‘We’re red, we’re blue, we’re in the middle’ says newest Colorado District 3 hopeful
Oil and gas put food on Debby Burnett’s table. Her husband, Greg Roberts, worked two years on a rig in the Piceance Basin near Rifle.
Burnett currently also operates a small hay-baling operation down in Gunnison County. Roberts hauls the hay cross-county for his trucking business. In addition to ranching, Dr. Burnett operates Mountain Legacy Veterinary Center in Gunnison.
Why does any of this matters?
Burnett, a Democrat who plans to soon announce her candidacy for Colorado’s highly-contentious, high-profile 3rd Congressional District, aims to use her rural background to galvanize the same Western Slope constituents who feel their voices still turn mute, not just on the Front Range but on Capitol Hill.
“I think there’s such a disconnect between rich white guys who jump into races just to run for Congress and the actual voters,” she told the Post Independent on Thursday. “And the people that live in rural areas of America — but definitely here in western and southern Colorado.”
The November 2022 General Election was one for the ages. Former Aspen City Councilperson and Roaring Fork Valley businessman Adam Frisch almost unseated controversial two-year Republican incumbent Lauren Boebert. Frisch, however, was eventually overtaken in the vote count three days after election night.
But before Frisch conceded, final results showed him winning some swing Western Slope counties, like Alamosa and Huerfano.
The biggest challenge Frisch faced then was that some voters still considered him Aspen’s elite, despite him still having plenty of rural ranching in his background.
Burnett herself is, of course, big on ranching. When it comes to issues like wolf introduction, she said any ensuing wolf depredation is going to directly affect “the farmers, the hunters, our outdoor recreation.” When it comes to local water rights and how the depleting Colorado River feeds lower-basin states like California and Arizona, “Our ranchers and farmers, they’re the ones that feed this country” and “it’s not a red issue, it’s not a blue issue.”
“If there’s no water, the grass doesn’t grow and then there’s no hay to bale. Then we can’t make payments on the baling equipment and make sure that we are paying our bills here,” she said. “I think like so many people across the district, my husband and I live the same issues.
“That is one of the two driving forces for me to be in this race.”
Burnett’s political background was forged from a very Democratic family, she said. At 55, her first political memory reaches back to elementary school, when former President Jimmy Carter’s win was announced over the Public Address (PA) system.
After high school, the Greeley native went on to become a ski bum. She said her favorite all-time spots include Snowy Range Ski Area in southern Wyoming and, currently, Crested Butte, where her daughter, Gracelyn Roberts, participates with the Gunnison High School ski program.
Burnett eventually enrolled at Northwestern University Medical School just north of Chicago, where she studied physical therapy. She also later attended veterinary school at Texas A&M.
It was right when Burnett became pregnant with Gracelyn that her husband became a roughneck in Western Garfield County.
“We can’t just say to oil and gas workers, OK, we’re going to transfer you to renewable energy resources and this is what you’re going to do because livelihood depends on this industry,” Burnett said. “I think it’s bringing people to the table but without attacking.”
“We absolutely do need to look towards diversifying our natural resources. We have to use what we have right now, but we need to get to where we can be doing something different because our climate has changed,” she said.
There are of course other hot topics affecting the district right now. One of them is affordable housing. Burnett touched on this, saying there needs to be more buy-in from county officials across the district — and more federal dollars — in order to create more living opportunities.
“I don’t understand why Republicans rail against what they call socialist programs like Medicare and Social Security, which are supporting their families as well,” she said. “That is mystifying to me.”
CD3 itself, once a less-than-noticeable district to the rest of the nation, continues to be a modern-day focal point on a much larger scale. Boebert’s style of representing Colorado is another big reason why Burnett, who also came short of making the ballot last year after getting 22% of delegate vote in CD3, got into the race in the first place, she said.
Burnett said she sat up one night a couple weeks after the insurrection of Jan. 6, 2021. She couldn’t sleep, she said, because she couldn’t believe the CD3 incumbent tweeted out the location of former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi “during the worst attack on our Capitol.”
“We need a representative who is actually going to listen to the concerns of the people here in this district,” she said. “We’re red, we’re blue, we’re in the middle.”
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