Conversation with … Mark Udall, Senate candidate | SkyHiNews.com

Conversation with … Mark Udall, Senate candidate

Tonya Bina
Sky-Hi Daily News

Democratic U.S. Rep. Mark Udall is seeking the U.S Senate seat held be Sen. Wayne Allard against Republican candidate Bob Schaffer.

Udall began his career in public service in the Colorado Statehouse in 1997. For a decade, he has represented Colorado’s 2nd Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Udall is a member of the Armed Services Committee, the chairman of the Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics, and has led efforts as one of the nation’s leaders in aerospace jobs and technology. He has also served on the House Natural Resources Committee, House Small Business Committee, and House Agriculture Committee, and co-chairs the House Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Caucus, and has passed legislation to reduce wildfire risk and bark-beetle infestation in Colorado .

According to Udall’s campaign Web site, his family has lived in the West for five generations, and the Udall name has become synonymous with public service for 150 years. His father, Morris “Mo” Udall, played for the Denver Nuggets before serving for 30 years in Congress. In 1976, he sought the Democratic nomination for President. Udall’s mother, Patricia “Sam” Udall was a native Coloradan, and her father, Roe Emery, was a cowboy-turned-entrepreneur who eventually came to own the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park and was the first concessionaire in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Udall’s uncle, Stewart Udall was a congressman and served as the Secretary of the Interior under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. Stewart’s son, Tom Udall, is a congressman in northern New Mexico and a candidate for the New Mexico’s recently vacated U.S. Senate seat.

In southern Colorado and northern New Mexico, the campaign slogan for both Mark and Tom is, “Vote for the Udall nearest you!”

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Udall lives in Eldorado Springs. His wife, Maggie Fox, a prominent environmental attorney, and he have two children: Jed is a freshman in college, and Tess is a senior in high school. Udall has climbed many mountains, including all of Colorado’s “Fourteeners.”

Q: Colorado’s delegation has made efforts in the past to squeeze more funds out of the U.S. Forest Service’s budget for work needed in the Rocky Mountain Region. But the problem of the mountain pine beetle far exceeds dollars available. What do you propose if elected to see to it that federal forest and park agencies, as well as state and county, find the mitigation funds they need to make Grand County safer from expected wildfire in the wake of the beetles?

A: I have been working since I was elected to the Congress to address forest health issues and the bark beetle epidemic. My efforts have focused on two areas: (1) securing more funds and resources to the federal land agencies to perform fuels treatment work (cutting trees and removing excess vegetation), and (2) cutting obstacles to performing more treatment work to reduce excess fuel loads. Clearly, there are limited funds to address the enormity of the problem of the bark beetle and the excess fuels that create fire risks to our communities. So, although I have been working to help secure more funds for fuels treatment work, I have also been working to (1) increase the value of the wood to be removed by creating incentives for the commercial and energy use of the dead and overgrown trees and providing tax relief for those who remove trees, and (2) reducing the costs associated with performing fuels treatment work by streamlining the environmental review process and focusing limited funding on the highest priority areas around communities. My extensive work on these issues stands in contrast with that of my opponent, whom the Denver Post has called “strangely inactive” on wildfire prevention work, planning, and funding.

Q: West Slope leaders have been upping their game in protecting Upper Colorado River basin water for fear trans-basin diversions will threaten the health of rivers and natural Grand Lake. What have you accomplished thus far to help West Slope water efforts and what do you plan to do on behalf of those efforts as U.S. Senator?

A: My efforts on water have been to “bridge the divide” ” working together to provide for the water needs of all of Colorado and not pit one region against another. In that spirit, I strongly opposed Referendum A, the 2003 ballot issue that would have given the state a $2 billion blank check to build water projects on the West Slope and transfer that water eastward without any protections or compensation for West Slope communities. In addition, I urged the Denver Water Department to work collaboratively with Grand County and others to address potential negative impacts to the Fraser River related to the Department’s expansion of the Moffat Tunnel diversions, introduced legislation requiring the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to grant “cooperating agency” status under the National Environmental Policy Act to counties like Grand County affected by water diversion projects (H.R. 3465), and I urged the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to include all users of the Green Mountain Reservoir in any requirement to maintain a minimum level of water in that reservoir and not place all of that responsibility on the Western Slope users. I also voted for the final passage of the Animas La Plata water storage project near Durango to satisfy the water needs of the Ute Tribes and the communities of that region, and in all wilderness and public lands legislation I have worked on ” including the James Peak Wilderness, Rocky Mountain National Park Wilderness, Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Spanish Peaks, and Colorado Canyon ” I have made sure that West Slope water rights have been protected. I plan to continue to work for all of Colorado to develop consensus-based solutions to water issues and make sure that we do not return to the water wars of the past.

This is also an area where Bob Schaffer and I are very different. Bob Schaffer supported the fundamentally flawed Referendum A in 2003, which nearly 85 percent of Grand County opposed. In fact, Referendum A was defeated in every single county in Colorado. Congressman Schaffer also backed a court decision that would have made water from the Blue Mesa Reservoir on the Gunnison River available for sale. Water is a precious resource on the Western Slope. We shouldn’t be selling it to the highest bidder.

Q: Finding affordable health care is a major concern for under- and uninsured Grand County residents as well as all Americans. What solution do you propose to ensure that Colorado’s citizens have access to health coverage and health care that is more affordable than it is now?

