House ag chair stands with ag and workers
Rep. Karen McCormick, D-Longmont, took on the role of chair of the House Rural Affairs and Agriculture committee after the resignation of Jeni Arndt.
McCormick is a small animal veterinarian and has lived in Colorado for 30 years. She relished the opportunity to raise her twin daughters in one place after growing up in a military family and attending 14 schools in various states where her dad was stationed. Her husband is a longtime Coloradan with multigenerational ties to ranching.
She attended the University of Florida and earned her undergraduate degree in dairy science.
“I did that because I had no agriculture background and I really wanted more of a broader view of veterinary medicine,” she said.
She earned her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from the University of Florida as well. She worked as an employed veterinarian before moving to Colorado. She and a partner purchased an established veterinary practice for 17 years, growing it from a two-doctor practice to five doctors and eventually purchasing her partner’s share as well.
She said small business ownership is not for the feint of heart. The administration duties often took her away from the areas where her passions lie — veterinary medicine and her clients. After 34 years in practice, she sold the practice to an individual in 2012. She continued to work for the new owners to ensure a successful transition and she also worked as a relief veterinarian until 2017. She remains a licensed veterinarian, though she no longer practices.
“I know that I got out at the perfect time,” she said. “I had such a full career; I don’t feel like I left anything behind.”
STATE VET BOARD
She is deeply concerned by Gov. Jared Polis’ 2020 appointment of self-proclaimed animal rights activist Ellen Kessler to the Colorado State Board of Veterinary Medicine. McCormick said Kessler’s appointment is more than a faux pas, it is a mistake that sends a loud message and sets a bad precedence.
McCormick said she reached out to the Colorado Veterinary Medicine Association about the appointment. The CVMA announced in March that they are monitoring Kessler and issued a statement that said they are “disappointed in the appointment of a person whose online presence and personal activist activities are not consistent with the professional conduct expected of veterinarians by the board. CVMA members hold themselves to a high standard and code of conduct and are held to a high standard of professional conduct and integrity by the state board’s Veterinary Medicine Rules and Regulations, Rule 1.18 (A). CVMA expects state board appointees to reflect a similar level of civility, respectability, and professionalism.”
“There’s a huge difference between animal rights and animal welfare,” she said. “We need to be part of the voices that educate people that there is a difference and animal rights oftentimes conflict with animal welfare, which is what I’m all about and what all the veterinarians I know are all about. If anyone is an expert in animal welfare, it’s the veterinary community.”
She said she was thrilled with the Supreme Court ruling that stopped Initiative 16, the PAUSE act from moving forward.
“Now we’ve been warned,” she said. “Now we can mount a better defense and education to have people be more aware when something like this shows up again. It’s truly a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”
McCormick co-sponsored Sen. Jessie Danielson’s, (D- Wheat Ridge) Farm Worker’s Bill of Rights and said she did so with her eyes focused clearly on agriculture.
“I raised my hand to help with that not because I’m anti agriculture, but because I’m pro agriculture,” she said. “For folks to really step into someone else’s shoes, I came at that from the perspective of a small business owner with employees who understood that my employees were really my most valuable asset.”
McCormick, like many voters, said she didn’t realize that agriculture workers across the nation were exempted from protections under National Labor Relations Act of 1938, and that was something she set out to learn more about. She said there was surely a way to protect workers and the industry alike.
“There are lots of industries that have unique challenges and working hours and things that don’t fit the 9 to 5 schedule that still have these protections,” she said.
From the perspective of a small business owner and from a basic human rights perspective, she said this is a safety net to catch the employees who aren’t already receiving the protections and are afraid of retaliation.
“My intention was not to ruin Colorado agriculture as we know it or to run farmers out of the state or to cause harm to the industry, I don’t see it that way,” she said. “We are going to be a leader by making sure anywhere you go, we can be assured that the entire Team Ag is in a good place.”
Of course, McCormick recognizes that the major agriculture groups vehemently opposed the bill but maintains that overarching motivation for her support of the bill is her love of the agriculture industry.
“I understand the fear and I understand the anger to a certain point,” she said. “I put myself in the shoes of an employer or landowner and I understand that margins are tight but then I put myself in those shoes as a business owner and I wonder why wouldn’t I want this for my employees. I would find a way to make it work.”
Gov. Polis is scheduled to sign the bill on June 25 though several parts will go through the rulemaking process by the Department of Labor and the Department of Agriculture.
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