WASHINGTON – Congressional representatives filtered in throughout the hearing, with strategically placed aides along the edges of the room ready to prep them on the pertinent details.
Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., sat down and reviewed his notes, waiting until it was his turn to address the witnesses.
The House Finance Committee, now chaired by Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., was reviewing how to tackle rising housing prices and support affordable housing across the country in early April.
Tipton takes his allotted five minutes to ask about providing affordable housing to those who work seasonal jobs around ski resorts. The questions, for those who know the congressman, reflect his small business background and an emphasis on the private sector over government regulations.
Tipton, who grew up in Cortez, was elected to Congress in 2010. While he initially challenged Rep. John Salazar for the seat in 2006, he lost by a wide margin. According to Tipton, this initial loss propelled him into a wider audience, until he was ultimately recruited to run for Colorado state Legislature in 2008.
“I was a small business guy that ran, just hoping to be a citizen legislator,” Tipton said.
After a few years of politics under his belt, Tipton challenged Salazar again – “Good man, by the way,” Tipton said. His second congressional race was during the height of the Tea Party, a movement which is widely credited with helping the GOP capture the House in 2010. That year also saw them take control of the Colorado House of Representatives and statewide races for the attorney general, secretary of state and treasurer.
Small business backgroundThe theme of entrepreneurship pops up often in conversation with Tipton. Before he was in the business of politics, Tipton co-founded Mesa Verde Indian Pottery with his brother in 1979. Tipton credits this time with helping him hone skills that would benefit him later as a politician.
“To be able to weigh some of the benefits as best you can with the information you have available to you, I think, is something I drew from the small business end of the world,” he said. According to Tipton, it’s allowed him to step back and ask, “Are there different ways to approach things?”
But his approach to things has not always resonated with people back home in Colorado.
“I don’t believe most Democrats think that Rep. Tipton is voting for us or that he cares for his constituents here in La Plata County,” said Carol Cure, party chairwoman of the La Plata County Democrats. The La Plata County Republicans did not respond to a request for comment from The Durango Herald.
It was most disheartening to Cure and other Democrats when Tipton voted against the House resolution to overturn President Donald Trump’s national emergency at the border.
“It sets a terrible precedent for the president to override control by creating an emergency when there isn’t one,” Cure said.
Working with GardnerBack in Washington, D.C., Tipton heads to a service project hosted by the United Service Organizations. Members of Congress carve out a few minutes in their schedules to pack snack bags bound for U.S. service members. The event, partially a photo-op, is a visible and concrete way for Republicans and Democrats, representatives and senators, to support United Service Organizations and the troops overseas.
While Tipton prepares to make his first round through the conveyor-like packing operation, he runs into fellow Republican and senator from Colorado, Cory Gardner. They share a few words, asking about the other’s family, schedules and exchanging anecdotes. Small talk between two elected officials.
Tipton and Gardner, who has been in office since 2016, seem to have a solid relationship, bolstered by the work they have done on legislation, like the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
“Scott Tipton is one of the hardest working members of Congress who always puts his district first,” Gardner said in a written statement to the Herald. “As a small business owner from a rural part of our state, Scott understands the challenges small businesses face in rural Colorado.”
Tipton acknowledges the demographics of even rural Colorado are changing, with more people, typically liberal, moving into the urban areas.
“The state used to be a completely red state,” Tipton said. “In our district, we’ve had some growth and lost some folks, depending on the economics that are going on, but we may not have seen it as much as metro Denver.”
In the minorityTipton, for the first time since he has been in office, finds himself working in the House minority since the Democrats won control of the speakership in 2018.
“Democrats, much like when the Republicans took control, they’re going to drive some of their legislative issues to the forefront,” the congressman said. “But the door is open to be able to get some bills through.”
Tipton said getting things done is now about taking a few minutes to bend the ear of a Democratic colleague. He points to the recent House Finance Committee hearing. He took the opportunity to speak with Waters on a bill he’s looking to push forward.
For some back in Southwest Colorado, they would like the opportunity to bend the congressman’s ear.
“We have some very independent people who live in our district. And they aren’t shy about sharing their opinions,” Tipton said.
Tipton’s most recent town hall in Durango was in August 2017 when he toured the Gold King Mine alongside Gov. John Hickenlooper and Sens. Gardner and Michael Bennet, Tipton’s spokesman said. He has also hosted various roundtable discussions and events in the communities surrounding Durango.
Yet, Cure still feels Tipton is not as connected to the area. Although he lives in Cortez and is often spotted at the airport, she does not remember seeing Tipton in the area since 2015.
“We kind of have a joke that we don’t really remember what he looks like,” Cure said.
Back in the D.C. hearing room, after a few whispered words with Waters, Tipton makes his way back to his office. He will squeeze in a quick lunch between back-to-back meetings and a vote on the House floor. His signature cowboy boots echo off the marble floor.
Liz Weber is a student at American University in Washington, D.C., and an intern for The Durango Herald.