The coronavirus outbreak has put an end to the in-person town halls that have become a staple of political campaigns – at least for now.
Gov. Jared Polis has signed an executive order that gives Colorado counties the flexibility and authority to have virtual assemblies and conventions, mail in votes or delay assemblies altogether to help limit in-person contact and the spread of the coronavirus.
The Durango Herald spoke with candidates in advance of the virtual assemblies to compile their thoughts about the issues that matter most to Southwest Coloradans, including saving the economy from the impacts of the coronavirus, health care and public lands.
The Republican challenger to incumbent Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, is local restaurant owner and Second Amendment advocate Lauren Boebert.
The Democratic challengers to Tipton are former member of the Colorado House of Representatives Diane Mitsch Bush, progressive environmental advocate Root Routledge and owner of Seattle Fish Co. James Iacino.
Health careRep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez
For people living in rural Southwest Colorado, health care is a challenge. The coronavirus outbreak only highlights the challenges these residents face in accessing a clinic or hospital, as well as affording care.
Tipton has said the Affordable Care Act is to blame for increasing health care costs and reducing access to care. He wants to replace former President Barack Obama’s plan with one that “unleashes the competitive forces of the market to drive innovation,” according to his campaign website.
Tipton advocated for repealing the individual mandate under the Affordable Care Act that would require Americans to pay a fine if they did not buy a health insurance plan. The congressman has said he will continue to work to dismantle “regulatory barriers that inhibit choice” for Americans in their health care.
With Trump’s support, Tipton said he is hopeful the administration will fund rural broadband deployment in Southwest Colorado. Tipton introduced legislation that would reduce barriers to broadband access in Colorado, such as regulatory hurdles on public lands. The coronavirus outbreak is another important example of why broadband infrastructure is so urgently needed, Tipton said.
Advocating for the Second Amendment has been the focus of local restaurant-owner Boebert’s campaign, but she has told the Herald in the past that she would work to lower the cost of health insurance by “allowing it to be sold across state lines.”
Boebert has also said she is pro-life and is fighting to restore Colorado’s values on issues such as prohibiting full-term abortions.
While her campaign website does not have specific information about health care, Boebert often refers to herself as a “pro-Trump” candidate. If elected to Congress, she would support Trump’s work to repeal mandates of the Affordable Care Act, expand plan choices and increase competition between insurance companies to lower costs for consumers.
Trump also created a commission to treat opioid addiction as a public health emergency, allowing grant money to be used to combat the issue in rural areas.
Diane Mitsch Bush
Mitsch Bush emphasized the need for more testing kits and swabs for Colorado, as well as protection for people who don’t have health insurance so they can get the treatment they need.
Mitsch Bush said she supports Congress’ actions to provide paid family leave, free coronavirus testing and expand unemployment benefits, as well as “the ability for the state to expand Medicaid.”
“Our 29 counties are predominantly rural, and don’t have the kinds of health resources that bigger health care systems have,” Mitsch Bush said. In Congress, Mitsch Bush said she would advocate to develop more federally qualified health clinics and facilities in the area.
Mitsch Bush also said she understands the importance of having a woman in office because it fosters a diversity of perspectives. As a former member of the Colorado House of Representatives, Mitsch Bush said she made sure Planned Parenthood was funded because “for many women, that was the only health care they got.”
Men did not disagree with funding Planned Parenthood, but they wouldn’t think of the kind of necessary care it can provide for women, Mitsch Bush said.
As the coronavirus pandemic grows in Colorado, Iacino stressed the need for more testing, whether the solution is a public or private one to get more data on the state of health in Southwest Colorado.
“Everything you’re hearing at the national level is amplified in rural Colorado,” Iacino said in reference to the shortage of medical supplies and coronavirus tests.
Access to food is also important during the outbreak, Iacino said. The federal government should be focusing on expanding Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits so that families affected by the coronavirus can receive food in the wake of layoffs.
“This is a time for leadership, for people to step up,” Iacino said.
Routledge has said there are too many obstacles in obtaining access to health care, and that as a low-income senior he supports Medicare for All because he understands the financial toll health care can take.