A: Too many families are one illness or injury away from bankruptcy, and that is hurting our strength as a country. I believe all Americans ” starting with our kids ” deserve access to the same kind of quality, affordable health care that members of congress have.

We can start by expanding SCHIP ” the children’s health care program ” to cover more uninsured kids. We’ve been trying to do that in Congress, and President Bush has blocked us every step of the way. We should also give health care tax credits to families, create health insurance pools to lower costs for small businesses, and allow the government to negotiate for lower prescription drug prices. Better use of technology can lower costs as well. And we should ban insurance companies from discriminating based on pre-existing conditions.

Unfortunately, my opponent does not share these priorities. While in Congress, Bob Schaffer even voted against the Patient’s Bill of Rights, a bill that passed the House with support from both Democrats and Republicans and was endorsed by over 200 health care providers and consumer advocacy groups.

Q: Tell us about your views on energy. How can the United States, which reportedly uses 25 percent of the world’s oil for 4 percent of the world’s population, wean itself off of foreign-oil dependency?

A: Soaring energy prices are hurting Colorado families. We’ve got to throw the kitchen sink at our energy challenge, with steps that lower gas prices now and expand our ability to produce the energy we need right here in America. And, just as we did in Colorado, we’ve got to work together across party lines to find the way forward. For my entire career, I’ve been working to promote American energy independence and put Colorado on the cutting edge of a new energy economy. It’s been a bipartisan effort, and it’s paid off for our state. We passed one of America’s first renewable energy standards, requiring that we get at least ten percent of our electricity from renewable sources. Since then, Coloradans have gotten $16 million in rebates and renewable electricity credits, and we’ve created nearly a thousand new jobs right here in the state ” jobs that can’t be shipped overseas.

Recently, Senator Salazar and I introduced a comprehensive energy plan, building off a bipartisan plan developed by the so-called “Gang of 10” Senators, that will provide immediate relief from high gas prices and set America on a course towards energy independence and a new energy economy. In the short term, I propose an emergency release of 70 million barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and cracking down on market speculation that drives up the price of oil. These measures can offer immediate relief to the pain Americans are feeling at the pump.

Looking to the future, we must make a national commitment to renewable energy by extending renewable energy tax credits, setting a national renewable electricity standard of 20 percent by 2020, and increasing funding for research and development of renewable technology. We must promote energy efficiency by raising fuel economy standards, transforming our motor fleet to one capable of burning various biofuels in addition to gasoline, and increasing residential energy efficiency. And we can responsibly expand American production of traditional energy sources by adding additional off-shore drilling for oil and gas, and taking a fresh look at nuclear power.

My opponent, Bob Schaffer, has refused to set aside the bickering and join me on this bipartisan plan, because it takes the billions of dollars in tax handouts that we’re giving to oil companies ” companies that are making more money than any companies in the history of the world ” and invests it in the energy technologies of the future. He’s made it clear that he won’t lift a finger to create a new energy policy for this country if it means taking a dime away from the oil companies. That’s his priority, but my priority is getting this right for our state and our country.

Q: What sort of education reform do you propose as a U.S. senator?

A: One of the first things that inspired me to run for the State Legislature 12 years ago was seeing the over-crowding in my own son’s classroom. I believe that our public schools are a cornerstone to the strength of our communities and of our nation. That is why I have worked hard since my days in the state legislature to support and improve public schools, working with teachers, parents, and students to make them the strongest they can be.

Colorado ranks near the very bottom of the country in support for public schools and for higher education. That’s a mistake ” it’s bad for our families and it’s bad for our economy.

I’ve been a leader in the drive to fix the problems with No Child Left Behind, supported better pay and training for our teachers, and worked to protect public schools from those who would drain even more money away from them. I have introduced legislation that would reform the NCLB by creating a more accurate measurement for student achievement; the bill would allow schools to better target groups with higher needs by offering transfer opportunities and supplemental resources to those groups alone instead of entire age groups. If this bill-or other similar reforms-are not passed this year, I will continue to work to achieve passage in the Senate.

I also believe we should ensure that every person who has the desire and the ability to succeed has access to higher education. This means we need to make college more affordable for average Americans through a combination of tuition tax credits, government grants, and subsidized loans.

Q: Finally, what plan do you support on the war in Iraq and in Afghanistan?

A: I voted against the Iraq War from the start, because I believed the Bush Administration was rushing into the invasion without a clear plan, mission, or exit strategy. Our involvement in Iraq has cost us thousands of lives and billions of dollars, while stretching our armed forces thin and diverting them from the real terrorist threats in Pakistan and Afghanistan. I will not support cutting off funding for our brave combat troops, but I have proposed a bipartisan strategy (based on the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group) to carefully phase our troops out of Iraq while working with our allies to bring in more international support.

I am heartened by recent news that the Bush administration and the Iraqis are close to an agreement governing the continuing presence of U.S. troops in Iraq, and I hope that this means we are making real progress towards the end of an open-ended commitment in the country.

As I mentioned before, Afghanistan is the true center of the war on terror and we must have a national security strategy that ensures victory there. Right now, we are losing ground there, and al-Qaida has been able to regroup and rebuild much of their previous strength. We cannot afford to lose the war there, and I will continue to work to make sure our soldiers have the equipment and support they need to succeed.

” Tonya Bina can be reached at 887-3334 ext. 19603 or e-mail tbina@grandcountynews.com.

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