Farmers vie for Third District

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Third Congressional District candidates Greg Walcher, a Republican, and John Salazar, a Democrat, are farmers.

Both men come from families who have lived in Colorado for generations, and both are confident they have what it takes to represent the varied interests of a diverse district that spans half the state.

And that's about where the similarities between the House of Representatives hopefuls end.

From the war in Iraq to health care and taxes, the candidates hoping to replace six-term U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis, R-Grand Junction, offer contrasting views on a variety of issues considered important to Western Slope and Southern Colorado residents.

Walcher, who owns and operates a small Palisade peach orchard with his wife, Diana, is the former leader of the state Department of Natural Resources. His experience there, as well as a 10 years working for former Sen. Bill Armstrong, cemented in him the belief that the federal government is too big and places too many burdens on working Americans. It's a campaign theme he's stuck with throughout a tough primary fight against four fellow Republicans and an increasingly bitter battle with Salazar.

"We're a badly overtaxed people," Walcher has said repeatedly on the campaign trail. He supports making all of President Bush's tax cuts permanent and extending tax breaks to include eliminating those on capital gains.

Salazar, a San Luis Valley potato farmer and one-term state representative, supports tax cuts for the middle class but not for people who make more than $200,000 a year. He also advocates a tax break for small businesses that provide their employees with health insurance.

"I'm a strong believer that tax cuts can help when put in the right place," Salazar said.

On the war against terrorism, Salazar takes a similar stance to that of Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry, whom he has appeared reluctant to support. The country needs to stay the course in Iraq, Salazar said, but must create a broader international coalition.

"I don't think American taxpayers should pay the brunt (of the costs)," he said. "We need to get the international community involved."

Salazar, an Army veteran, wouldn't have voted to go to war with Iraq had he known there were no weapons of mass destruction there. The war was sold to the American people on the basis that Iraq possessed such weapons and posed a real threat to the country, he said.

Walcher, on the other hand, stands firmly behind the actions of the Bush administration and questioned Salazar's experience and sensitivity when it comes to national security.

"When someone has illustrated they don't really understand what the war is about, it's demeaning and an insult to the troops," Walcher said.

While Walcher has focused much of his campaign on the war on terrorism and big government, Salazar has stuck with his belief that water is the top issue facing western Colorado.

His campaign has attacked Walcher for his support of the failed Referendum A, a 2003 ballot initiative many Western Slope residents saw an attempted water grab by Front Range interests. Salazar fought to oppose the measure, which was defeated easily across the state.

"I'm proud of always standing up and fighting for our rural way of life," Salazar said. The successful fight to defeat Referendum A is a prime example of his ability to transcend partisan politics and fight for the interests of his constituents, Salazar said.

"We did it by uniting the 3rd Congressional District," he said. "We had Democrats and Republicans standing together."

Walcher has done his best to dodge the Referendum A criticism, which also was launched against him during the Republican primary. Walcher thinks the state needs to increase its water storage capabilities and fight against attempts by other states to divert Colorado water.

Salazar has proposed a federally funded water easement program for agricultural lands throughout the state that he says will protect farmers, ranchers and rural communities from losing their water permanently.

With an estimated 45 million Americans, including more than 700,000 Coloradans, living without health insurance, Salazar said the answer to providing better and more affordable coverage must come from a market-driven solution. He supports tax cuts for small businesses that provide health insurance to their employees and drug importation from Canada.

Walcher advocates tort reform to limit medial malpractice lawsuits and supports association health care plans to reduce costs for individuals, small businesses and nonprofit organizations.

-- To reach Brent Boyer call 871-4234

or e-mail bboyer@steamboatpilot.com

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