Colorado Senate Minority Leader Lucia Guzman delivered the following address on the opening day of the 2018 legislative session.

Mr. President
Mr. President Pro Tem
Mr. Majority Leader
Mr. Assistant Minority Leader

Colleagues
Family and friends

I have been honored to serve as the Democratic Leader of the Senate for these years, and my first desire today is to honor and thank those Senators whose last session of service begins today:

Senator Cheri Jahn
Senator Andy Kerr
Senator Irene Aguilar
Senator and President Grantham
Senator Lundberg
Senator Lambert

The graduating class of 2018 has made significant contributions to the State of Colorado and served their constituents with honor and respect. Please join me in applauding their service.

We know that those of us entering our last legislative session are not yet finished with our work. Each of us joins all of you in making this session of the 71st general assembly one of historic progress for the people of Colorado.

Today, I’m honored to welcome and recognize some special guests.

Every year, each of our 35 Senate Districts selects one student to serve as a member of the Colorado Youth Advisory Council (COYAC). These students play a vital role in advancing the values of civic engagement in our next generation of leaders.

I’m honored to introduce the exceptional young woman chosen to represent my own Senate District in Northwest Denver County: Winta Goyne

Winta’s family came to our country as refugees from Eritrea. A journey that began in a refugee camp at the age of 2 brought her to this moment and her new home in Denver. Now, she’s an outstanding 10th-grade student at North High School. Both of her parents are hardworking, proud residents who hope to become full citizens of the United States.

I’d also like to welcome our friends from the Bureau of Land Management and the Great Escape Mustang Sanctuary.From the BLM are Jayson Barangan and John Beck. From the Great Escape Mustang Sanctuary are Michelle Sander, Executive Director and Stephanie Lindsay, Lead Trainer as well as Michelle’s two children, Carson and Preston and three members of the GEMS Board.

Through the efforts of dedicated professionals and volunteers alike, they’ve made great progress in balancing protecting the wild horse population and the management of our cherished public lands. This cooperative spirit in service of preserving Colorado’s unique natural beauty and ecosystems is a wonderful example of what makes our home state so special.

President Theodore Roosevelt once said that “what makes a hero is the romantic notion that they stand above the tawdry give and take of everyday politics, where division gives way to unity, and where the nation regains its lost innocence, and the people share a sense of purpose.”

I believe that elected officials must strive to live up to these ideals each and every day. Last year’s legislative session has been called one of the best in decades thanks to our collective will to reach across the aisle. When we allow divisions to give way to unity, we pass major bills that improve the lives of the people we’re bound to serve.

This spirit of collaboration and unity shows us a better way forward. A way to cross the bridges that divide rural and urban, rich and poor. A way to truly commit to our shared purpose of guaranteeing that a good life is available to all Coloradans. And we must commit to that vision, now more than ever.

Over the past several decades, Colorado families have been hit hard by a brutal economic reality: everything keeps getting more expensive, but people barely make enough money to keep up.

Rent, housing, childcare, healthcare. The cost of living marches to new heights every year, but paychecks stay the same.

Hundreds of thousands of Coloradans work full-time jobs that pay less than what it takes to keep a family of four out of poverty.

Despite having one of the strongest economies in the country, Colorado spends roughly $2,000 less per K-12 public school student than the national average — lagging behind 37 other states.

The obscene cost of healthcare continues to drive families into debilitating debt when a loved one gets sick or injured — even if they have insurance.

These are just a small sample of the challenges we must face together. The question remains whether or not we can summon the collective courage to put partisanship aside and advance an agenda that improves the lives of the working and middle class.

In years past, we’ve seen far too many bipartisan bills die along party-line votes in Republican-controlled Senate Committees.

A bipartisan affordable housing bill offering relief from obscenely high housing costs in urban and rural Colorado alike — killed.

A badly-needed transportation bill, which saw collaboration from both parties — died in committee.

Effort after effort to finally expand high-speed broadband Internet to our rural and mountain communities — blocked.

Today, I invite us to look past conventional partisan labels, Democrat, Republican and Independent…and work to advance a policy agenda that truly serves the working class:

Let’s work together to make healthcare available for all.

Let’s create a public option that gives every resident of our state the choice to get affordable care through Health First Colorado.

Let’s legally brand pharmaceutical price gouging as what it is — a deceptive trade practice — and create real consequences for companies that maximize their profits at the expense of access to life-saving drugs.

Let’s continue our bipartisan work to confront the opioid crisis by expanding access treatment and addiction counseling, stopping the over-prescription of dangerously addictive pain medications, and fight to keep the cost of behavioral health services as low as possible.

Let’s work together to join nearly every other nation on earth in providing paid leave for the people of Colorado. Let’s stop forcing parents to choose between being present for some of the most precious moments in their children’s lives and putting food on the table. Let’s stop forcing workers from going to work with the flu because they have no other option.

As state employees, elected officials like us have the opportunity to earn paid time off. How can we continue to deny the people of Colorado the same opportunity?

Let’s work together to ensure the long-term health of PERA, our state retirement program that currently serves 500,000 Coloradans. Let’s make sure that we create a long-term, automatically adjusting solution that keeps pace with cost of living and provides peace of mind for our retirees.

