Democrats pick Congress candidate Tuesday
Vail, CO Colorado
EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado ” Voters head to the polls Tuesday for a Democratic congressional primary that, based on the weight of the result and the amount of money spent, may as well be the general election.
Though the candidates do not differ widely on the issues, former state representative Joan Fitz-Gerald, entrepreneur Jared Polis and conservationist Will Shafroth have spent a record amount of money in the race to replace Democrat Mark Udall, who is running for U.S. Senate.
Polis, also a former member of the state Board of Education and founder of the New America, has shelled out more than $5 million of his own money to win the heavily Democrat district that will almost certainly send the primary winner to Congress.
“Advertising is expensive,” said Polis’ campaign manager, Robert Becker. “And Jared is committed to winning this contest.”
As for the issues, all have criticized the war in Iraq and President Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act to varying degrees, and all have said they want to expand affordable health care.
Fitz-Gerald touts her experience in the Colorado Legislature. In 2000, she was elected to the state Senate, representing a district that included Summit County. Two years later, she was reelected and was appointed as Senate minority leader. In 2005, state senators elected her the first woman president of the Colorado state Senate, a position she held two terms.
She’s been the chair of the Senate Business, Labor and Technology Committee and has carried many bills on renewable energy, on which she wants Colorado to be a leader.
If elected, she hopes to sit on the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee because she has gained a great deal of expertise on those issues, she said.
Fitz-Gerald also calls herself a “champion for working families” and she said she has the support of every union in the state, including the Colorado Education Association. She also trumpets that she has voted 100 percent “pro-environment” from 2003 to 2007, according to the Colorado Conservation Voters, a nonpartisan group dedicated to electing “environmental candidates.”
Fitz-Gerald said she is running for Congress because Colorado needs to work better with the federal government to solve the state’s problems, she said. Money spent on the Iraq War, in which Fitz-Gerald is calling for a “swift and immediate withdrawal,” has drained state funding for infrastructure.
Colorado, for example, has been left with a bill of a couple hundred million dollars to make improvements to Interstate 25, she said.
“The country’s not in good shape right now,” Fitz-Gerald said. “We need to return the optimism and the opportunity… and it’s getting out of our grasp.”
She also has said the Federal Emergency Management Agency should play a role in how Colorado mountain towns, including Vail, deal with the spread of pine beetles.
On climate change she says the U.S. should do what Colorado did.
“We passed a bill that mapped the state and said, ‘This is Colorado, here is where your wind blows most consistently, here’s the San Luis Valley, most fertile region for solar-farms, here’s where solar-thermal exists,'” she said. “We know every energy source we can capitalize on in the state of Colorado. Why isn’t the United States mapping itself?”
Polis has founded several high-tech companies, which he said led to his interest in education. He served six years on the Colorado state Board of Education and was appointed its first Democratic chairman in more than 30 years.
“I’m passionate about many issues, but education is really our future and the future of our ourselves and our planet,” Polis said. “Preserving our natural heritage and doing something about global warming is critical, but again, an informed electorate will make better decisions.”
He founded The New America School, which has one school in Gypsum and three schools in suburban Denver, where immigrants 16 to 21 years old are taught English and earn high school diplomas.
Polis also served on a national commission on financial literacy and thinks the nation’s mortgage crisis could have been avoided with better financial literacy in schools.
Polis dislikes President Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act and wants a better education policy when the act expires in 2009.
The federal government should fund schools that have the most “at-risk” students, including impoverished ones and those learning English, he said. No Child Left
Behind penalizes those schools, he said.
Polis said he supports federal involvement in building some type of high-speed rail service along the Interstate 70 corridor.
“When we talk about lane expansion, by the time that’s done, we’d be roughly where we are today with regard to traffic so we’ve got to invest in some mass transit, high speed rail solution,” he said.
Polis said the war in Iraq is the most pressing problem the country faces is the war in Iraq and the most dire problem facing the world is climate change. He says he would like the troops to come home sooner than the 16 to 18 months Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama has proposed and wants to give Americans federal loans to install solar panels and other alternative energy in their homes.
“We cannot drill our way out of the energy crisis,” Polis said. “Additional drilling is like feeding more drugs to an addict.”
Shafroth, who petitioned his way onto the ballot, says he got ranchers, hunters, environmentalists and local and state government officials and to agree on something ” the formation of Sylvan Lake State Park near Eagle. Shafroth had to join diverse interests to get the land ” which was slated for development ” designated a state park in 1987.
“That required someone being good at listening to and getting the respect of a lot of different people so that they trust you enough to get into a discussion and negotiation,” Shafroth said.
Shafroth is a fourth generation Coloradan whose great grandfather, John Shafroth, was Colorado governor, congressman and U.S. senator.
Shafroth has worked for state government in the Office of the Secretary of the California Resources Agency in Sacramento, Calif., and also for the American Farmland Trust, a national organization which preserves family farms and ranches.
In Colorado, Shafroth was the first executive director for the Great Outdoors Colorado Trust Fund and created the Colorado Conservation Trust, helping with open space projects such as Bair Ranch, near the entrance to Glenwood Canyon.
Shafroth calls global warming this generation’s “greatest challenge.”
“What we need to do is tackle this at a number of levels. On the demand side… how much energy we use is the easiest, the quickest and most effective way to reduce our energy consumption and global greenhouse gas emissions, or carbon emissions,” he said.
“We’ve got to do everything we can to conserve every unit of energy so that we don’t have to build new coal-fired plants or new natural gas plants and that means retrofitting and insulating and weatherizing our homes, our buildings in general, so that they are much more energy efficient,” he said.
He also supports increasing fuel efficiency of cars and increasing vastly the amount of money investing in alternative energy.
“We spend about one fourth in real dollars the amount of money on renewable energy than we did in 1984,” he said.
He said health care was one of the nation’s biggest problems.
“I hear from a lot of people that it’s becoming increasingly a larger and larger problem for more and more people, not just for 50 million uninsured people in this country,” Shafroth said. “A lot of the people who are insured are underinsured or are struggling with the high cost of health care.
He supports a Medicare-like plan for people between 19 and 64, and much more aggressive prevention of disease.
“Seventy-five percent of our health care dollars go to treat seven mostly preventable diseases, like heart disease, stroke and diabetes,” he said. “Through diet and exercise and lifestyle, those are very preventable diseases.”
Harriet Hamilton and Steve Lynn contributed to this article. Managing Editor Matt Zalaznick can be reached at 748-2926 or email@example.com.