show youth who had no real mentors a better life, taking them into the great outdoors and teaching them a thing or two about responsibility.
The Democrat managed to secure a $14,000 grant from the Law Enforcement Foundation of America, but only if he would get local donations matching it.
“It was bankers and businessmen who matched that grant to get the program off the ground,” he said.
“There was a bakery downtown who gave me an office above their shop.”
From that was born Mesa County Partners, which continues to this day.
After five years of running that program, Robinson was offered the job to open and operate the new Division of Youth Corrections facility in Grand Junction, a job he would hold for the next 19 years.
“I believed and I still believe that everybody has something to contribute, whether it’s time or money or whatever,” the 68-year-old said. “I believe that Aztec concept that everybody here has a purpose on Earth, though sometimes it’s hard to figure out what it is. That Partners program was built on sheer optimism.”
Now, Robinson has taken on another uphill battle, trying to get elected in a district where Republicans outnumber Democrats nearly 2-1.
He says he’s doing so because he doesn’t believe his Republican opponent, Rep. Ray Scott, is representing all of the people of the new district, which encompasses most of the city.
“My issue with Scott is, I don’t know of a single thing he did to promote tourism here,” Robinson said. “He’s so enamored with his self-serving legislation. I think, conservative or liberal, people recognize real problems and they want honest, real solutions.”
Robinson is a Colorado native who was born in Trinidad and grew up in Denver.
His first experience on the Western Slope was in the late 1960s, when he earned his undergraduate degree in political science and economics at Western State College in Gunnison.
He and his then girlfriend, Gigi, joined the Peace Corps. They were married in Colombia, spending three years helping residents of a small mountain village there, and becoming fluent in Spanish in the process.
The couple later moved to the East Coast, where Robinson earned his law degree at the University of Connecticut.
But instead of becoming a high-paid corporate attorney in some New York City high-rise, the couple decided to return to Colorado, choosing Grand Junction to settle down.
They raised two children here, including an African-American/Korean daughter they adopted.
More recently, Robinson served eight years on the School District 51 Board of Education, and he has been on the board of trustees for Colorado Mesa University since 2009.
He said those boards have managed to accomplish much, in part, because they’ve kept politics out of it.
The Colorado Legislature, he said, could learn from that.
“If we continue to get sidetracked on issues that we disagree, such as gay marriage and abortion, then we’re not keeping our focus where it has to be,” Robinson said. “Legislators’ obligation is to strengthen their constituents’ communities economically first and foremost.”
Instead, the only bipartisan thing Scott has done since being in the Legislature was vote to increase his own per diem pay, Robinson said.
Robinson said that kind of vote indicates the Legislature is spending too much time in session. As a result, one of the first things he would do is introduce a bill to reduce its 120-day session to 90 days.
Doing so, he said, would save about $1 million, money he would then use to fund a program to provide micro-loans to budding entrepreneurs.
And like Scott, Robinson wants to introduce a proposed referendum asking the voters to extend the state’s homestead exemption on property taxes to seniors forced to move into new homes.
Those are the kind of “common-sense” ideas that have nothing to do with partisan politics, and that’s why voters shouldn’t vote along party lines, Robinson said.
“What I fear is people are going to continue to vote based on some impression on what a Republican is and a Democrat is,” he said. “I would really like to see people really look at the person and not the party. If I could convince them of that, I could win the election because I don’t think Scott has the wherewithal to represent us. He’d make a very good oil and gas lobbyist, and he would be welcomed in my office as that.”