3rd District candidates introduce themselves
GSPI Managing Editor
The four Democrats and six Republicans vying for the 3rd Congressional District seat lined up Saturday to show their stuff to a demanding crowd ” members of Club 20, the leading Western Slope political group.
In 45 minutes of intense talk, they introduced themselves and answered five questions focused on energy policy, the war on terrorism, economic revitalization, public lands management and the rising costs of health care.
Their comments gave the audience a sense of how well-informed each candidate is, how quickly they think on their feet and the range of their political agendas.
The 3rd District includes most of the Western Slope, the San Luis Valley and Pueblo County, and is currently represented by Scott McInnis, R-Grand Junction.
The candidates are Republicans Dan Corsentino of Pueblo, Delina DiSanto and Doug Sitter of Durango, Gregg Rippy of Glenwood Springs, and Matt Smith and Greg Walcher of Grand Junction, and Democrats Randy Fricke of Basalt, Anthony Martinez of Pueblo, John Salazar of Alamosa and Jim Spehar of Grand Junction.
Over the coming days, the Post Independent will publish stories on the 10 candidates’ answers to the five questions. This story focuses on how the candidates introduced themselves and the key issues they care about.
The Pueblo County sheriff for four terms, Corsentino’s top issues are homeland security, water and rural health care.
He believes the federal government should make sure it allocates enough money for homeland security efforts. He also called for a stronger intelligence network linking federal agencies with local law enforcement.
He called for more research on water supplies and use. “We have got to expand our base of knowledge on water,” he said.
Corsentino said he will also seek fairness in health care costs between rural residents and urban dwellers, who have access to more cost-competitive providers. “Inmates in my jail have better access to health care than the average working American.” he said.
The Durango resident and former oil and gas industry worker moved to Colorado from New Jersey in 1987. She calls herself “not your everyday politician,” and said she would be a “strong, dependable leader” who will stand up for the views of the 3rd District.
Di Santo said she has traveled the 29 counties of the district, listening to people talk about water, health care, Medicare, natural resources, gun rights, abortion, energy and many other issues.
“I’m not going to tell anyone their needs aren’t important. But I’m here for everyone. For all the constituents of the district, my priorities will be yours,” she said.
Sitter is a Durango lawyer who formerly worked for the National Wildlife Federation and a land conservation group in Africa.
He said the Republican Party is “drifting away from limited government,” and said the government is “getting more intrusive in our lives.”
He said his top priority as a new congressman will be to end the “incomprehensible tax code that costs our country hundreds of billions of dollars a year” and replace it with a simple flat tax.
“We need to put those hundreds of billions back into circulation to ignite the economy,” Sitter said.
And he noted, “I am not afraid to stand up to the party leadership to see that the Republican Party gets back on track.”
The Glenwood Springs asphalt contractor is in his second term in the state House, and he paid tribute to departing U.S. Congressman Scott McInnis and U.S. Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, who spoke earlier in the day.
“We all know who’s important here ” Ben Campbell and Scott McInnis. We’re the wanna-bes,” he said, referring to himself and his nine opponents.
Like Campbell and McInnis, Rippy said his goal is to make things better.
“Everybody has a different idea of what that is: a clean trout stream on the Fryingpan River, keeping a nursing home open in Delta so people can live out their lives in their home town, and for the unemployed, a job.
“It takes experience to answer the questions and put out solutions,” he said, citing his work in the state Legislature and as a business owner.
“And we need a government that will enable, rather than obstruct,” Rippy added.
A Grand Junction lawyer and Meeker native, Smith has served in the state House for the past eight years.
He served on national energy strategy committees that recommended the Bush-Cheney energy policy, and chairs the energy committee of the National Conference of State Legislators.
He has also been a leader on water issues.
“I don’t have to tell Club 20 where I am on Referendum A,” he said, referring to his strong opposition from the start to the statewide ballot question, which was defeated last November.
As congressman, Smith said he would “protect our water and bring down the cost of health care.”
He also backs the war on terrorism.
“I stand behind our president firmly on this. If we don’t address terrorism the way we are now, we will be fighting it on the sidewalks of America,” Smith said.
A former director of the state Department of Natural Resources and Palisade peach farmer, Walcher said, “This election is about the future of rural America.”
He said the federal government is “too big, regulates too much and taxes too much,” and that tax regulations and bureaucracy will kill any gains the economy can make.
He said leaders “have a moral obligation to leave Colorado better than we found it,” and criticized the federal government for “steadily locking the public out of public lands.”
The Basalt real estate agent was a farmer and spent five years in Washington, D.C., as a lobbyist working to promote gasahol.
“I wrote the legislation that put that industry into full effect,” Fricke said.
He said he would work to protect the ranching community as much as possible, and said, “We need to do a lot in health care.”
Fricke characterized himself as “probably the strongest environmental candidate here.”
He called on Congress to maintain American jobs, and said he is a “big advocate for increasing salaries for school teachers.”
A sixth generation Colorado native, Air Force Academy graduate and a major in the Air Force Reserves, Martinez now teaches college and runs a business in Pueblo.
“This election is more about domestic issues than global issues,” he said, while touting his military experience in foreign policy and national security.
“We need to work on a multi-lateral policy in our foreign policy to fight terrorism,” he said. The United States must build its alliances with other countries to be successful, he said.
He said western Colorado residents should pay the same for health care as Front Range residents.
More jobs will stimulate the economy, he said, calling for a focus on the growing biotechnology industry.
A seed potato farmer from the San Luis Valley, Salazar represents eight counties in the state Legislature. He thanked his Club 20 allies for their help in defeating Amendment A, the $4 billion water funding question, on the state ballot last November.
And he recognized their help in his efforts to win passage of a bill to protect river basins from water grabs, even though the bill failed.
Top issues facing the 3rd District are the economy, affordable health care, natural resources and national security, he said.
“I ask you to remember three words: the forgotten middle class. One in five people is without health insurance, and it’s because our middle class is shrinking,” Salazar said.
He is the brother of Colorado Attorney General Ken Salazar, who is now running for U.S. Senate.
The Grand Junction mayor and former Mesa County commissioner referred to the legacies of former 3rd District Congressmen Wayne Aspinall and Ray Kogovsek, both Democrats, in shaping his campaign.
“It’s time to talk about a health care system that doesn’t work,” he said, noting that people “pay more and get less.”
He criticized the Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind Act. “It really ought to be called the Whose Child is Left Behind act, since there is no funding being handed down to achieve these lofty goals,” he said.
Spehar cited the U.S. deficit, and said, “Why brag about a jobless recovery, when we should be ashamed there are 3 million people out of work?”
He called for a balance between protecting natural resources and developing energy, “without making a sacrifice zone out of the area we love.”
Contact Heather McGregor: 945-8515, ext. 517
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