Labor, water, energy topics of U.S. Senate forum

Charles Ashby
The Daily Sentinel
Joe O’Dea, right, and Michael Bennet, left, prepare for the U.S. Senate Candidate Forum at Colorado Mesa University on Tuesday.
Christopher Tomlinson/Grand Junction Daily Sentinel

Labor is a major issue for many business owners, but particularly so in the agriculture and hospitality industries.

How the two candidates for U.S. Senate, Republican Joe O’Dea and Democrat Michael Bennet, would address those labor shortages, particularly for those two industries, isn’t much different.

“I was part of the Gang of Eight in 2013 that wrote a comprehensive immigration bill that passed the Senate. It got 68 votes,” Bennet said at a forum Tuesday sponsored by The Daily Sentinel, Colorado Public Radio and Colorado Mesa University. “Tragically, it was stopped in the House of Representatives by the Freedom Caucus and by the Tea Party.”

That bill had four elements, including creating a pathway to citizenship for the undocumented workers living in the country, a provision that Bennet said was necessary, but Republicans in the House at the time called amnesty.

O’Dea didn’t address that part, but agreed that another provision in the bill, still known as the Dream Act, should be part of any new immigration law.

“That bill needs to be re-introduced again,” O’Dea said, praising Bennet for working with a bipartisan group of senators on that measure. “What we’ve got going on right now is partisanship. We’ve got people who vote with their party 98% of the time, and I’m telling you, that’s not working.

Joe O’Dea, right and Michael Bennet, left at the Colorado Mesa University U. S. Senate Candidate Forum Tuesday evening on the CMU campus.| Christopher Tomlinson/Grand Junction Daily Sentinel
Christopher Tomlinson/Grand Junction Daily Sentinel

Both candidates also agreed that the way the nation deals with asylum seekers also is broken, saying such people need to be allowed in.

On a question about what role the next Colorado U.S. senator specifically, and the federal government in general, should play in the renegotiation of the drought management plan under the 1922 Colorado River Compact, both candidates said the states must take a lead role in that, and not let Washington dictate how it would be redrawn.

While O’Dea said more needs to be done to take the pressure off of reliance on Colorado River water from southwestern states, such as building desalination plants, Bennet said he’s been working with GOP senators in neighboring states, such as Utah GOP Sen. Mitt Romney, to get federal aid in storage projects and other means to preserve more of that water.

In answering a question about how the nation could, or should aid women in developing nations, O’Dea agreed that the United States plays a major role in helping other nations, but said it can’t do that effectively until it’s economy is on solid ground.

“When our nation is strong, when our nation is leading a strong economy, we can provide security, we can also provide resources for all of those countries,” O’Dea said. “When our economy is under attack, when we’re in an inflationary capacity, when we have leadership that approved $5 trillion over the course of the last two years (in debt) … our economy is weakened. It doesn’t allow us to help other countries.”

Bennet countered by saying that it isn’t just the United States that is suffering from high inflation, but every nation.

The senator also criticized O’Dea with couching most of his answers addressing the fossil fuel industry, to which O’Dea said that’s because that issue was the key to reversing that inflation.

This story is being republished by the Post Independent with permission from the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel.

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