ASPEN, Colorado - Because of their vastly different government philosophies, one of the easiest decisions on the Nov. 6 ballot involves the race for Colorado's 3rd Congressional District between Republican incumbent Scott Tipton and Democrat Sal Pace.
It boils down to whether you want to be represented in Washington, D.C., by a staunch conservative who has aligned himself with tea party values or a
middle-of-the-road advocate for government who would work more closely with the Obama administration than Tipton - should the president be re-elected.
Tipton, a 55-year-old businessman from Cortez who won his seat in 2010, said he has been working hard on behalf of the entire district, including Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley. Colorado's massive 3rd District, which The New York Times has identified as "leaning Republican," runs from Rangely in the northeastern corner of the state all the way to Pueblo in the south-central area. It also includes Grand Junction and Durango.
"I think our country's $16 trillion debt and the 8 percent unemployment are unifying concerns across Colorado's 3rd Congressional District," Tipton said in prepared answers to questions emailed by The Aspen Times. "I will continue to work to get our spending under control and to get government out of the way so the private sector can start creating jobs."
Despite his freshman status in the U.S. House, Tipton pointed out that he successfully passed five bills through the federal government's lower chamber, all with bipartisan support.
"These bills have been common-sense solutions to problems facing the 3rd District," he said. "One bill was the Bureau of Reclamation Small Conduit Hydropower Development and Rural Jobs Act of 2011. This bill harnesses the power from our water sources here in Colorado to create jobs and energy. This is common-sense legislation."
Earlier this year, Tipton voted to support the "Ryan budget," named for its architect, U.S. Rep. and vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan. The House GOP-passed fiscal legislation aims to privatize Medicare and create a voucher system that critics say would increase health care costs to seniors. Opponents also contend that it also proposes deep government spending cuts in order to support tax cuts for the nation's wealthiest citizens.
His budget aims to reduce all discretionary spending in the budget from 12.5 percent of gross domestic product in 2011 to 3.75 percent of gross domestic product in 2050. It proposes that Medicaid be converted into block grants, with the federal share of the cost cut by $800 billion over the next 10 years. The amount of Medicaid paid by the federal government currently depends on the number of people who qualify. Under Ryan's plan, the share would be based on population and inflation and would not increase during times of national hardship, when more people would qualify.
It also would cut federal food-stamp spending in much the same way, kicking it back to states as block grants while drastically reducing the budgets for those grants.
"After seeing what debt can do to cripple a nation's economy, we have to get serious about our $16 trillion debt," Tipton said. "(The Ryan budget) sets forth one set of ideas to address our debt and control spending. These ideas were the start of a conversation, but as we have seen, we cannot pass a budget without both sides of the aisle coming together to find a sensible solution."
Pace makes the race
Pace, 36, of Pueblo, represents state House District 46, having first been elected in 2008. In 2011, his peers elected him House minority leader. He stepped down from that post to focus on his campaign against Tipton.
Early in his political career, Pace served as a legislative aide to state Rep. John Salazar. After Salazar was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, Pace continued to work for him.
Though most political pundits consider Pace an underdog against Tipton, Pace said he's been getting enthusiastic responses on the campaign trail.
"People are sick and tired of the fighting in Washington," he said in a phone interview Thursday. "When they listen to their current congressman, all they get is more bickering and fighting, and they're anxious to throw him out of office."
Poll results released about three weeks ago suggested that Pace was narrowing the gap with the front-running Tipton.
"Since that poll, (conservative activist) Grover Norquist has come in with $1.3 million in attack ads against us," Pace said. "Obviously the other side is seeing numbers showing that he's in a position to lose this race since they're trying to bail him out with these (Super Political Action Committee) ads."
Pace said he's been campaigning throughout the sprawling district. He had planned to visit Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Aspen on Saturday.
He said Tipton has opposed causes near and dear to the Roaring Fork Valley, including federal funding for the Bus Rapid Transit system being implemented by the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority. The system, which is currently being constructed, aims to make public transit through the valley more efficient.
"Congressman Tipton has targeted the valley as a place to try to find savings," Pace said. "He fought aggressively to try to prevent RFTA from getting the Bus Rapid Transit."
Pace said he supports drilling limitations in the Thompson Divide and criticized Tipton for accepting campaign contributions from SG Interests, a company that wants to develop its natural gas leases that pristine forest area northwest of Aspen.
Asked if he supports federal legislation that aims to limit drilling in the Thompson Divide, Tipton provided this response: "We will continue to work with stakeholders on both sides and to come up with a solution that makes sense for everyone."
To Tipton, the race boils down to a question of experience in the private sector.
"I am the only candidate in this race who has operated a small business and knows what it takes to create jobs," he said. "With unemployment still in double digits in many counties in the 3rd District it is important to have a representative that understands how government can adversely impact Colorado's job creators."