Former state Sen. Gail Schwartz is on the offensive in her effort to unseat incumbent Republican Scott Tipton in Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District — and her chosen hot-button issue is public lands.
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Schwartz, a Crested Butte Democrat, is accusing the third-term congressman of trying to sell off public lands. She points to bills that Tipton has supported, such as House Bill 5836 — the Hunting, Education and Recreational Development Act or HEARD Act — as evidence that Tipton doesn’t have his constituents’ interests at heart.
Tipton says Schwartz’s attack ads are simply untrue.
“I can’t back up a false assertion,” Tipton said.
The HEARD Act would authorize the federal government to use proceeds “to benefit education and other purposes through the sales of such lands, to consolidate federal lands to improve management, to provide for the acquisition of lands for recreational and other opportunities, and for other purposes,” according to the bill’s language.
Tipton campaign strategist Michael Fortney said the federal government has been selling public lands forever. The HEARD Act can’t grant the government an authority it already had.
The act “changes how the proceeds of these sales are distributed,” Fortney said. “Gail pointing to that as a substantiation that Scott’s trying to sell public lands is incredibly misleading.”
Schwartz’s campaign appeared to backpedal on the issue a bit last week.
“There are a certain number of bills that might not sell lands, but could have an impact on public lands,” her campaign said, as reported by the Vail Daily.
Tipton, who was a small business owner for 30 years, said he has always supported the preservation of public lands and maintains that public lands should remain public. He points to bills he has supported — the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act, the Chimney Rock National Monument Establishment Act, the Healthy Forest Management and Wildfire Prevention Act and the Water Rights Protection Act — as proof he has never strayed from protecting public lands.
He said he’s been able to get 11 bills through the House that reflect the values and needs of the district, all with bipartisan support.
Schwartz, who worked for a firm designing ski areas and for the Aspen Pitkin County Housing Authority in the 1980s, touts her Colorado Senate experience, which she said includes more than 250 bills, 95 percent of which she said were bipartisan, as a reason for voters to trust that she’ll get work done in Washington. She’s also not worried that the district leans Republican because she’s unseated incumbents three times in the region — twice for a state Senate seat and once for a University of Colorado Board of Regents seat.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the official campaign arm of the Democrats in the House of Representatives, is calling Schwartz one of the 2016 “Red to Blue Candidates.” The group’s chairman, Ben Ray Luján, issued a statement in May saying that the red-to-blue candidates “are ready to take the fight to House Republicans.”
Schwartz announced her candidacy in April, a late start for a congressional campaign. She’s a self-described moderate Democrat who says she’d bring a bipartisan approach to Congress.
Fundraising and the issues
Tipton, a longtime small business-owner from Cortez who previously served one term in the Colorado House of Representatives, had already raised $586,000 when Schwartz entered the race. By the end of the next reporting period, from April 1 to June 30, Schwartz had raised $622,960 in just three months to Tipton’s $423,000 during the same time.
The most recent Federal Election Commission filing date was 11:59 p.m. Saturday, covering fundraising from July 1 to Sept. 30. Schwartz reported $1,340,973 in total contributions between April 1 and Sept. 30, which amount to another $718,000 since her last filing. Tipton’s report was not yet available at press time.
Schwartz told The Aspen Times she’s a public servant, not a politician, but that hasn’t stopped her from attacking. In addition to public lands, Schwartz has accused Tipton of voting the party line, representing special interests, slashing budgets of EPA Superfund sites, voting to repeal the Affordable Care Act and “not listening to communities,” to name a few.
Tipton’s campaign has responded in kind. Tipton told The Denver Post in September that Schwartz “was elected to represent Delta County but instead she sided with climate alarmists in Denver and in Aspen, pushing renewable energy policies that are directly responsible for the loss of over 1,000 coal-mining jobs.”
After Schwartz's campaign announcement, Fortney Schwartz has led the charge on the war on coal when she was a state senator.
Schwartz said the free market is responsible for coal’s demise.
“What happened to coal is the price of natural gas, that’s what happened to coal,” she said. “The free market is determining (coal is) not a competitive resource.”
Tipton argues that policies Schwartz helped pass drove those so-called market forces.
Looking ahead, Schwartz said she’s focused on making the district more high-tech. She has ideas for growing broadband and thinks former coal workers could be retrained and employed in that industry. She said she wants to stop the gridlock in Washington and get more done.
Tipton, who recently was endorsed by both The Denver Post and the Colorado Springs Gazette for a fourth term, talks a lot about job growth and the economy, responsible energy development and health care reform.
Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District is “likely GOP,” according to Real Clear Politics. Cook Political Report had moved the race from “likely Republican” to “lean Republican” when Schwartz announced her candidacy, but the race was back in the “likely Republican” category as of Friday.