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A Seat at the Table: Pueblo lawmakers say their leadership positions are making a difference for often-forgot Southern Colorado.

Colorado Senate President Leroy Garcia, D-Pueblo, talks with a fellow legislator at the State Capitol. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

For years, a narrative has existed that the southern region of the state often takes a backseat in policy discussions under Colorado’s gold dome, but with two of Pueblo’s state lawmakers sitting in key leadership positions this year, there’s, at the very least, a renewed sense of optimism shining through a session that has been embroiled in partisan politics.

Pueblo State Representative Daneya Esgar is the first Southern Colorado legislator to sit on the Joint Budget Committee since Abel Tapia, who left the seat in 2010. The committee is an important one, tasked with reviewing and preparing the state budget each year.

Esgar said she made it clear to leadership that her region of the state has been an absent voice on the joint budget committee for nearly a decade. “I definitely used that (argument),” she said.

When Tapia vacated the seat, he told reporters he worried about the status of the Colorado State Fair and how future budgets could impact state workers in Pueblo. Among education and health care, those issues have been ever-present for Esgar too, she said. Specifically, the number of people in Pueblo who have state jobs and how any changes might impact them and the local economy. Two major hubs for state employees are the Pueblo Regional Center with 169 employees and the Colorado Mental Health Institute with 1,084 workers, according to state numbers.

Gov. Jared Polis asked for a 3-percent across-the-board raise for all state employees in his budget, something Esgar said would be significant for Pueblo. The budget, called the long bill, will start making its way through the legislature in April.

The fact of the matter, Esgar said, is that Pueblo faces many different issues than municipalities along the Front Range, and with the governor, speaker of the House and House majority leaders representing Boulder and Denver, it became ever apparent that the JBC was in need of an alternative narrative on what’s happening outside the Denver metroplex.

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