Steamboat Springs Separately, Hayden and small communities like it may not produce a lot of voters, but collectively, they are the fabric of Colorado's 3rd Congressional District, Republican candidate Greg Walcher said recently during a campaign stop in Steamboat Springs.
He is running to replace Scott McInnis, who represents the majority of the Western Slope and parts of southern Colorado in the U.S. House of Representatives.
"I believe it's a rural district, and rural values are important," Walcher said.
Walcher, a Palisade peach grower who was born and raised in Mesa County, has made issues facing farmers and ranchers among his top priorities.
Near the top of Walcher's list is protecting Western Slope water from the federal government's control as well as from thirsty Front Range cities and states downstream.
Walcher also wants to take Right to Farm laws to the federal level. The laws deny nuisance suits against farmers based on noise, odors and other agricultural operations. Colorado is among the states that have enacted the laws.
Most important, however, is eliminating the death tax, which is one of the biggest challenges facing long-term agriculture, Walcher said.
The taxes on land and assets passed down from deceased farmers and ranchers is often more than families can handle, resulting in the selling off of land and agricultural operations.
This is particularly true in Routt County, where land values have been pushed upward by development, Walcher said.
But estate taxes are only the tip of the iceberg for Walcher, who advocates making Bush's tax cuts permanent to help revive the economies in small communities.
"Having a healthy economy in rural areas is really important in this district," he said.
A former director of the state Department of Natural Resources, Walcher also is concerned about the threat of forest fires and supports the Healthy Forest Initiative, which focuses on reducing fires by thinning forest undergrowth and trees in priority locations.
Walcher's support, however, comes with some criticism, particularly of the "priority locations" which Walcher said are comprised mostly of forests near cities. In the process, the government has forgotten the dense and sometimes-sick forests in rural areas such as Routt County.
"I don't think it's acceptable ... for Congress to spend all the money on the urban interface," he said.
Walcher is the leading fund-raiser in a race of five Republican hopefuls. Walcher faces state Rep. Gregg Rippy, state Rep. Matt Smith, United Airlines pilot and naval reservist Matt Aljanich and Pueblo County Sheriff Dan Corsentino in the Aug. 10 Republican primary.
Walcher won top billing on the primary ballot by collecting the majority of delegate votes at the state Republican convention last month.