Candidates address agriculture at forum

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From chip-and-sealing roads and right-to-farm laws to oil and gas drilling and country-of-origin labeling, local, state and national candidates hashed out agriculture issues important to Routt County residents at a forum Saturday.

About 65 people attended the three-hour forum, held at Colorado Mountain College and sponsored by the Community Agriculture Alliance and Routt County Cattlewomen and Cattlemen associations.

Some candidates, including U.S. Senate hopeful Ken Salazar, state Sen. Jack Taylor and his challenger, Clark rancher Jay Fetcher, attended the forum. Others who could not attend sent representatives to read statements or express candidates' positions.

With the exception of District 1 County Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak, who is recovering from knee surgery in Denver, all candidates running for Routt County commissioner were at the meeting.

U.S. Senate

Accompanied by an entourage of about 15 people, Democrat Ken Salazar stressed the importance of protecting Colorado's water, emphasizing his work against Referendum A last year and in protecting the states' water compacts.

"It's important to send someone to Washington that understands our compacts," he said, noting that the declining water levels in Lake Powell are evidence that water quickly is becoming a critical issue.

Salazar also noted his support in labeling agricultural products based on the country of origin.

Another important issue is the problematic consolidation of the majority of the meat packing industry into four companies, said Salazar, who would support measures limiting to 14 days the amount of time meatpacking companies hold their own herds of cattle.

One of his main goals in running for the Senate is to bring attention to the rural communities of Colorado and the United States that are suffering economically, he said.

"I want to put a spotlight on what for many of us has become a forgotten America," Salazar said, adding he would advocate tax credits for companies bringing new jobs to rural areas.

Geneva Taylor read a statement from Salazar's Republican challenger Pete Coors that mostly focused on broader election issues but included a statement of Coors' support for permanently eliminating the federal death tax.

Mike Kien, Libertarian candidate for the District 1 County Commissioner seat, read a statement from Richard Randall, Libertarian candidate for Colorado's U.S. Senate race.

During the public question session, John "Doc" Daughenbaugh stated the inheritance, or death tax, was one of the bigger issues facing ranchers in the county and inquired what Salazar and other candidates planned to do about the problem.

"By the time it gets to the fourth generation, there won't be anything left," Daughenbaugh said about his family's ranch.

Salazar suggested that only farms and ranches worth $10 million or more be subject to the tax, which would protect about 98 percent of family farms and ranches, he said.

On behalf of Randall, Kien said the tax should be repealed.

Jim Stanko inquired about the candidates' stance on grazing on public lands and what, if anything, they planned to do about pressures from environmentalists to remove cattle from public lands.

"I will never do anything that will weaken agriculture's ability to sustain itself," Salazar said. "I am a strong proponent of multiple uses of public land and a strong proponent of agriculture producers' utilizing those lands."

Geneva Taylor read Coors' statement that decisions regarding public land management should be made at that local level. For Randall, Kien said that anyone grazing animals on public lands for more than a generation should have a common law property right to that land.

U.S. Congress

Neither Republican Greg Walcher nor Democrat John Salazar, candidates for the 3rd Congressional District, was able to attend the meeting. Walcher's plans to attend the forum were changed by Vice President Dick Cheney's request to meet with Walcher earlier Saturday in Grand Junction, Ag Alliance Director Marsha Daughenbaugh said.

Meeker rancher Reed Kelley gave a high-energy speech expressing John Salazar's views on agriculture. Kelly emphasized John Salazar's efforts in leading the fight against Referendum A and his support for limits on how long meat packing companies can hold cattle.

In addition to advocating country-of-origin labeling, John Salazar also would oppose the weakening of laws meant to prevent cattle infected with mad cow disease from being imported, Kelley said.

For Walcher, representative Dan Ellison stressed the importance of maintaining public access and grazing on public lands as well as protecting private property rights and eliminating the death tax. Walcher also supports right-to-farm laws, which deny nuisance suits against farmers based on noise, odors and other agricultural operations.

Colorado Legislature

During the forum, Democrat Jay Fetcher, candidate for state Senate, argued that landowners have little power when it comes to oil and gas companies drilling on farmers' and ranchers' properties because many of the permitting decisions are made at the state level.

