Current teacher, former Navy veteran focused on affordable housing, education, health care
Durango Democrat Vivian Smotherman has announced she will run against Sen. Cleave Simpson for the Senate District 6 seat this November. She becomes the Alamosa Republican’s first challenger since his district was redrawn to include Ouray County in 2023.
While the current teacher and former farmer, oil field worker, organizer and Navy veteran never expected to enter politics, her run began after the La Plata County Democratic Party approached her about the uncontested race in October.
After pondering her options, Smotherman said it was “unconscionable” someone wouldn’t step up to run in one of Colorado’s largest senate districts and decided to give voters another option.
“Politics in this country right now are pretty, oh, I can’t think of a polite word for it, they’re pretty messed up. And we cannot as a society complain about our elections and our policies and our politics if we’re not willing to step up and do something,” Smotherman said. “While I think Cleave Simpson is a fine man and he’s done great things, his values do not always align with every one of his constituents’ values.”
Smotherman was born in Detroit in 1969 and moved to Denver in 1975. After three years of college, she joined the U.S. Navy and served as a radioman from 1990 to 1993.
After serving one deployment in the Navy, Smotherman worked several years in the Gulf of Mexico’s oil and gas industry and later moved near Austin, Texas. There, she and her wife, JoAnn, took up pig farming after their daughter joined their local 4-H club and raised two swine.
After Hurricane Harvey decimated their farm in 2017, Smotherman became an organizer with farming nonprofit Farm-1-1 and helped novice farmers build sustainable, economically viable homesteads. She and JoAnn later fought for marriage equality and advocated for LGBTQ community members living in rural Texas.
Smotherman and her family then moved to Durango in 2021, where she and JoAnn now work as substitute and full-time teachers, respectively.
She told the Plaindealer her platform currently focuses on three issues: education, affordable housing and rural health care, which are partially influenced by her background and experience.
Smotherman said while she supported the state ending the fiscal stabilization policy to increase school funding levels, she preferred to further increase education budgets and pay teachers more.
“In 2024, we have literally some of the lowest paid teachers in the country, and that’s ridiculous. There’s no reason for that,” Smotherman said. “I think there’s other things as well that need to be looked at so that our kids can go to school without anxiety and without fear.”
According to the National Education Association, the starting salary for teachers in Colorado is $37,124 annually, which ranks 49th nationally.
Regarding affordable housing, Smotherman said state property tax cuts and valuation adjustments were a start, but said she needed to study the issue more.
When asked what ideas she has to alleviate housing costs in the district, Smotherman said she was brand new to campaigning and politics and didn’t have any concrete policies. She added her goal was to speak with local politicians, government workers and policy experts to develop programs.
“I think as a senator, these are the people I need to look for and talk to to find out what solutions they are looking at and working for them so that I can make sure that we get them the money and the resources they need to continue those kinds of actions,” Smotherman said.
On the rural health care front, Smotherman specifically mentioned two issues: access to abortion and recruiting health care workers.
Smotherman said she supports access to safe abortions and blasted a proposed measure that would ban abortions in Colorado and could appear on the ballot in 2024.
“(Voters) can look and see what’s going on in states like Florida. In Texas, a woman died just recently because she couldn’t get access to an abortion” she said. “That’s not Colorado. That’s not who we are. We want to take care of our citizens, all of our citizens. And the way we do that is we protect them and we give them access to the services they need.”
Smotherman then tied difficulties recruiting health care professionals to rural counties to the relative lack of affordable housing, saying action on that front would simultaneously help solve several other problems.
Despite her lack of political and legislative experience, her pitch to prospective voters was simple in the end.
“It comes down to everybody has to vote their conscience. I think I offer a broader perspective on all of the issues that are going to face the citizens of Southwest Colorado, the constituents that live in District 6. I have a much better ability, a strong ability to look at problems from different perspectives and find creative solutions,” Smotherman said. “(Voters) have to look at what my values are and look at my history and background and ask if I’m the kind of person that they would trust to represent them.”
Daniel Schmidt is a journalist with Report for America, a national service program which helps boost reporting resources in underserved areas. To make a tax-deductible donation to fund his work, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.