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Mesa County Commissioner Rose Pugliese, left, with former South Carolina Gov. and former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley. (Photo courtesy Rose Pugliese)

BIO:

  • Now in her second term on the Mesa County Commission; first elected 2012.

  • Co-proponent of November 2020 ballot question to overturn state legislation joining Colorado in a National Popular Vote Interstate Compact.

  • Attorney licensed to practice in Colorado, Florida and New York.


Colorado Politics: You have questioned the governor’s shelter-in-place order — particularly because it was a blanket policy applied statewide. How has Mesa County’s experience with COVID-19 differed from the caseload along the Front Range, and what kind of approach, perhaps implemented by local public officials, do you feel would have been more constructive than the one imposed by the state?

Rose Pugliese: First, I want to acknowledge that my constituents are also the governor’s constituents and that this crisis is unprecedented. However, local governments, specifically our public health and emergency management departments, have been, and will continue to be, on the front lines of this crisis. We are in the best position to make decisions for our communities and a one-size-fits-all approach does not work for my community.

Mesa County has been very fortunate to have carried a low caseload of people infected with COVID-19 and no deaths so far. While the state has averaged a 21% infected rate, Mesa County has been, on average, about 3.5%. We have been able to carefully control the spread of the disease. There is a balance that can be reached between protecting the public’s health, welfare and safety, which is our job as county commissioners, and implementing reasonable regulations to keep businesses open.

I do not support labeling businesses as essential/non-essential and critical/non-critical. In Mesa County, all businesses are essential and small businesses are the backbone of our community. It is not the proper role of government to determine whether or not a business is essential and stand in their way of operating.

CP: Now that the reopening has begun, how is it proceeding in Grand Junction and neighboring communities, where Mesa recently received a state waiver from some of the rules?

Pugliese: Mesa County, inclusive of Grand Junction and our surrounding communities has, again, been incredibly fortunate that our caseload continues to remain low. I worked closely with my public health director, Jeff Kuhr, and his staff on a balanced, phased-in re-open plan. Most importantly, this plan is not a “Mesa County commissioners” plan or even a “Mesa County public health” plan but a plan developed in collaboration with the business community. They worked with us to develop reasonable regulations that they could follow to protect the public while still functioning to slowly re-open their businesses. We received our first waiver and are currently working on a second waiver to support the opening of even more businesses. Ideally, we would like to see the state allow Mesa County flexibility so that we can work with businesses on re-opening without waiver requests. We would continue to implement reasonable regulations, again while working with the business community. Mesa County is in the best position to determine the needs of our constituents because we are closely monitoring our caseloads and controlling the spread of the disease in our county.

CP: Has the state’s COVID crackdown widened the long-standing fissure between the West Slope and the Front Range? What other issues continue to divide the two historically distinct regions?

Pugliese: I do not believe that the COVID-19 response divided the West Slope and the Front Range. It actually brought us all together as we were looking collectively for solutions for our communities and how to deal with both a public health and economic crisis of this magnitude. The approach is less even about rural versus urban as many rural counties, especially resort and ski communities on the West Slope, had a large number of COVID-19 cases.

For me, it goes back to local governments are in the best position to determine the needs of our communities during this crisis. I have been vocal on the need for local governments across the state, outside of the five largest population centers, to receive a portion of the CARES Act funding, for our COVID-19 related expenses, from the legislature.

The economic crisis caused by COVID-19 will disproportionately affect rural economies, not just on the West Slope but statewide. The economies of rural counties generally lag behind the larger populated metropolitan areas of the state. However, I am confident that local governments will continue to collaborate on these issues and find solutions. Mesa County is a unique county because we are the tenth-largest county, based on population, in the state but the only county on the West Slope with a major city, so we deal with an interesting mix of both urban and rural issues.

CP: Update us on the effort to overturn 2019 legislation that joins Colorado in a compact among states in support of a national popular vote. You played an instrumental role in petitioning the matter onto the statewide ballot this November so voters can weigh in. What do you believe are voter sentiments as of now on that proposal, or is it even on their radar yet? Why do Republicans and Democrats split on this issue?

Pugliese: There is definitely much conversation statewide about our national popular vote repeal question on the 2020 ballot. Our effort was one of the largest issue-based petition drives that Colorado has ever seen. Under the National Popular Vote Compact, Colorado’s nine electoral college votes would go to the winner of the national popular vote, even if that candidate did not win the most votes in Colorado. When we talk to people about the issue statewide, it makes sense to them that Colorado’s votes for president should stay in Colorado with Coloradans, and not be part of a larger compact of states, where states with larger population centers, like California and New York, would make the decision for Colorado.

In our statewide petition drive effort, we found that most Coloradans were united on this issue. Presidential candidates on both sides of the aisle have visited both urban and rural communities across Colorado in an effort to win Colorado’s highly coveted electoral college votes. It is not a Republican issue or a Democrat issue but truly a people of Colorado issue and they want to be engaged and vote “no” on the 2020 ballot.

CP: You are licensed to practice law in Colorado among other states. What role do your lawyerly skills and knowledge play in your day-to-day duties as a commissioner?

Pugliese: When I was sworn-in as a county commissioner in 2013, I was the first attorney to serve in this role in Mesa County. I definitely see issues through a different lens and am always questioning the precedent that we set in developing our policies. I really enjoy reviewing contracts with a critical eye and always want to read the statute instead of depending on others to interpret it for me. My attorney skills are also utilized when I am working on legislation and thinking through the unintended consequences of different bills that are going through the legislative process.

CP: What inspired you to run for office, and why are you a Republican? Do you have aspirations for any other elective office at some point?

Pugliese: I am an accidental politician. In 2008, I went down to Republican headquarters for a yard sign and met this amazing woman who got me engaged in the party. Four years later, I ran for county commissioner and was elected.

My grandparents and father emigrated from Italy to America in pursuit of opportunities for a better life. My parents opened their own restaurant when I was growing up and I learned from them that with hard work and determination, you can achieve your dreams. My grandfather was a union construction worker and as soon as he proudly became an American citizen, he registered as a Republican. He used to take me to Republican meetings with him when I was young. I am a Republican because I believe in our core principles of personal and fiscal responsibility and have promoted keeping government within its proper role during my two terms as a county commissioner.

I am term-limited this year as a county commissioner, and I do not know yet what new adventures await me!

CP: Villanova undergrad; St. John’s law school; you’re originally from New York. Big East basketball must be in your DNA. So, how did you wind up out west — in western Colorado?

Pugliese: The truth is: I followed a guy. However, that was 13 years ago. We actually moved to Colorado because of the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights. We thought that any state that allowed the people to vote on tax increases had to be a good place to live, operate a business and raise a family. While I miss being closer to my parents and siblings, Colorado is our home.

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