Let’s make sure every Colorado has access to high-speed broadband Internet — an absolute necessity for modern life and business. Far too many rural and mountain communities across Colorado remain isolated from the growing opportunities offered by broadband services. Many students in schools across Colorado are falling behind because of the lack of access to reliable Internet.

Doctors and nurses and physician assistants cannot serve people who live far from their offices through telemedicine without high-speed Internet. Ranchers, farmers, and exciting startup programs throughout rural Colorado remain at a disadvantage. This year, there is a bipartisan bill to usher in a major expansion of broadband Internet access. Our colleagues are ready, the people are ready. Internet Service Providers must get with the program this year. Let’s make it happen.

On these and so many other issues, we have an opportunity to create a Colorado where the building blocks of a good life are available to everyone, not just a privileged few.

A better world is possible — for all.

We’ve seen what happens when we set Coloradans up to succeed. We see it in the entrepreneurial spirit that drives our states’ businesses. In Colorado’s craft beer industry. In specialized outdoor companies like Osprey in Cortez, or Melanzana in Leadville.

We see in women like April Archer, a true entrepreneur who’s with us here today. April owns Sarabella Fishing, a company launched in 2014 out of frustration with the lack of fishing equipment tailored to women. Today, April’s company produces fishing rods with a variety of weights and grips so that women across the country can enjoy one of her favorite pastimes with their families just as she does with hers.

We envision a world where these success stories are not the exception, but the rule.

Finally, I cannot in good conscience let today pass without speaking to this unique moment in political history. In order to be genuine advocates for the working class, we must be honest about the root causes of one of the most urgent problems plaguing our society: the ever-widening gulf between the ultra-wealthy and the rest of us.

The truth is that the economic struggles of the middle and working class are not the inevitable outcome of economic forces beyond our control. They are a direct result of a broken system where money buys access and influence for powerful interests at the expense of everybody else.

A political system corrupted by money is at the core of almost every major issue we face.

Elected officials who fail to acknowledge this reality are part of the problem. If we want to solve it, we can start by giving a stronger voice back to the people we serve.

While we can’t control what happens at the federal level, we can continue to protect state-level politics here in Colorado from the same fate.

Anti-corruption reform will be at the heart of our agenda in 2018 because we must do everything in our power to build a political system that truly works for the people.

This legislative session, we are introducing a bill that will cap the flow of unlimited money into county and school board elections. And we will fight to require transparency from the monied interests pouring millions of dollars into our elections.

To borrow one more quote from Theodore Roosevelt: “If we condone political theft, our civilization itself cannot endure.”

We will never stop fighting to protect our political system from corruption. A government that truly represents the people — the very foundation of a free society — cannot exist any other way.

Let me tell you about the vision of a political leader who is a hero of mine and day by day becoming the hero of his constituents. He is following through on the challenge of rebuilding a dying community — one of many across Colorado whose community is changed because of the end of longtime business investments. Through his hope, hard work, building community and relationships across the aisle.The good senator from Montrose is guiding one of his communities towards a business shift.

He has dared to move the promise of hemp production and has plans for developing the business which include bringing jobs, training and a new life to an area long lost hemp, a new agricultural product in places where old ways have gone by. I have taken the personal move towards establishing the hemp award and this award goes to the great senator from Senate District 6. A true hero who has dared greatly taken risks and made sacrifices.

When we were kids, we had no toys to speak of, but we did have a tree to climb. The tree was a chinaberry tree. It had small, but hard green berries. We each choose a limb of the tree that we called our own. We took our pocket knife and carved our name in the limb to secure our very own property right.

We would take some old thin limbs from the tree and some old inner tube rubber and make ourselves some slingshots. While we were above the yard, we would shoot at my daddy’s chickens. Some didn’t survive. And we had to let our dad believe that, for some odd reason, some of his chickens had heart problems and died on the spot from a heart attack. We loved climbing that tree.

My brother climbed almost to the top. As high as he could go without losing his balance. I chose the limb closer to the trunk of the tree. It was a strong limb, and I could sit comfortably for a long time. My brother tried his best to coax me up to his highest limb. He would say, “I can see in Charles Black’s backyard.I can see the train coming” and he would say, “come on up and you can see”.

His limb was high enough to see above the leaves. And he no doubt had a clear view of things I could not see. But to this day, I don’t know if he was really seeing what he said he saw or if he was making it up just to get me to climb where I did not want to climb. We would even climb the tree at night, and he said, “I can see the stars — Come on up,” or “I can see the milky way from here”. I always loved the stars and I wanted so much to believe him. I wanted to experience what I could not see. To believe in the unknown

One day, when no one else was around, I climbed to my limb and on up, up to as far as I could go. I secured myself on the spindly limb. Looked around, above the tree leaves, and I did not see the train coming down the track, nor could I see in the backyard of Charles Blacks. But I could see far more than when I sat on my own limb. I could see farther than ever before and did not fall off.

As electeds, we are dared to heed the call to risk the unknown for the promise of greatness. Not for the greatness of oneself, bt for the greatness of  a people. The greatness of our society. Of the state of Colorado.

Those of us who have one last session have one last chance to accomplish something else for Colorado.

To those staying and for those preparing to leave, whether or not we accomplish all of our goals, we must continue to set the stage for daring to be the best that we can be. There will be the urge to consider the unknown, always calling us to go places we’ve not been before.

My advice: climb up there. So that you can know that you did the best you could to fulfill the promises made to those who elected you to build an even better Colorado.