U.S. Congressman John Salazar was in town Saturday to take questions and respond to concerns from the Durango community regarding the stimulus package making its way through Congress.
The stop was the last in a six-city whistle-stop tour of the Manassa Democrat's district.
In spite of, or perhaps because of, the Snowdown events going on outside, more than 100 people, including several local leaders, crammed into the La Plata County Courthouse courtroom to hear Salazar discuss the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, a bill scheduled to inject $819 billion into the ailing U.S. economy, and his goals for getting the state's allocated money to "cross the mountains."
If it passes through the Senate and is signed by President Barack Obama, the bill would include expansions to social programs, measures to bolster national infrastructure, safety nets for financial institutions, investments in health care and support for education programs.
That's all well and good, several residents said, but how exactly is it going to happen?
Durango Mayor Renee Parsons went first, asking the fourth-year congressman and brother of recently appointed secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar, how it will be determined where Colorado stimulus money will go.
Given his low seniority, Salazar said he does not expect to get a seat on the hot-ticket conference committee, which would give him more say in the allocation process.
"I would highly doubt it, as I'm 315 out of 435," he said. "It takes a while to move up, of course, but when I started, I was 434 and now I've moved up one-quarter of the way."
He stressed his commitment to take local projects to Washington, D.C., mentioned earmarks he secured for the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe and received several thanks and congratulations during the meeting from area residents who attested to his attentiveness.
Salazar even drew some applause.
"I'm proud to profess to you that I will fight for you before I'll fight for New York or California," he said after discussing the problems Colorado's nine congressmen face compared with the tens of California or New York lawmakers.
He even got a laugh responding to La Plata County Commissioner Wally White's question about getting Southwest Colorado in more of Denver's television markets, an "ongoing problem," said White.
"I would love for you guys to be able to see my commercials when I run them," Salazar said.
White also asked when the Environmental Protection Agency will use "good science" in monitoring air quality in the extraction and gas industries.
Salazar has co-sponsored a bill that would remove an exemption for the gas and oil industries under the Clean Water Act, and White said after the meeting he was satisfied with Salazar's action on the issue.
Salazar referred to Obama's pledge to return to a single-payer health-care system and the lack of confidence American voters have in their government and financial institutions in his various answers.
Speaking after the meeting, Salazar told the Durango Herald his positions on the House Appropriations Committee, the House Committee on Veterans Affairs and the House Agriculture Committee have given him an opportunity to assure that money headed out of the House is spent wisely.
"There is certainly some accountability that needs to take place," he said. "There are inefficiencies in all government agencies."