Colorado 8th Congressional District: Republican Barbara Kirkmeyer

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Republican state Sen. Barbara Kirkmeyer, March 24, 2022.

The expression ‘all politics is local,’ is an apt characterization of the journey that led Republican state Sen. Barbara Kirkmeyer to run for Congress. 

She first became politically engaged decades ago after learning that Weld County was preparing to allow landfills, fly ash, and hazardous medical waste disposal sites near her rural home. 

“I was minding my own business. I owned a dairy farm at the time, had two young children. I also owned a flower shop,” she said. 

So she did what she thought was the best next step: she brought her concerns with her county commissioner. It did not go well.

“He basically told me it didn't matter. It didn't matter about me, it didn't matter about my community. It didn't matter about us,” she said. ”He told me I was just chasing windmills. And when he said that to me, it just really ticked me off. I thought that's not right: It does matter. And you're going to be really darn sorry when I catch a windmill.”

That conversation motivated her to get involved. In 1993 she ran for Weld County commissioner. 

“I won the seat by 400 votes,” she recalled to CPR’s Colorado Matters. “And I won that by going out and talking to folks and going door to door and listening to them and finding out what their issues were, because not everybody had the same issues as I had.”

Kirkmeyer went on to serve on the commission for nearly two decades before running for the state Senate two years ago.

She has deep roots in the state as a 4th generation Coloradan; growing up on a dairy farm, she was helping feed calves by age five. As she got older, she raised and sold livestock to fund her college tuition. 

“We were poor when I was a kid. We didn't even have indoor restroom facilities. I have six siblings. My grandmother lived with us. My great uncle lived with us. So there were 11 of us around that table. And on the farm we were all expected to work on the farm.” 

When Kirkmeyer became a county commissioner she said she loved having the ability to impact people’s lives in a positive way.  She said the driving factor of her congressional bid is to get the country back on track. 

“The number one issue I hear is the cost of living and how expensive it is,” she said, noting it touches everything from housing and transportation to electricity and rising interest rates. “So that's the main issue. And we've gotta work on curbing inflation and reducing the cost of living. It's hurting everyone.” 

She also thinks the government spending needs to be curtailed. She points to the Biden administration’s plan to forgive student loans as one example of adding unnecessary debt. 

“It's an issue that impacts all of us, getting the spending under control, getting the debt under control and start chipping away at that debt, over 30 trillion,” she said. “We don't fix the debt by adding on more debt. You can't tax and spend your way out of debt and out of inflation, you just can't do it that way.”

Kirkmeyer is running in the newly created 8th Congressional District which encompasses Greeley and some of Denver’s northern suburbs including Thornton. It’s the most competitive congressional race in Colorado in a district with the highest percentage of Latino residents, nearly 40 percent. 

The state’s new Independent Redistricting Commission prioritized competitiveness when they drew its lines and the result is a district that leans 1.3 percent Democratic, based on the results of eight recent statewide elections.

Analysts, though, generally expect it to have a slight Republican advantage this year, given that the party out of power historically has had the edge in midterm elections.

Kirkmeyer’s opponent is Democratic state Rep. Yadira Caraveo, a pediatrician.

The district’s booming bedroom communities are expanding into areas that have long been farm and ranchland. The region has also been at the epicenter of oil and gas development over the past decade.

“I’m going to be passionate about agriculture and energy,” said Kirkmeyer. “I've made it known that I would like to be on the Energy and Commerce Committee. Maybe even the agriculture committee, because the Farm Bill is coming up. Those two things are extremely important. But the other thing I'm passionate about is getting this debt under control.” 

Her time as a county commissioner

During her tenure as a Weld county official, Kirkmeyer was a strong proponent of the oil and gas industry; which she said is critical for national security.

“We need to get back to energy independence instead of energy dependence,” she said. 

But Kirkmeyer emphasized that during her time on the board, she tried to balance quality of life with the need to bring businesses and high paying jobs to the region. 

