On his first visit to Garfield County since being elected, Republican Scott Tipton, the future U.S. representative for the 3rd Congressional District, emphasized his small-business and small-town roots and his determination to concentrate on reviving the economy as the first priority of his new job.
Tipton, who hails from Cortez, met with local officials, reporters and a couple of just-plain-folks at the Garfield County Regional Airport on Tuesday, as part of a whirlwind tour of his district.
"It's going to be jobs and the economy," he said of his focus once he is sworn in next January.
For a little more than an hour, Tipton heard about the concerns of local officials and gave them an idea of what they can expect from him.
Tipton defeated incumbent Democrat John Salazar in the Nov. 2 election by a margin of 50 percent to 45 percent of the vote. His margin of victory was similar in Garfield County, where Tipton won by 8,880 to 8,234 votes.
His district, as he noted, sprawls across more than 54,000 square miles of western Colorado's mountainous terrain, and has a population of more than 614,000.
"If we were flattened out," he quipped, "we'd be larger than Texas."
The litany of the day, both from local officials and from Tipton himself, was the depressed state of the economy.
County manager Ed Green told Tipton that the two main types of employment in Garfield County, the oil and gas industry and the building trades, both are suffering and need some kind of boost.
He also mentioned that the county has high hopes for economic development connected to the recently improved county airport.
Tipton indicated that he understands the problems Green mentioned and pledged to do what he can to solve the underlying economic problems and get the area back to work.
In response to a reporter's question about the oil and gas industry, and whether stricter state regulations adopted in 2007 were the cause of the ongoing slump in the industry here, Tipton said, "There's no doubt that that's what happened."
Some observers, however, say the industry was derailed by a sudden drop in natural gas prices, which have yet to recover to prerecession levels.
Regarding the stricter regulations, he said, "Were all of them bad? Of course not. You have to be sure you [drill for oil and gas] responsibly," and ensure that industry activities do not pollute the air or the water.
He said he believes the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has overstepped its bounds in many ways recently, but particularly in regard to a planned EPA study of the possible hazards of hydraulic fracturing, or "frac'ing," of gas and oil wells.
Mayor Keith Lambert of Rifle maintained that his community has been essentially "a one-industry town" for decades, starting with the oil shale boom and bust of the 1970s and early 1980s, and declared, "We're tired of the roller coaster ride."
Tipton, agreeing that Rifle needs a more stable and sustainable economy, told Lambert, "I'm looking forward to talking with you about that."
Tipton also promised, in response to comments by Carbondale resident Jim Sorensen, to try to help homeowners avoid foreclosure as a result of the collapse of the housing market and the ongoing recession.
"It's a quagmire," Tipton admitted, explaining that while some favor a move by the federal government to freeze foreclosures by banks and other institutions, he believes "that's not sound business practice."
Explaining that the free market must be given a chance to find the solutions, he said, "There's going to be some difficult times before we work our way through it."
He was pressed by another Carbondale resident, Judy Fox-Perry, concerning his feelings about a proposal to preserve some 200,000 acres of backcountry terrain known as Thompson Divide.
"We feel it's worth protecting from oil and gas development," she told him.
Tipton gave her the e-mail address of his office and promised to sit down with the group she represented, the Thompson Divide Coalition, and talk about the issue.
Although outgoing Rep. Salazar had promised to introduce legislation to preserve the area, he reportedly has not done so and is not expected to do so before leaving office.
He expounded on his party's plans for the U.S. Congress, including a pledge to do away with "earmarks," which are provisions attached by legislators to large and complicated bills and that call for specific spending on specific projects, usually in that legislator's home state.
And he said he agrees with his party's leader, Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, about not compromising with Democrats on certain issues, such as health care reform.
"You can't compromise on your core principles," he told his audience.
But, he added, "We should still be able to figure out ways to move the ball forward" on issues where the parties agree, such as a need for a different kind of health care reform than the bill passed earlier this year.
He said his staff already is busy setting up offices around the district, and that he plans to spend up to one week per month back in the district, thanks to rules being proposed by the new Republican majority leaders of the House of Representatives.