When Routt County Treasurer Brita Horn and some of her neighbors realized they lived in a large, sparsely populated patch of the state that wasn’t covered by fire protection services, they put together their own volunteer fire department.
Some 244 square miles between Steamboat Springs and Vail, it turned out, fell between areas covered by surrounding fire departments, but none were responsible for responding to calls.
“You had to pick up a landline and call for help, and it might come from Eagle County, it might come from somewhere else,” Horn says, recalling the sense of urgency that gripped the mountain residents in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. “We realized we needed something to take care of our neighbors, so we got together and formed a fire department.”
The region boasted “a whopping 306 residents year-round,” she says with a chuckle, but throughout the year there were thousands more hunting, fishing, skiing, biking, attending concerts and festivals. “Just like everything else,” she says, “the kids were in school, my husband was a full time rancher — we rolled up our sleeves and started becoming first responders.”
These days, along with training and working as a fire engineer and EMT for nearby fire departments for years, she’s the fire chief for the Rock Creek Volunteer Fire Department — “When I’m home, I’m on call,” Horn says, adding, “I don’t get a salary, but I get the T-shirt, like everybody else” — and responds to dozens of calls a year.
“It’s mostly families, it’s neighbors, people you know,” she says. “We go and do blood pressure checks, check the sugar, so they don’t have to drive to the doctor’s office. It can be 2 in the morning and you can be calling 911 — a sick child, a rollover accident — and I’m going to make that call and make someone’s worst day better.”
It’s the same approach Horn said she intends to take to the office of state treasurer in an interview before the Republican announced her campaign for the office on Tuesday.
“I’m the grassroots girl on the ground who will roll up her sleeves and start looking for solutions that’ll work for everyday Coloradans,” Horn said.
The incumbent, Republican Walker Stapleton, is term-limited and is considering a run for governor, and already the candidates are starting to line up for the open seat in next year’s election. State Rep. Steve Lebsock, a Thornton Democrat, was first to make his campaign official in late March, and state Rep. Justin Everett, a Littleton Republican, launched his bid in mid April.
Other Republicans said to be considering a run for the office include state Rep. Polly Lawrence, R-Roxborough Park, businessman and former legislative candidate Brian Watson and Republican National Committeeman and former congressional candidate George Leing. Last week, state Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud, said he’s exploring whether to run.
“My real-world experience is what has me qualified,” said Horn, who has a background in finance and accounting and has served as Routt County treasurer and trustee since first winning election in 2014. “Even though the budget might be a little bit larger, the principles are still the same — making sure that we keep what is most important to the everyday Colorado taxpayers, making sure we take care of transportation and education and health care and our aging infrastructure.”
The state treasurer manages roughly $6.5 billion in more than 750 state funds and is an ex officio member of the Public Employees Retirement Association board. The office also runs the state’s Unclaimed Property Division, which reunites people and businesses with unclaimed property and cash through the Great Colorado Payback.
As Routt County treasurer, Horn manages the collection of $54 million, with the county keeps about $18 million and distributes the rest to various school districts, municipalities, agencies, libraries and other districts.
“We all know how important the job of state treasurer is, because we all know the importance of managing our household finances,” said Horn. “Each one of us has to set priorities, spend responsibly, live within our means and try to set aside money for the future. Our state treasury is no different. It’s time to roll up our sleeves and get to work in the treasurer’s office, setting priorities and making the important distinction between wants and needs.”
Horn points to an operating manual she created to establish checks and balances for the county’s finances. “Once those procedures were in place, I used my experience as a cost-controller and cost-analyst to increase efficiencies swiftly so we could get the treasurer’s office back on track.”
Noting that she’s a participant in PERA — having taught as a substitute in the SOROCO School District in Oak Creek for nearly a decade — Horn said making the fund sustainable is a priority. Like Stapleton, she said she favors transitioning PERA from a defined-benefits plan to a defined-contribution plan.
A familiar presence at GOP events around the state — her trademark spikey hair cut means Horn is recognizable across even the most crowded room — Horn said she intends to keep putting the miles on her Jeep to rally grassroots support for her campaign. Like Everett, she said she plans to go through the caucus and assembly process to win a spot on next year’s primary ballot.
“I’m going to be the hardest working woman in politics, crisscrossing the state like no one’s business,” Horn said.