Mitsch Bush backs CORE Act

Diane Mitsch Bush, Democratic candidate for the 3rd Congressional District, addresses a Montrose audience in 2018.

Congressional candidate Diane Mitsch Bush said she will vote for the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act, if she is elected to serve the 3rd Congressional District in the U.S. House.

“Our public lands belong to everyone and they should be managed in a way that protects (them),” Mitsch Bush said Sunday, during a virtual campaign stop conducted via Zoom with Western Slope residents and supporters.

The CORE Act in its most recent form would add protections for 400,000 acres of public lands in Colorado, with 80,000 acres to be developed into recreation and conservation management areas.

The act would protect areas in Curecanti National Recreation Area, the San Juan Mountains, Thompson Divide and Camp Hale.

Backers promote it as protecting these areas and stimulating the outdoor recreation-based economy.

Others have been leery of its limitations on future oil and gas projects and designation of more wilderness areas.

Mitsch Bush said her Republican opponent, Rifle restaurateur Lauren Boebert, mischaracterized the CORE Act.

“It’s not a land grab,” said Mitsch Bush, a former Routt County commissioner and state legislator. Rather, she said, the CORE Act came from a plan put together by multiple stakeholders in seven Western Slope counties, who worked for about a decade in developing a set of principles U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colorado, and U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse, D-Colorado, crafted into the legislation.

“ … I strongly support the CORE Act and it’s been given a bad rap by people like (U.S. Sen.) Cory Gardner and my opponent,” Mitsch Bush said.

During earlier remarks, she said public lands are critical for several activities, not just energy extraction. “We have to protect our public lands. … I know how to do this because I’ve worked with agencies, local businesses … and I know how to work across the aisle,” Mitsch Bush said.

The CORE Act passed the U.S. House in July as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act. In a press release at the time, Boebert called the act a “land grab by Denver’s liberals,” and alleged there was no input from local stakeholders.

Mitsch Bush’s pledge of support came in response to about 20 minutes of questions Sunday, which followed brief discussions from supporters, including Grand Junction outdoor recreation business owner Sarah Shrader. Shrader said the outdoor rec economy is booming, aided in no small measure by public lands.

Bernie Buescher, former Colorado Secretary of State, also spoke; both he and Shrader hailed Mitsch Bush as someone who can work across the aisle.

Montrose resident Mark Young wanted to know why, if public lands are as important as Mitsch Bush has said during her campaign, she opposed the move of Bureau of Land Management headquarters to Grand Junction. The move was approved with backing from the state of Colorado. Young said the move will improve the area economy, as well as bring BLM scientists here, where the decisions made have direct effect, instead of leaving them in Washington, D.C.

Mitsch Bush, who said she has previously served on resource advisory councils for the BLM, said it is “patently false” that BLM scientists are not already here, on the ground.

“I think there were many issues that were promised that haven’t been delivered,” she said. “It’s a done deal; it’s there, but it certainly hasn’t been what is promised.”

Mitsch Bush said the HQ move brought only 27 jobs, not the hundreds that were touted, and most of these went to people who transferred to Grand Junction.

Mitsch Bush further said employees whose main role is to testify in congressional committees or to advise those committees are “muted” to a degree, when they constantly have to travel to D.C. from Grand Junction.

Mitsch Bush called health care cost a major issue facing the 3rd Congressional District. She said she’s preparing legislation in the event the Affordable Care Act is overturned and she is elected to Congress.

“In our district, over 300,000 have a preexisting condition and that’s not even counting COVID-19. The ACA is the only law that ensures insurers have to protect people (with preexisting conditions),” she said.

The ACA gave states the option of expanding Medicaid coverage beyond the federal poverty line and Colorado opted in. Mitsch Bush called that expansion critical, especially because of COVID-19.

The ACA also requires insurers to provide some mental health coverage and allows young adults to remain on their parents’ plans until age 26.

“They are facing such horrid obstacles that those my age have never had to face,” the candidate said, adding that the younger generation is also facing great economic uncertainty just as its members are starting their adult lives.

A Clifton resident identified only as Logan asked whether Mitsch Bush would support a Medicare-for-all bill if it was introduced in the House. Logan, 27, has aged-off of parental insurance and, because of COVID, is unemployed.

“The devil is always in the details with legislation,” Mitsch Bush said.

A version of Medicare for all she had supported in 2018 didn’t do away with the insurance industry, take away choices, or take away hard-fought-for coverage. The current version does, she said.

“I have tried to figure out the dollars and cents and they don’t work. … We need to really think about deficit spending, especially now.”

Medicaid has expanded in Colorado, she reiterated.

Mitsch Bush said she would support an idea similar to Bennet’s “Medicare-X,” which would allow people to buy into Medicare and over time, lower the eligibility age.

Bennet, with U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Virginia, is developing the Medicare-X Choice Act as a public option, initially available on health care exchanges in places where there are few carriers, or higher health care costs because of less competition — such as Montrose County and other rural areas. It would expand nationwide by 2024, according to Bennet’s website.

“There are other public option ideas that I’m open to, but I am concerned about the deficit, very concerned about it,” Mitsch Bush said.

She said the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act was a “giveaway” to the wealthy and multi-national corporations, who were incentivized to move jobs overseas and also park their profits there, depleting federal revenue.

“This, at a time when we need federal revenue. We need to come up with a tax system that’s fair and more rational. And that way, we can invest in health care, in renewables, in a whole host of other things that we need to invest in,” Mitsch Bush said.

The federal government could have a role in water rights issues, although in Colorado, the right to use water in specific, beneficial ways is a private property right, Mitsch Bush said, when asked what she thought the federal government might be able to do to address concerns over loss of such rights.

She spoke of a situation in the San Luis Valley, where developers reportedly want to buy water rights and pipe the water from an aquifer to Denver. Farmers who own those water rights are hurting economically, and may therefore be swayed into selling, she said.

But the argument can be made under federal water law that this kind of a “grab” presents an issue that must undergo environmental review under National Environmental Policy Act — while “also being respectful of private property rights,” the candidate said.

“Having a congressperson understand the issue and be able to fight for the people is absolutely critical. Sometimes, the federal bureaucracy doesn’t understand Western water law,” Mitsch Bush said.

“I have run bills with Republican and Democratic colleagues in the statehouse and will in the U.S. Congress make sure our water rights are protected.”

In response to a final question, posed as a yes-no, Mitsch Bush said she supported the National Popular Vote Compact. She did not elaborate.

Colorado became one of about 15 states to join the compact, via legislation in 2019. The compact is an agreement to award a state’s Electoral College votes to whichever presidential candidate receives the most of the popular vote.

Proposition 113, the National Popular Voter Interstate Compact Referendum, is on the ballot Nov. 3. A yes vote will keep the state in the compact; a no vote is one to repeal the 2019 law.

Katharhynn Heidelberg is the Montrose Daily Press assistant editor and senior writer. Follow her on Twitter, @kathMDP.

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