Editorial: Tipton should spill some SG water he’s carrying
May 9, 2016
Count us as well short of being shocked that a draft bill introduced by U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton on a Thompson Divide natural gas lease swap was largely written by his largest campaign donor.
Interested parties, including lobbyists, often write proposed legislation, and it's not unusual for their ideas and even their wording to end up in a final bill and, thus, in law.
So to call it plagiarism, as Thompson Divide preservationists have done, is over the top and actually distracting from the real issues involved.
Legislation does not carry a byline. It's generally understood that bill sponsors are rarely bill authors, and interest groups and businesses have way too much input on a range of proposals.
What Tipton has done doesn't violate any rules. It's how the system works. As a country, we have decided by default that an essentially corrupt system is within our legal and ethical bounds.
Average Americans, battered by the financial crisis and bailout to benefit banks but not them, troubled in different ways by the bureaucratic jumble that is the insurance-industry-influenced Affordable Care Act and generally feeling ill-served by government, might be waking up to this. The appeal of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders speaks to a desire for a changed system, but this is a daunting structure that serves the rich and powerful, who will not lose their focus after the next election or when the next reality show comes on.
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So it is that Tipton, who has received $39,000 over his congressional career from people associated with SG, which also has worked to defeat his opponents, is representing the Texas-based company's interests. He can say otherwise, but he just is. SG and a lobbying firm working on its behalf distributed the proposed language last year, and would be more than delighted if its wording were introduced and became law.
And that's the point.
Tipton's western Colorado constituents can fairly ask whether their representative in Congress is beholden to his biggest financier to the point of disregarding their input.
Thompson Divide Coalition members and others who want to forever ban oil and gas drilling in the area south of Glenwood Springs and west of Carbondale say that communities and county supervisors across the Western Slope have weighed in supportive of preserving the divide, but Tipton's draft bill ignores that.
And it does.
He told the Denver Post that the draft bill is far from being ready to formally introduce.
"No one else offered language to be able to get to the starting point," he said.
"This was not an end," he said, telling the Post that he was soliciting comment from local interests before officially introducing it.
OK, but Tipton knows full well the emotion invested in this issue and knows full well that it has been widely debated and discussed. In public comments to the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service, and in letters to Tipton, individuals and governments within his district have provided a wealth of opinion.
The idea that he needs to further solicit input to presumably reflect constituents' concerns is more than a little disingenuous.
It could make a casual observer wonder whether the congressman didn't expect anyone to notice the similarities in his draft bill and the SG proposal and he's now making the best excuse that he can for conducting business as usual — which a cynic might call pay to play.
So we will be eager to see whether Tipton in the end introduces a bill that cuts back on the SG language and better reflects the differing views within his district.
We support the idea of a lease swap or other means to negotiate an end — a permanent end — to the dispute over further drilling in Thompson Divide. Tipton has said he opposes permanent withdrawal of these lands from exploration, which is a poison pill that doesn't actually end this divisive debate.
Tipton, who's facing what looks to be a surprisingly tough re-election campaign for an incumbent Republican congressman from a conservative district, is in a bit of a spot over this.
He's trying to ignore his energetic young Republican primary opponent, Alex Beinstein, who has about $600,000 less than Tipton in campaign funds. Beinstein, who is running to the right of Tipton and generally supports fossil fuel exploration, says the Thompson Divide bill smells of "crony capitalism."
If Tipton successfully swats away Beinstein's challenge, former state Sen. Gail Schwartz, who will be well-financed and will tap significant support from those opposed to drilling in the Thompson Divide, waits in the wings.
Not just for the sake of his own political future, but for the sake of his district and the recreation economy that the Thompson Divide helps support, Tipton should spill some of that SG water he's hauling around and mix in a dose of compromise.
We won't be holding our breath, though.