Fetcher said counties and county commissioners should be more involved in that process and said he would help make sure that other land-use decisions stay at the county level.

In addition to voting "thousands of times" to protect Western Slope water, incumbent Jack Taylor emphasized his efforts to give more funding to state fair organizations and the importance of protecting the budgets of the Colorado Department of Agriculture and Colorado State University, which provides agriculture extension offices throughout the state.

"I really see this upcoming session as being defensive instead of offensive," Taylor said.

The water issue sparked a debate between the two candidates when Geneva Taylor, the incumbent senator's wife, questioned Fetcher's part in redrawing the map of state districts so that Grand County, which contains the headwaters of the Colorado River, was moved from District 8 to District 16, which is composed largely of Front Range counties.

Fetcher, who was on the reapportionment committee, said the group tried to keep Grand County in District 8, but that would have violated the state constitution, which prioritizes keeping district populations equal and minimizing county and municipal splits.

"I don't understand why I'm expected to violate the state constitution over this issue," he said, adding that the waters haven't "changed direction" because of the decision.

Jack Taylor countered that there were more options available to the committee that would have kept Grand County in a Western Slope district.

Also during the forum, resident Jo Semotan asked how the candidates proposed addressing negotiation issues between mineral rights owners and surface landowners.

"I understand those issues, and I think I can get in there and help," Taylor said, noting that he already had brought up the issue with Russel George, executive director of the state Department of Natural Resources.

Fetcher reaffirmed the importance of a county process for those types of land use situations.

Al White, Republican incumbent for the state House District 57 seat, was unable to attend the forum because of a wedding.

Democratic challenger Sam Robinson sent a statement advocating more controls over the oil and gas industry and the importance of protecting Western Slope water.

Commissioner District 1

Jeanne Whiddon read a statement from incumbent Nancy Stahoviak regarding Stahoviak's efforts to be involved in various agriculture groups in the county to stay on top of the issues. Stahoviak also has consistently voted to help fund those groups, the statement read.

Stahoviak's involvement in creating land preservation subdivisions and other open lands measures and her support of right-to-farm ordinances were other ways Stahoviak has supported agriculture during her time on the Board of County Commissioners, according to the statement.

Kien stressed Libertarian views that government taxation and regulation have "plowed under agriculture" by encouraging centralization of the agriculture industry. Kien said he advocated abolishing the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Commissioner District 2

District 2 incumbent Doug Monger said that he supports multiple uses on public lands, but that recreation should not override grazing interests.

Monger also noted his efforts in passing legislation exempting agricultural equipment from sales taxes and in using Energy Impact Assistance grants to built a multiple-use building at the Routt County Fairgrounds.

He also stressed his work in representing Routt County's agriculture interests on state steering committees. Those committees have helped set water policies and have worked on fence laws, he said.

In addition to supporting right-to-farm laws, Monger also plans to lobby for country-of-origin labeling, he said.

Monger's Republican challenger Jeff Fry emphasized the importance of agriculture producers' contribution to the county's tax base and the need to protect public lands for grazing.

Fry also advocates protecting water rights, encouraging country-of-origin labeling and efforts to control insect infestations that have affected crops.

Cheriene Marchus, a Republican write-in candidate in the race, did not respond to an invitation to the forum, Marsha Daughenbaugh, said.

Todd Hagenbuch questioned why the county feels justified in spending money on chip-and-sealing Routt County roads. The chip-and-seal encourages cars to speed on the roads, causing problems for Hagenbuch when he gathers cattle on the road, he said.

Monger and Fry responded that chip-and-seal had long-term maintenance benefits.

Tammie Delaney asked the candidates how they plan to protect agricultural land from being converted to subdivisions and other developments.

Monger said he supported incentives, rather than regulations, in preserving agricultural lands. Making it easier for people to live in Steamboat and other municipalities instead of pushing them out to rural areas also is important, he said.

Fry said he also wants to move in the direction of preserving large parcels of land.

-- To reach Tamera Manzanares call 871-4204 or e-mail tmanzanares@steamboatpilot.com

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