Comprehensive expanded benefits and a national health budget with no premiums, deductibles or copayments are part of his strategic vision for a better future for America, according to his campaign website.
“Our 2-tiered economy is collapsing,” Routledge writes. “It is both fragile and immoral, dooming the most vulnerable working people and poor to suffer the worst.”
With Medicare for All, “you become free from capitalist control of your health care and profit seeking based on your medical misfortunes,” Routledge wrote on his campaign Facebook page.
Routledge was a delegate for Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vt., in 2016.
“Comprehensive health care is a human right, not a privilege,” his campaign website says.
His platform is focused primarily on climate change, and Routledge thinks about public health through that lens.
Local economyRep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez
Tipton has been working with Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., and other representatives over the past two weeks to provide economic relief to Southwest Colorado in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, an area that relies heavily on the tourism industry. But people in the area have not yet received guidance on what actions they can take that are reimbursable under the national emergency declaration.
“The federal resources available should be well outlined to prevent long-term economic hardships on rural communities,” Tipton said in a news release.
He has called on the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide guidelines for Colorado and encouraged the Small Business Administration to approve the disaster declaration that now allows small business owners to apply for low-interest federal loans.
In March, Tipton voted to support the coronavirus supplemental funding bills that were signed into law by President Donald Trump. The Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2020 released $8.3 billion in emergency funding for federal agencies to respond to the outbreak, and the CARES Act amounted to $2 trillion in support to state and local governments, small businesses, unemployment insurance expansion and support for impacted corporations.
“The last thing businesses and families should worry about is their financial situation once our nation moves on from this public health crisis,” Tipton said.
Despite a Democratic majority in the House, Tipton has pushed for tax reform to “free our economy from the control and manipulation implemented by the previous administration and Washington bureaucrats,” Tipton’s website reads.
He also helped pass legislation that led to an approximate $2,000 annual tax cut for families in the 3rd Congressional District.
Boebert said the stimulus bills to help Americans struggling with the economic impact of the coronavirus included too much money, and agreed with Rep. Ken Buck, R-Castle Rock, on voting against them.
“A responsible stimulus bill should have been passed to help those who are at risk of losing their jobs and businesses through no fault of their own and to help those who are keeping us safe,” Boebert said in a news release.
“Rather than keeping focused on the needs at hand, Scott Tipton voted to borrow and spend billions of more taxpayer dollars to pay millions of federal and state public sector employees $1,200 checks who are not on the front lines of the coronavirus epidemic and who are not at risk of losing their paychecks or their jobs,” Boebert said.
Boebert commended Buck for his vote on Facebook, and criticized Tipton for voting to support the $2 trillion bill.
The conservative candidate has said that when she moved to the Western Slope at 12 years old, she got her first paycheck at McDonald’s in Garfield County and realized she could do a better job taking care of herself than the government.
Since then, she encouraged people like at-risk women at the local jail to become “self-sufficient and productive members of society who do not depend on government assistance,” according to her campaign website.
“We are in a battle for the heart and soul of this country,” Boebert has told the Herald.
Diane Mitsch Bush
Mitsch Bush said she supports Congress’ economic packages of legislation, especially the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which accepted Colorado into the Small Business Administration’s Federal Loan Assistance program. This means all small businesses in Colorado can now apply for disaster assistance and economic recovery low-interest loans.
“The small businesses are the backbone of our communities,” Mitsch Bush said.
As a former member of the Colorado House of Representatives, Mitsch Bush said she has sponsored and co-sponsored bills that provide job training for workers in the area and that support young ranchers and farmers in entering or continuing the industry in Southwest Colorado.
She said she supports the federal government in providing grants to states to pay unemployment rates for the workers in lower wage jobs who are severely impacted by the coronavirus crisis.
Iacino is CEO of Seattle Fish Co., which has provided seafood to restaurants, hotels, caterers and grocery stores in Denver and the Rocky Mountain area for 102 years. He said he is experiencing firsthand what the food distribution and restaurant businesses are going through as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and restaurant dining being shut down.
“It flipped a switch and cut our business in half,” Iacino said, and “devastated an industry that we are not going to be able to bring back easily.”
