Political News: For the Locals and By The Locals!
CO Capitol Conference: Bipartisanship Key to Progress
Report by Pat Chlouber, Leadville
It was an honor to be invited to the Colorado Capital Conference this year. This is the third year Senator Udall, Colorado Mesa University and the University of Colorado have hosted this event in Washington, DC.
There were about 100 participants from all over our state including a Colorado Mountain College student, Molly Goldberg, from the Steamboat Springs campus. She turned out to be a very articulate, forthright young lady who was knowledgeable about the most relevant issues in our country and represented CMC superbly.
It was very evident that there was great “star” power on the agenda and all presenters were enthusiastic, informed and welcoming to questions or remarks by the Coloradans. The sessions were in wonderful historical rooms like the Mike Mansfield Room for a beautiful reception, with the Colorado Congressional delegation personally welcoming us, and on the final lunch with Senator Udall we were hosted in one of the grandest and most historic rooms, the Kennedy Caucus Room. (Coming from Leadville we appreciate the history that we live with and it is thrilling to feel that one is a part of our country’s capital city. I do believe our beautiful mountains would challenge the national monuments for the “WOW” factor.)
Senator Udall started the conference with a message of bipartisanship and told us: “There is a lot more collaboration in this town than is thought – This is the ultimate reality show.”
The over-riding message from all elected officials was: 1. we must work in a bipartisan way to solve our problems. 2 the major concerns were a) the budget b) the debt c) the deficit 3. The sequestration was identified by nearly everyone as “dumb” – no answer to any problem – no one thought it would happen and now we are living with it. I found it interesting that no one took ownership for this – just complained.4) the cost of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security was always in the conversation. 5) immigration reform. 6) renewable energy vs. our dependence on oil.
Congressman Scott Tipton spoke to us about the legislation he is currently working on with Congressman Polis and Senator Udall: 1) healthy forests addressing wild fires and the pine bark beetle infestation 2) small hydroelectricity generators on our rivers 3) protecting Colorado water and 4) small business initiatives. He was confident progress was being made on these issues through bipartisan collaboration.
Senator Michael Bennett is focusing on 1) economic recovery 2) immigration reform and his “Gang of 8” that is a bipartism group working intently to get something before the senate 3)medicare costs and the effect to the future indebtness of our children.
Senator John McCain was one of the most compelling speakers. After a thank you from AZ for our water, he addressed the need for comprehensive immigration reform. “If we do not do something, these individuals will continue to die on the desert where they are left or they will continue to be left at “drop houses” where their families are extorted for money. All they want is to come out of the shadows. We need a “pathway to citizenship” for the immigrants.”
Senator McCain updated us on Syria. This was a very sobering acknowledgement of the seriousness about doing nothing when a country is killing its own. A question from our own Molly was, “Do you think we should get involved?” The answer included the idea that civil wars are unfair fights and the country needs America’s leadership and support. However, “NO BOOTS ON THE GROUND,” which was an expression voiced more than once.
There was a panel on the “Reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.” The undersecretary of post secondary education, Martha Kanter,said that we need to look at higher education like this “Education is a public good not only a private good.” Tim Foster, the president of Colorado Mesa University which is the fastest growing higher education institution in Colorado, spoke about the decline of state funding for higher education vs. the significant increase in HHS (health services). Mr. Foster said the question for students should not be “Is College worth it?” The question should be “Which college is worth it? Students should consider the cost, returns, tuition, and net cost.” CMC has proven it is one of the best buys in the country for community colleges.
Chancellor Phil DiStefano acknowledged the University of Colorado receives 4.6% of its funding from the state and is feeling the effect of lower levels of funding. The university is still focused on the STEM programs and growing those to include a general engineering degree, in which graduates could become teachers. There is a severe shortage of teachers in area science and engineering. He mentioned the university is still maintaining a great fine arts program – funded as they can.
In one of the last sessions, Senator Mark Warner of VA said that Colorado is recognized as a sound state with a lot of opportunities. He also addressed economic problems. He was asked how we got here? His take on this was that after 911, we increased our defense spending and basically put two wars on the national credit card. We must make smart cuts to our budget but he believes our current situation is fixable.Senator Mark Udall and attendees at the Colorado Capitol Conference.
Senator Udall’s suggestions included: We must work bipartisan – take off the red shirts and blue shirts – elected officials must look at the revenue side and they must also look at making smart cuts in areas of Medicare, Medicaid, and adjustments to social security.
Senator Udall concluded by three “asks” 1. Get informed. 2. Don’t vote for anyone who signs a pledge. 3. Challenged us to get out of our foxholes and get involved in a solution.
Winston Churchill has been attributed to this quote: “Always count on Americans to do the right thing, after they have tried everything else.” After three days of stimulating discussions, I am optimistic that our officials are seriously working towards some solutions.