Schwartz, a former state senator from Crested Butte, is running against Republican incumbent Rep. Scott Tipton, of Cortez, to represent Colorado’s 3rd District. She toured the Osprey facility and sat down with company employees to discuss policy issues and answer questions.
Schwartz said Colorado needs to diversify its economy, and attracting more companies like Osprey can help get the ball rolling.
“This is a real model for looking at complementary industries, especially with outdoor recreation, that fit the lifestyle and quality of life for so many people who live and work here,” she said. “We’re really fit for this kind of investment.”
Outdoor recreation and agriculture are two thriving industries on the Western Slope, Schwartz said. The region would do well to build its economy around those renewable endeavors instead of looking backward at fossil fuel industries, she said.
“It’s our heritage, it’s our economy, it’s our future,” Schwartz said.
One reason Schwartz joined the election race in April was because she didn’t feel that Tipton had represented her well, she said.
Colorado’s rural areas need more tools for economic development, because they haven’t begun to recover at the rate that Front Range communities have, she said.
The agriculture sector should explore greenhouse and aquaculture technologies in order to grow year-round, Schwartz said. Legislators could give farmers another tool by deregulating hemp, she said.
States are getting things right, but they need to continue supporting and being good partners with federal agencies, Schwartz said. The federal government can help with investments in transportation and housing and can help rural areas remain attractive and competitive when they’re seeking business development, she said.
“We’re at a really important point to focus on the future,” Schwartz said. “There are some tools available, but overall we don’t have the same package that can attract and retain good industries and jobs.”
During a forum with Osprey employees, Schwartz answered questions on GMO food labels, Native American relations, marijuana and the Affordable Care Act.
Tipton has blamed Schwartz for killing hundreds of coal jobs by supporting renewable energy regulations in the Colorado Senate. Wednesday, Schwartz said that claim was “ridiculous,” adding that Tipton is to blame because the federal government was absent during the coal industry’s decline.
Schwartz called the national health care situation a “crisis.” She said the country is locked into a broken system, but there’s little hope for throwing out the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, and starting over.
“At the state level, we have to do what we can, but we’ve got some work to do,” she said.
She pointed out that Tipton has voted 64 times to undermine or repeal the Affordable Care Act.
Schwartz declined to say whether she supported or condemned Amendment 69, ColoradoCare, which would provide universal health care in the state. She said she would rather fix the health care problem at the federal level after getting elected. Tipton opposes Amendment 69.
Michael Fortney, a spokesman for Tipton, on Wednesday clarified Tipton’s stance on Obamacare. “Congressman Tipton has co-sponsored numerous bills to replace Obamacare that are patient-centered and market-driven that still allow for the coverage for pre-existing conditions,” he said.
Fortney also rejected blame for the loss of coal jobs. “That is one of the dumbest comments I have ever heard,” he said. “Fact checker after fact checker have confirmed that the bills Gail has passed in the state Senate directly led to her constituents losing their jobs in the coal mines across her district.”
A Denver Post fact check in September stated that although Tipton was on solid ground in accusing Schwartz of negatively impacting coal jobs, the decline of coal was in full swing long before she sponsored Senate Bill 252, a bill to reduce coal-generated energy for rural Colorado.
Schwartz, who served as chair of the Colorado Senate’s Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee from 2011 to 2014, backed legislation aimed at reducing coal emissions and increasing renewable energy. But the impact of SB 252 on those losses was limited, the Post said.
Tipton also has sponsored bills supporting renewable energy.
“His first bill signed into law was the Hydroelectric and Jobs Act (2013), which enables more small hydroelectric plants to be built,” Fortney said. “He has also called for an all-of-the-above energy policy in his Planning for America’s Energy Future Act. (2012)”
Schwartz promised to help retool workforces and communities to counteract the loss of jobs, as well as develop new industries.
Even though the district is one of the largest in the nation, Schwartz said she will visit areas on the Western Slope as much as possible.
“I show up,” Schwartz said. “I drove 350,000 miles and drove the wheels off of some of our cars. That’s my brand – to show up and listen and understand the challenges, then develop resources and create opportunity.”
Schwartz was also scheduled to appear Wednesday evening at the Escalante Middle School Election Symposium in Durango. Unlike the Osprey event, it was open to the public.