Iacino said he is working with the government to get unemployment benefits for industry workers and advocating for cash-flow loans.
“Nothing is quite like this situation,” Iacino said. “We are doing everything we can to keep as many people employed as possible.”
The Colorado Restaurant Association is working to communicate with people who have been laid off in the industry to ensure they have the cash they need and know how to access unemployment, Iacino said.
“We will do our part to help with that,” Iacino said. He encourages voters to attend his virtual town halls if they have questions about it, so that “people don’t feel isolated or disconnected.”
Routledge said the coronavirus pandemic has shocked “capitalist system complacency” focused on short-term markets and has exposed the “massive system failures on multiple fronts.”
Everyone is scrambling with Band-Aid solutions to deal with these system failures, while trying to look like they are on top of it,” Routledge said. He advocates for a society that values the well-being of people and the environment over money, he said.
Western Colorado’s economy relies heavily on coal, oil and gas, which provides “decent paying union jobs” but are a “big contributor to the strategic threat of our climate crisis,” according to Routledge’s campaign website.
“These workers, who have raised generations of families on decent incomes, are not the enemies of the future,” Routledge wrote in the Craig Daily Press.
He supports federal, state and local policy that helps these workers through the transition to renewable energy, such as a fee for extraction companies that is distributed as a monthly dividend to all legal residents of the country.
Routledge also supports the Green New Deal.
He highlights on his campaign website the fact that the 3rd Congressional District is the fastest warming area in the Southwest United States, according to the Fourth National Climate Assessment.
“We must face and address economic and environmental problems directly,” Routledge wrote. “Reality calls for a massive effort at the scale and urgency of the problem.”
Public landsRep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez
Tipton has emphasized the importance of private property rights throughout his time as the 3rd Congressional District’s representative in Congress.
“To preserve and protect our rural communities and our farms and ranches, we must work to break down the regulatory obstacles that are currently inhibiting their success,” Tipton’s website says, referring to the strict guidelines on public land use and national monument land use in the West.
The congressman proposes that local agencies have control over public land-use and other conservation measures, such as listing endangered species, through legislation like the LOCAL Act. Tipton supported the BLM’s move out West, and has expressed frustration with the federal regulation of resources in Western states.
Tipton said changes like the LOCAL Act would encourage and expand effective local conservation programs already operating in Colorado while working with private landowners. The legislation would also allow more oil and gas drilling while protecting endangered species, Tipton has said.
Boebert advertises herself as “pro-energy,” and her husband works in oil and gas fields in Western Colorado, according to her campaign website.
Like Tipton, Boebert has expressed frustration with the federal government making decisions about things like land use in the West. She has said she will take advantage of the natural resources in the district, and fight those who try to regulate them.
Diane Mitsch Bush
As people are socially distancing themselves to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Mitsch Bush said protecting public lands is more important now than ever, since it is something people can do to get out of the house.
“Our mental health and our physical health depend on public lands,” Mitsch Bush said.
Public lands are also an economic driver that support hunting, fishing and hiking, as well as outdoor manufacturing companies such as Osprey Backpacks, which tests its equipment in the parks in Colorado, she said.
In the economic fallout of the coronavirus, it will be absolutely critical to retain public lands, Mitsch Bush said. She highlighted research that shows employees and children are more creative if they can get outdoors, and how public lands support mental health.
Iacino has promoted preserving wild lands and waters to “ensure that their natural beauty can be enjoyed for years to come” because they are “critical to our way of life,” according to his campaign website.
“Public lands are the greatest resource that we have in our state,” Iacino said. They are vital to fight climate change, protect our clean water supply and provide “economic opportunity that we can lean into,” Iacino said.
He reminds voters that Tipton has voted in favor of legislation that would make it easier to sell federal public lands.
“Public land management is about multiple uses that benefit the local communities, our country and the public at large,” Routledge wrote on his campaign website. He proposes harvesting wood from forests in a sustainable manner and replanting to protect the watershed, soils, wildlife and regenerative capacity of the land.
For Routledge, the Green New Deal is the best guide to deal with the threat of climate change.