Colorado’s unique brand of purple politics, matching our mountains’ majesty, was on display recently when members of our U.S. House delegation spoke at a luncheon hosted by the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry, our state chamber of commerce.
Five out of seven Colorado House members participated: U.S. Rep. Ken Buck (R-04); U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman (R-06); U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette (D-01); U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-07); and my congressman, U.S. Rep. Jared Polis (D-02). Missing were U.S. Rep Doug Lamborn (R-05) and Scott Tipton (R-03). Joe Rice, director of government relations for Lockheed Martin Space Systems Co., served as moderator for the panel discussion.
Partisan differences were on display throughout the conversation, but the delegation’s seven House members plus two senators (Sen. Michael Bennet, D–Colo.; and Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo.) are unified in support of initiatives that benefit Colorado, Perlmutter said. “We want to make informed decisions” that benefit the business community, he added, “and we need help from you.”
Two topics in particular sparked lively discussion: the budget process and fracking.
His most frustrating experience in Congress so far, first-termer Buck said, has been the budget process. The House has passed “six or seven” budget bills, he said, which “are sitting in the Senate.”
With a contentious vote on a Continuing Resolution to fund the federal government looming at the end of September, DeGette said “it would be a disaster” to shut down the government again, as in 2013. She described the budget sequester as “political malpractice,” and Polis added that the sequester prevents Congress from using judgment in assessing spending priorities “across the board – the good, the bad and the ugly.”
Polis argued for structural reform, including a requirement that spending bills have a single subject, vs. “the enormous Christmas tree bills we have today.” Republican Coffman said the best way to resolve the budget mess is a balanced budget amendment.
Fracking is a perennially contentious issue in Colorado. DeGette, who has introduced a bill requiring disclosure of fracking fluid contents in each session since 2008 (as required in Colorado), said fracking is “an important resource development tool, and I support it – and we need to do it in a way that’s safe.”
“The question is, who is best equipped to ensure safety,” the federal government or the states, Coffman responded. A one-size-fits-all approach won’t help, he added. “I trust Colorado – I don’t trust Washington, D.C.”
“I don’t trust D.C. or Denver,” said Polis, a supporter of so-called local control initiatives that would give counties, cities and towns the ability to regulate energy production. “[Fracking safety rules] should be decided at the community level. What people in Weld County want may be different from what people in Boulder want.”
Currently, state law requires regulation of oil and gas production at the state level, by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. Regulating production at the community level would require overturning state law or challenging it in court, as several Colorado communities have attempted. Coffman said he was skeptical.
“I have never won an argument with the Colorado attorney general,” he said, to audience laughter. Colorado’s attorney general is Cynthia Coffman, Rep. Coffman’s wife.