Walcher, Salazar both decry partisan politics
In a political contest that has accentuated their differences, the Republican and Democratic candidates for Colorado’s 3rd congressional district agree on at least one thing:The 3rd District’s residents would be best served by someone who places a low priority on partisanship, say Greg Walcher and John Salazar.”I’ve always been more concerned about geography than partisan politics,” said Walcher, a Palisade Republican who contends the 3rd District needs someone who first and foremost looks out for the interests of western and southern Colorado.”I’ve never been a terrifically partisan person,” Walcher said.Salazar describes himself the same way. He said he looks at each issue based on its merits, rather than always following his party line.”It’s about representing the population as a whole,” he said. Where Salazar and Walcher sharply differ is over which of them is best suited to speak for the 3rd District’s overall interests in Congress. “I think he’s too liberal for this district,” Walcher said of Salazar, ticking off issues such as the war in Iraq, health care reform, tax policy and gay marriages in arguing his point.But Salazar notes that Walcher was widely characterized as the most conservative candidate in the Republican primary. By contrast, Salazar considers himself a moderate candidate who is a better fit for a diverse district.”To me it’s not about party, it’s about people,” he said.In the 3rd District, it’s also about water. Beginning with the Republican primary, the issue has dominated the race to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis, a Grand Junction resident and Glenwood Springs native. In a five-candidate race, Walcher only narrowly defeated runner-up Matt Smith of Grand Junction, after Smith made water the cornerstone of his campaign.An ‘F’ grade on A?Smith said Walcher failed to stand up for Western Slope water interests when Referendum A was on the state ballot a year ago. Voters defeated the measure, which would have helped fund water projects. Walcher, then head of the state Department of Natural Resources, supported it.Salazar has picked up Smith’s rallying cry, arguing that Walcher backed a measure that left the Western Slope unprotected against Front Range attempts to divert water.”My opponent basically fell for it,” Salazar said.By comparison, Salazar opposed the measure, and he cites that opposition as an example of his willingness to put regional interests ahead of partisan ones.Walcher continues to defend his stance on Referendum A. He said he was comfortable that a process was in place so diversions of Western Slope water would have occurred only with the Western Slope’s assent.He said Salazar has failed to look out for Western Slope water interests himself, by proposing to have the federal government buy conservation easements on water rights.”If you don’t understand that with federal government goes federal control, you’re not ready for Congress,” Walcher said.Salazar said he wants the federal government to provide funding to local land trusts to buy easements. He doesn’t want the government to own the easements itself. He noted that the state already accepts federal funding for large reservoir projects, such as Animas-La Plata near Durango.Warring wordsThe 3rd District race may get no more local than on the issue of water, and no more global than on the issue of the war in Iraq and on terrorism.”John thinks it’s a war for oil and has said so a number of times,” Walcher said.”It’s a war for the survival of the free world. Literally it’s the future of democracy at stake,” Walcher said.He believes the United States has made a lot of progress in Iraq, starting with deposing Saddam Hussein. But the war continues to be difficult, he said. And while it’s important that troops come home as soon as possible, they must continue to be supported no matter how long the war takes, Walcher said.Salazar said he has been asked by the media whether he thinks Iraq is a war for oil, but doesn’t recall saying it is. He believes it’s more important to look to the future.”We need to finish what we started in Iraq,” he said.But he said the war on terrorism “isn’t just against America, it’s against all the free world.” As such, he argues that American taxpayers are bearing too much of the burden of the war’s costs, and more countries must be encouraged to join in rebuilding Iraq.Salazar, who served in the Army from 1973-76 in Indiana and Germany, says his interest in the war is personal also: It’s possible that one of his sons, who is in the National Guard, may be sent to Iraq.Key differencesSome clear distinctions between Walcher and Salazar can be found on several issues, including:• Taxes: Walcher calls fiscal policy the cornerstone of his campaign.”It seems to me we’re just an overtaxed people and need a break,” he said.Walcher said he supports making President Bush’s tax cuts permanent, while Salazar advocates repealing them.Salazar said he backs cutting taxes for the middle class to boost the economy, but doesn’t see the value in lowering taxes for the wealthiest Americans. Both candidates say they oppose the death tax and support its permanent elimination.Salazar also is calling for providing tax credits for companies who provide jobs to rural Colorado instead of outsourcing them overseas. • Health care reform: Walcher called for tort reform that he said would put an end to frivolous lawsuits that drive up health care costs. He noted that Salazar voted against tort reform in Colorado.Salazar said he supported the Colorado bill in general, but voted against it because it made no exemption for willful and wanton negligence by health care practitioners.”We can’t take all patients’ rights away,” he said.Salazar wants to see tax deductions given to small businesses who provide health insurance for employees. Walcher said health care costs need to be made fully deductible, which would make insurance more affordable and make employees less reliant on businesses to provide it.• Gay marriage/abortion: Walcher says Salazar’s support of gay marriage is out of touch with 3rd District residents. Salazar responds that his position is the same as Vice President Richard Cheney’s.Salazar said he believes marriage should be between a man and a woman, but thinks the issue should be left up to the states, and not addressed through a federal constitutional amendment.”The Constitution shouldn’t be used to take freedom and rights away,” he said. “The government doesn’t belong in the bedroom.”Walcher is pro-life, and Salazar pro-choice. Salazar said he personally opposes abortion, but doesn’t believe government has a right to stop a woman from getting an abortion.Beyond the issuesThe heated 3rd District race has come to be about more than issues for Salazar and Walcher. They’ve also tangled over things such as how much to debate, and the level of Salazar’s support for fellow Democrat John Kerry for presidency. Walcher said Salazar has been reluctant to discuss his support for Kerry because Kerry isn’t popular.”Salazar doesn’t want to admit he’s on that side,” Walcher said.Salazar said he thinks his backing of Kerry is clear, but also believes his voting plans are none of Walcher’s business.”I’ve always thought that’s a privacy issue. Greg said keep government out of people’s lives, but he wants to know who everybody’s voting for,” Salazar said.Salazar said it isn’t his intent to badmouth Walcher. Instead, he just wants voters to know who he is.He hasn’t been in politics that long, he admits, having been elected to the state legislature two years ago. But he doesn’t necessarily consider that a bad thing. Walcher, while never holding elected office, dealt with state and federal policy for decades, first as a staff member for former U.S. Sen. Bill Armstrong, then as head of the Club 20 Western Slope lobbying group, and finally as DNR chief.Salazar agrees that background makes Walcher knowledgeable on issues. “But I think that does make him the bureaucrat,” he said of Walcher’s job background.Walcher said of his experience, “I have the ability to hit the ground running that nobody else in this campaign has.”Contact Dennis Webb: email@example.com
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