“It wasn't about ensuring that, you know, business as usual kind of thing,” she said. “It was about ensuring that the oil and gas industry was operating in a safe, healthy manner. And we worked with… the folks in the industry to ensure that they were protecting the environment. We worked out a lot of the air quality rules and the water quality rules with them at the table.”

In her role as county commissioner, Kirkmeyer repeatedly tangled with the state over drilling policy. She joined objections to increased setback distances in 2013. She was also a leading opponent of the 2019 bill that overhauled the state’s oil and gas permitting to prioritize public health and the environment. Her congressional opponent, Caraveo, was a lead sponsor on that legislation. After the law was signed, Kirkmeyer joined her colleagues in trying to set local rules for oil and gas development in Weld County and led an unsuccessful effort to ask voters to repeal the law.

In 2013, when a number of northeastern Colorado counties pushed to secede and create a 51st state, Kirkmeyer was a vocal proponent of the effort. The move grew out of disputes over renewable energy mandates and new gun laws passed by Democratic lawmakers. 

“I had people come to me and they were extremely upset with the state of Colorado,” Kirkmeyer explained recently. “They were extremely upset with Governor Hickenlooper at the time. They felt like there was a war on rural Colorado and a war on Weld county, quite frankly.”

Even though the movement failed, Democrats have used Kirkmeyer’s involvement to brand her as a fringe politician and too conservative for the seat. But she stands by her actions and said Hickenlooper, now a U.S. senator, appreciated the intent of the movement, after the fact.

“Do you know what he said about the secession movement? He said it made our state stronger. And those counties that were pushing that, that he needed to just basically listen better and listen more to those counties. And he got it.” 

On the Issues

On the major policies that define the platform of the GOP — like opposition to legal abortion and support for expansive gun rights — Kirkmeyer is solidly conservative.

She voted against the Reproductive Health Equity Act that Democrats passed through Colorado’s legislature this spring and said, if elected, she would back a federal 15-week abortion ban, should such a bill come before her.

“It's a position of saving a few babies' lives,” she said. “So for me, if I can save an innocent unborn child's life or not save any at all, I'm going to go with at least saving some baby's lives.”

Kirkmeyer said she would also support a federal law protecting gay marriage, should the Supreme Court overturn the ruling that legalized it across the country

Crime and the southern border are some of the bigger focal points of her campaign. Kirkmeyer said she feels the two are inextricably linked. She backed an effort in the state legislature this year to impose stricter penalties on people caught with small amounts of fentanyl. And she said she’d support a proposal by congressional Republicans to make fentanyl dealers whose drugs cause someone’s death eligible for the death penalty.

“No one fears any consequences, no one, meaning criminals,” she said. “It's a border issue. We need to secure our border. We need to stop the drug trafficking that's occurring. We need to start vetting people who are coming across that border before they get into our communities.” 

Asked about false claims that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from Donald Trump, Kirkmeyer said, “Biden is the legitimate president. He got elected. It's time to move on. We need to stop looking backwards, start looking forward.”

She said she trusts how Colorado’s local clerks run elections in the state and rejects conspiracy theories claiming the voting machines they use are vulnerable to manipulation. 

While Kirkmeyer’s campaign has been active with events and going door-to-door to hear from voters directly, she said she tries to find time to balance family life. At the opening of a Republican Hispanic Community Center in Thornton this summer, she brought along her two young grandsons, who she was babysitting that day.

Lots of national money is flowing into the race on both sides. 

As of the last campaign finance disclosures this summer, Caraveo had raised $1.1 million, well ahead of Kirkmeyer, who’d brought in just under $400,000. However, the most significant money in the race is from outside groups. Conservative groups aligned with Kirkmeyer have spent nearly $3.4 million boosting her and attacking Caraveo, while those on Caraveo’s side have put in around $2.8 million, according to the website Open Secrets.