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U.S. Sen. Mark Udall stopped by the Pagosa Baking Company last Tuesday, where he conducted a private 15-minute interview with SUN staff out on the front porch before going inside out of the cold to address a crowd of his constituents.
“It is a privilege to be a United States senator,” Udall began the interview, “and I am honored to have received the nomination to run for a second term.”
He was on a tour of the state to kick off his campaign for a second term in the U.S. Senate.
“Campaigns are all about going out and listening to the voters,” the senator continued, talking over the wind and the sound of the traffic along U.S. 160, “and I travel the state all the time anyway, so this is just a continuation of what I do. I’m out here to listen to people’s aspirations.”
Udall served one term in the state House of Representatives before winning a seat in the U.S. House in 1998. He served Colorado’s 2nd congressional district until 2009, when he was elected to the U.S. Senate.
“I have a responsibility to lay out the choice in this election,” Udall explained. “There’s a very clear choice in this election, and I’m going to run on my record.”
On April 12, the Democratic state assembly nominated Udall, while the Republican state assembly nominated U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner. Gardner has represented Colorado’s 4th congressional district since 2010.
“Some people say I’m running on social issues,” Udall said. “A woman’s right to choose and the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would pay women the same as men are paid for the same job, those aren’t social issues. Those are economic issues. Those are family issues. Those are opportunity issues. I am committed to improving the lives of Coloradans as a United States senator.”
Some of Udall’s accomplishments so far include making Rocky Flats a National Wildlife Refuge, helping pass Amendment 37 to establish a standard for the state’s renewable energy portfolio (20 percent by 2020), and passing a bill to improve the ability of the government to address the problems caused by the pine beetle infestation in Colorado’s forests.
“I am committed to protecting our special way of life,” Udall promised, “and at one point I said, ‘Come hell or high water.’ Little did I know,” the senator chuckled, “that’s what we would actually face with the West Fork Complex fire and the floods on the Front Range last fall.”
Udall described how he led the effort to secure $700 million worth of recovery funds for the state and how he has been working with the Obama administration to come up with a next-generation air tanker fleet for fighting forest fires in Colorado. Udall has asked the administration to free up more military aircraft for this summer’s fire season.
“The state has seen the worst of times,” Udall said, “but it has brought out the best in people.”
Udall described the attitude of the people he talked to in Lyons shortly after the flood, as everyone came together to help in the recovery effort.
Udall then moved into talking about the economy, and how the housing market and construction industry are coming back. He also mentioned the energy sector, pointing especially to the work being done to develop clean and renewable energy.
“There’s some good news on the economy,” Udall argued, “but there are a lot of families struggling to get by, much less put money aside for a rainy day. There’s more to be done.
“We’ve got to refocus on the middle class and small business where new jobs are created. How do you do that? Well, you raise the minimum wage, you pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, you continue to invest in renewable energy through the Production Tax Credit, and you make sure to keep the Investment Tax Credit in place.”
Udall mentioned the long conversations he has had with Jerry Smith of Pagosa Verde concerning efforts to develop a local geothermal power generation project. Udall also mentioned his efforts to support J.R. Ford’s biomass power plant project.
Udall then moved on to another hot issue — the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
“A lot of people aren’t happy with it,” Udall admitted. “The rollout was bungled and I let the president know that I was very disappointed. I sent some ideas to him as to how we can make it work, but we’re not going back to an old system where you were discriminated against if you were a woman or if your son got sick your coverage could be dropped. My focus is on making the Affordable Care Act work. Coloradans aren’t complainers; we’re doers.”
Although he didn’t have his card on him, he meant to bring it to demonstrate is solidarity with Coloradans and to show that he is in the state’s insurance exchange.
The next topic Udall brought up was the environment and his work with the Environmental Protection Agency.
“Before the EPA agreed with my point of view, if you took on a project to clean up a stretch of river over in Silverton or Ouray or Breckenridge, you assumed the liability under the Clean Water Act for that polluted water, so it discouraged so-called Good Samaritans from doing the volunteer work or raising the money to help return those watercourses to health.”
Udall mentioned his work on the Hermosa Creek and San Juan Wilderness bills.
Udall then outlined his efforts to make sure the federal government respects the wishes of Colorado voters in regards to Amendment 64 and the state’s fledgling marijuana industry.
“The three things I have done are, one, to urge General Holder to let Colorado implement its new marijuana policies without federal government interference. So far he has demonstrated that’s his inclination.
“Number two, because it’s a cash-only industry, we’ve been pushing Justice and Treasury and other national agencies to provide access for the marijuana industry to the banking system. You literally have people carrying suitcases of cash around to pay the IRS or to pay Social Security or to pay employees. That tends to drive criminal activity and create a sense of instability and concern.
“And then third, a number of us have urged the attorney general to really take a look at marijuana’s status as a schedule one drug.”
Udall explained that taking marijuana off of the schedule one list would essentially decriminalize marijuana on the federal level and eliminate the threat of arrest and prosecution for something Coloradans have voted to make legal.
The Ski Area Jobs Act was the last topic Udall mentioned before moving inside to the warmth of the bakery. Udall talked about his work with the U.S. Forest Service and efforts to make it easier for ski areas to offer more activities, such as mountain biking in the spring and summer.
Udall’s family has lived in the western U.S. for five generations and is one of the most prolific political families in the country. His cousin, Tom Udall, is the senator from New Mexico.
The mid-term election will be held in November of this year.