Holly Williams

El Paso County Commissioner Holly Williams inspects the county's new graveling machine during a "workshop on wheels" tour last year. (Photo courtesy Holly Williams)

  • Elected in January 2019 to the El Paso County Board of Commissioners. Serves on the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments, the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority, and the Pikes Peak Rural Water Authority. 

  • Appointed El Paso County public trustee, 1999-2007.

  • Holds a bachelor's degree from the University of Virginia and a master's of public administration from the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.

Colorado Politics: Let’s get your take as an El Paso County Republican on the statewide prospects of the GOP. With the Democratic takeover of all state government in 2018 alongside persistent polling showing a disconnect between the president and Colorado independents, what do you think is going to happen in Colorado in the upcoming election and beyond? Will the pendulum swing back at some point, or will it stay stuck over on the left?

Holly Williams: Coloradans are fiercely independent and “unaffiliated.” Republicans can win unaffiliated votes if we target specific issues where Democrats have overstepped the will of the voter. We don’t want our president chosen by California or New York voters. Two separate ballot issues on road funding failed, not because Coloradans don’t want to see more roads but because Coloradans want to see roads prioritized by this governor and the state legislature.

CDOT’s survey of future road needs specifically left out one option — pay more for more pavement. Why? The success of the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority since 2004 shows that a dedicated tax to roads that is conservatively spent and managed will gain the voters trust. I believe Colorado voters would be willing to pay for more roads if the solution includes specific road projects, limits administrative costs, and prevents the state legislature from reducing the current transportation funding.

Colorado voters like TABOR, yet Democrats continue to push issues that eliminate our ability to vote on tax increases. With the right candidates and messaging, Republicans can win.

CP: Why is your county — one of the state’s largest — so reliably Republican? Is it the heavy military presence?

Williams: We have five military bases, over 100,000 veterans (with a population of around 720,000), and many religious nonprofits. Colorado Springs is the most desirable place to live according to U.S. News and World Report. Why live in Denver or Castle Rock when El Paso County has low taxes and excellent schools? With easy access to the mountains and a beautiful parks system, we are attracting residents who work in Denver or Castle Rock and live in El Paso County.

CP: Even among fellow Republicans, competing conservative principles sometimes can clash when you are trying to develop practical policy. For example, in an op-ed you penned for us recently, you noted how encroaching urbanization of El Paso County’s rural reaches can pit the right to arms against property rights — notably when a newcomer to the unincorporated county, seeking peace and quiet, finds out his neighbor uses his own property for target practice with his .22. Who wins in that situation? What kind of policy should prevail?

Williams: No one wins in this situation. Less than a dozen individuals “excessively” shoot their automatic rifles or pistols on rural properties — “excessively” meaning recreational shooting that causes neighbors to fear for stray bullets and contact the Sheriff’s Office. Is the target secure? Has the homeowner prevented stray bullets from going onto another’s property? What about splash back as the target wears out? Neighbors call the sheriff, and the sheriff can only enforce a noise ordinance, so tensions increase among neighbors. The issue consistently rises to commissioner level. Neighborhood discussions and mediation have not worked.

When does a very small minority of shooting enthusiasts lead to policy discussion and changes? Is there a policy that balances our Second Amendment right with the right of people to enjoy and feel safe on their own private property? A policy might limit use during certain times (weekdays when students are walking home from school, some holidays and during high fire danger), and encourage safe shooting by setting standards for gun ranges on private property. It is my belief that in the interest of public safety, we should at least engage in a discussion.

CP: Your husband, Colorado Springs City Council member and former Secretary of State Wayne Williams, also once served as an El Paso County commissioner. Are there any insights about public office that you’ve gleaned from watching his career track? Is there anything you’d do differently?

Williams: My husband communicates well and works hard to gain consensus. He thinks like a logical attorney. He is also transparent and communicates well with the media. I am reserved; I can be blunt (some would call it too honest); I am an emotional thinker, but I still try to keep my decisions logical. I try to distinguish myself from any decisions that he would have made simply because I don’t want my time as commissioner to be “Williams II.” Some of my “off the cuff” comments are famous while he works hard to frame the answer to a question in a politically sensitive manner. I have the luxury of working my commissioner position as my only job. He has balanced supporting and raising a young family while serving in political office.

He never hesitates to pick up the phone to check-in with someone. I need to do that more often. I am more detail oriented and try to understand the details of an item — whether it be a budget decision or a land-use item. I try to be less stubborn than he is and listen to his advice (although he tells a different story).

CP: Here’s a question we sometimes ask politicians who are active and prominently engaged members of a religious faith, as you are: What role should faith play in holding political office?

Williams: Right now, we are making tremendously important decisions. With so many small businesses closed and individuals unemployed, I am buoyed up by my religious beliefs. I know that God is watching over us and guides me in my decisions. I try to be fair to all religions and to people who don’t want religion involved in government at all. I believe more in the right of the individual to worship as they wish and will ensure that government does not infringe upon that right.

CP: What’s the greatest challenge that will face the El Paso County Commission this year?

Williams: The world has changed in four weeks. All levels of government will suffer a big sales tax revenue decrease. We will have to make budget cuts, but we do not know the extent of these cuts. Capital projects will be delayed, and we may need to dip into our reserve funding. Efforts are already underway to reduce overcrowding in our buildings (DMV and Social Services) and enforce social distancing when we do open back up to the public. Our TABOR base calculation will shift down due to the lack of revenue coming in — so we are back to tightening our belts for a few more years until we have an economic recovery. As a leader, it will be frustrating, but compared to individuals who are facing personal financial crisis, county government will survive.

CP: Will you ever seek another political office after you leave the commission?

Williams: Honestly, this is the most challenging and rewarding job I have had — even when I make mistakes or make hard decisions. I have always had a keen interest in local government and in state government. I would like to seek a second term as county commissioner and then move on from there. I would not rule out a county-wide elected office (clerk, assessor, or treasurer) or the state legislature. Being in a family with two elected politicians has its challenges and requires balance between what Wayne is doing and what I would like to do.

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