Washington politicians need to do more to address the issues facing rural America, U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar said during a workshop he hosted in Steamboat Springs on Wednesday.
"I'm frankly concerned that at the national level, there doesn't seem to be a lot of concern about rural issues," Salazar told the audience of about 75 people, which included local elected officials and concerned residents.
Salazar, who grew up on a farm in the San Luis Valley, is traveling across the state to hear from local leaders about the issues that are affecting their regions. His 15-stop tour brought him to Steamboat's Olympian Hall on Wednesday afternoon, where Moffat and Routt county commissioners, Oak Creek and Steamboat city officials, law enforcement personnel and others gathered to give their input to the freshman senator. Salazar hopes the input he gathers on the tour will help guide his legislative agenda in Washington, D.C.
Input from local leaders can help drive solutions to important issues facing the region, state and nation, Salazar said.
"Washington doesn't have all the answers to the problems we're facing today," he said.
Based on input from the audience, Salazar and several of his staffers identified environmental and natural resources issues as the most important to those in attendance, followed by health care and military and veterans affairs. Other issues highlighted by audience members included immigration, transportation, fiscal responsibility, education, foreign policy, water rights, Social Security reform and public safety.
On the environment and natural resources issue, Salazar stressed the importance of multiple uses of public lands, provided those uses are carried out in an environmentally friendly way.
"I think there's a way we can arrive at a balance," Salazar said. "I would think the people in Northwest Colorado can be a great example for how to do this."
Salazar, a member of the Senate Energy Committee, said any future energy bill needs to balance the need to explore domestic energy supplies with environmental protection. He also stressed the need to explore sources of renewable energy.
Sandy Evans Hall, executive vice president of the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association, said the federal government needs to provide incentives for businesses to embrace renewable energies. Salazar said he agreed.
Routt County Commissioner Doug Monger expressed concerns about the future of conservation easements, the domestic beef industry and the status of the Canadian beef industry and its effect on the safety of the U.S. beef supply.
Unfortunately, rural American issues such as some of those mentioned by Monger often aren't the focus of Washington politicians, Salazar said.
In a recent meeting with President Bush, Salazar stressed the need to address rural issues. Salazar said he was disappointed when Bush failed to address some of them in his State of the Union address.
"Not one time in that speech did he mention agriculture, and not one time did he mention rural America," Salazar said.
While discussing health care, Salazar expressed further disappointment with the White House.
"I think if we're going to focus on the crisis of the day, it's not Social Security," he said. "It's the health care issue that's breaking the back of America today."
The health care crisis requires national leadership, Salazar said. He said that he will support legislation that allows the importation of cheaper drugs from countries such as Canada, but that it won't solve the crisis.
"That may help a little bit, but still I think these are Band-Aids for a bigger problem," he said.
Salazar continues his tour today with stops in Thornton, Boulder, Broomfield and Golden.
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