Vera Ortegon, a former Pueblo city councilwoman tapped Friday to be former state Sen. Mike Kopp’s running mate should he win the Republican nomination for governor, promises that a Kopp administration would be fair in working to manage the Front Range’s growth-driven thirst for Western Slope water.
She spoke with the Post Independent on Monday afternoon during a whirlwind tour of the state that she started as soon as she was named as Kopp’s running mate.
Kopp, one of four Republicans seeking the nomination to run against Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, is the only Republican to say who would be his running mate. Voting already is under way for the primary, which ends with traditional voting on June 24.
Ortegon is seasoned in water policy, having served since 2004 on the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District and on the Pueblo Board of Water Works before that.
“That’s the million-dollar question,” she said — finding a solution to Colorado’s water needs. “We need to balance between agricultural needs and the municipalities, and we’ll constantly work on that balance.” The keys to water management are storage and conservation, she said, and the state now has “barely enough” storage.
Ortegon also was economic development representative for southeastern Colorado in the Bill Owens administration, and enthusiastically backs Kopp’s call to cut a quarter of the state’s regulations, working agency by agency to find arcane and cumbersome rules that inhibit business attraction.
She also is a naturalized citizen, having been born in Colombia. Being selected as a potential lieutenant governor nominee is a deep honor for her, she said.
On the touchy question of what U.S. immigration policy should be, she said that once the nation’s borders are secure, immigrants should be given the opportunity to follow the established process to naturalized citizenship — the same one she followed.
Of people in the country illegally, she said: “They’re here. We can’t send back 12 million people.”
She added: “One of the very proudest moments of my life ... was the day I became a naturalized citizen. It’s a powerful moment that I want all immigrants to have a chance to experience.”
A mother of two and grandmother of two, Ortegon owns apartment buildings in Pueblo and manages her physician husband’s two clinics there.
Kopp is running against U.S. Rep. Bob Beauprez, Secretary of State Scott Gessler and former U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo for the Republican nomination.