Yara Zokaie (left) and Mike Lynch (right) are running to represent Colorado House District 49. (Photo: Courtesy photos)
Colorado’s House District 49 seat is up for election without an incumbent in the running for the first time since 2012.
Republican Mike Lynch and Democrat Yara Zokaie are running to represent the historically Republican district that includes all of Larimer County outside Fort Collins and Loveland, including Windsor and Berthoud.
Both Zokaie and Lynch see the primary results for the race as telling of the district’s temperature: Voters rejected current state Sen. Vicki Marble, who was term-limited and vying to prolong her time in the Colorado legislature, by a margin of 34%. Marble, one of the more conservative Republicans in the state Senate, is known for her sometimes-controversial commentary.
Lynch considers his victory an indication that voters are looking for someone who can bridge political divisions and work with Democrats, which he pledges to do if he’s elected.
“I feel like people have gotten too much in their corners, ideologically, and haven’t been as worried about solving problems,” he said. “I’m excited to go do the job and solve problems regardless of party affiliation.”
Zokaie, on the other hand, considers the primary result a sign that the district is moving to the left as more young families move in. A tax attorney and mother of two who moved to Windsor four years ago, she said she has a lot in common with many of the new district residents.
She said she keeps hearing a similar message from many families in her district:
“They’re working hard, and they’re not catching a break,” Zokaie said. “(They say), it seems like I’m doing everything right. And yet, there’s always one thing that gets me down.”
The two candidates have disparate backgrounds — Lynch, 51, has lived in the district for about 20 years and is a senior executive-turned small business owner — and disparate philosophies on the purpose of government. Twenty-eight-year-old Zokaie’s platform emphasizes the importance of a state COVID-19 relief package and bolstered funding for education, including universal pre-K, paid family leave and mental health services.
Lynch thinks government should be small, prioritizing funding for public safety, roads and other government infrastructure. He wants to reduce government regulations on businesses and firearms. Ultimately, he thinks the government should stay out of people’s daily lives as much as possible.
Q&A: Mike Lynch, business owner running for House District 49
Taxation is one obvious diversion points for the candidates. Zokaie wants to abolish TABOR, the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, which requires voter approval for all new taxes and is considered by some as a source of funding shortfalls in education and other areas. Her plan to reform the tax code includes tax breaks for the middle class and small businesses, a renters’ tax credit, and increased taxes on large corporations and households making over $500,000 a year.
“I see firsthand that small businesses pay too much in taxes,” said Zokaie, who works specifically with small businesses. “I see firsthand that the wealthy and big corporations don’t. … This is what our system is built upon. And what the wealthy and the corporations are doing right now is paying tax attorneys to help them use loopholes and avoid paying their taxes.”
Lynch said TABOR should stay in place, and he’s against most tax increases.
“If the government has endless amounts of money, they will spend it all without thinking,” he said. “I’m against any raising of taxes unless we can clearly identify they are going to support roads, infrastructure or things we must rely on the government to do.”
While Zokaie said she’ll advocate for a COVID-19 relief package, an eviction moratorium and increased unemployment benefits if she’s elected, Lynch said the state should take a more hands-off approach to the pandemic.
Q&A: Yara Zokaie, a Windsor tax attorney running for House District 49
“I think we’re discovering that we probably overreacted,” he said. “I appreciate that people are keeping safety foremost in their minds, but it seems like we’re afraid to say, ‘Maybe this isn’t as bad as we thought.’ Let’s loosen up some of these restrictions and let people get back to work.”
Asked about the increasing number of hospitalizations from COVID-19, a statistic that Colorado Gov. Jared Polis recently cited as a source of worry, Lynch said the government should “put a priority on the most vulnerable” and continue educating others who could transmit the virus to those people while letting the less-vulnerable groups “move on with their lives.”
Lynch said his experience living in the district for 20 years, owning a small business and serving in the military make him a better fit to serve in the legislature.
Zokaie pointed to campaign finance as a key thing that separates her from Lynch.
Lynch has outraised Zokaie about 3-to-1, with about $45,000 in contributions from mostly larger donors that include the telecommunications industry and conservative groups such as Coloradans for Common Sense and Colorado Concern. Zokaie’s backing comes mostly from small donors, along with some donations from United Food and Commercial Workers and a local chapter of the Teamsters Union.
“I’m running for people, and people are fueling my campaign,” Zokaie said.
Jacy Marmaduke covers government accountability for the Coloradoan. Follow her on Twitter @jacymarmaduke.
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