POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT

Where the Democratic presidential candidates stand on Colorado issues

Ahead of the state’s presidential primary on Super Tuesday, the Democratic candidates talk health care, marijuana, education, public land and beer

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IMPORTANT VOTING INFORMATION

Michael Bloomberg

 

Michael Bloomberg

Former New York Mayor and businessman

 


 

Q:

STATE SINGLE-PAYER

If your federal health care agenda does not advance, would you support state efforts to create single-payer systems and would you grant approval for federal dollars to help fund those systems?

Background: The Democratic candidates each put forward their own health care plan -- but whether it can win approval in a gridlocked Congress is a question that remains. If the next administration fails to pass its health care initiative, expect states like Colorado to continue to try their hand at state-level programs. Colorado is working on a public option plan run by private insurers, while a handful of other states have expressed interest in developing government-run, single-payer plans. But the hurdles to state efforts abound, including receiving federal approval and figuring out how to pay for it.

 

Colorado’s rejection of single-payer shows public option is better

A: Bloomberg is not a fan of a single-payer system and prefers a public option that competes against private insurance. He even points to the fact that Colorado “backed away from single-payer proposals after realizing how expensive and difficult they would be to implement” -- a reference to Amendment 69, the failed 2016 ballot measure known as ColoradoCare. In response to Colorado’s current public-option efforts, the candidate suggested the state can apply for a waiver, but didn’t say whether his administration would approve it. Still, he added, he would encourage states to experiment with new approaches “as long as they have strict guardrails to protect patients and health care outcomes.”

 

Background: In a bid to reduce prescription drug costs, Colorado state health officials are developing what would be one of the nation’s first drug importation programs. But the state can’t do it alone. Under a 2003 law, federal approval is required and no state has received it. President Donald Trump supports drug importation, but even if the state received the go-ahead by the end of 2020, the next administration would still play a role. One major hurdle that could demand the next president’s attention: Canadian officials have concerns about the idea, and could unilaterally block drug exports to the U.S. before such a program can get off the ground.

 

His six-point plan is not clear on state drug imports

A: The candidate’s six-point plan to reduce prescription drug prices includes the ability of the federal government to “allow imports of safe drugs from abroad.” But he doesn’t offer specifics about what would qualify under his approach -- nor does he clarify whether he would allow states to import drugs on their own.

 

Background: Colorado’s first-in-the-nation experiment in legal marijuana began in 2014, and now medical marijuana legalization has spread to 33 states and recreational pot sales exist in 11. The earlier fears of a federal crackdown on Colorado’s legal marijuana market subsided somewhat after the departure of former Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Nonetheless, as long as the drug is illegal under federal law, legal risks remain for the industry’s present and future in Colorado. Federal legalization could reduce those barriers, but could also threaten Colorado’s industry dominance if it accelerates the competition in other states.

 

Federal decriminalization, but mixed record on pot

A: Bloomberg now supports decriminalizing marijuana at the federal level, while leaving the question of legalization to the states. But as recently as 2019, he said legalizing pot “was perhaps the stupidest thing we’ve ever done,” according to CNN. His argument today for stopping short of full legalization: “The science on marijuana urges a ‘go slow’ approach until there is better medical evidence of its health effects.” He supports investing federal dollars in research, and Bloomberg says he opposes “meddling” with states like Colorado where it is legal. He also would back ways to expunge marijuana convictions, but his track record has raised eyebrows on the left. The New York Civil Liberties Union says his stop-and-frisk policy as mayor of New York City contributed to soaring marijuana arrests there.

 

Q:

CANNABIS BANKING

Would you support and sign the SAFE Banking Act (H.R. 1595) to make it easier for marijuana businesses to bank and obtain loans in states where it is legal?

Background: More than six years after Colorado legalized recreational marijuana, a major issue remains unresolved: banking. The U.S. House passed the SAFE Banking Act in 2019 to allow marijuana businesses access to financial services like loans, lines of credit and even bank accounts. These financial services are currently difficult to obtain because the drug is illegal at the federal level. It would also shelter banks and other institutions from prosecution for handling money tied to marijuana. NORML, a marijuana advocacy group, says that absent this sort of law, the billion-dollar state business has effectively been forced to operate in cash, making it more susceptible to theft and other risks. The measure won bipartisan support, but has stalled in the U.S. Senate.

 

No answer on where he stands

A: Bloomberg did not not answer this question when asked, and given his varied statements on legalization, it’s not clear where he stands.

 

Background: The Trump administration announced it would relocate the federal Bureau of Land Management headquarters to Grand Junction in July 2019, a move supported by Republican and Democratic leaders in Colorado. The Department of the Interior now says about 40 BLM employees will transfer to the new location, far fewer than initially hoped. And the move drew controversy and a congressional investigation after critics suggested the move was designed to gut the agency.

 

Opposes BLM move to Colorado

A: The former mayor opposes the BLM move to Colorado, calling it “either some kind of cheap effort to score points … or even worse, a cynical ploy to make public lands management less effective.” Bloomberg argues that moving a “skeleton crew” to Colorado would cut important officials off from scientists, the White House and Congress, making it harder to do their jobs. However, he would not say whether he would reverse the decision.

 

Background: The fierce debate over who can use Colorado’s federally owned public lands -- and for what purpose -- is a constant fault line in Colorado politics. The U.S. House last year passed the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act -- a massive public lands measure that would designate roughly new 100,000 acres for wilderness and recreation in the state, and remove more than 200,000 acres from oil and gas development. The measure has stalled in the GOP-led Senate and faces a veto threat from the White House. Meanwhile, some Colorado Republicans are pushing for changes, like protections for water rights and grazing for local farmers and ranchers, before they’re willing to support it.

 

Praises sponsors behind public lands bill

A: Bloomberg says he supports expanding access to public lands, but has not outlined specific policies on the subject. He promised to release his policies soon. He did not explicitly endorse the CORE Act in his response to The Sun, but his campaign praised Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet and Rep. Joe Neguse for the bill’s development. Bloomberg’s campaign said his public lands policy would have a goal of protecting “the landscapes that are so critical for clean water, for wildlife habitat, for recreation and for other uses.”

 

Background: The Trump administration has aggressively promoted energy production on public lands, including in Colorado. The state is among the leaders in drilling on public lands, and the effort is expanding. In 2017, the federal Bureau of Land Management wanted to limit oil and gas production on 190,000 acres in eastern Colorado, but in 2019, the BLM suggested granting protections to fewer than 2,000 acres. This has riled wildlife conservationists who want to protect habitats, including those for the sage grouse, and also those who want to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Gov. Jared Polis noted that allowing more development on federal lands would cause a 27% increase in greenhouse gas emissions from oil and gas development in the state. Proponents counter that the lease proceeds can help fund national parks.

 

Regulations need revamping before drilling continues

A: The candidate would put a temporary moratorium on any additional public lands being used for oil and gas production. But only until his administration puts new rules in place. Bloomberg wants to revamp regulations to address health, safety and the environment, as well as increase rent and royalty payments the energy companies pay to produce on public lands. His new plan also would include opportunities for renewable energy, adhere to goals to reduce carbon pollution and help workers affected by declining oil and gas production.

 

Background: The use of hydraulic fracturing technology allows energy companies to drill miles-long horizontal wells and extract oil and gas deposits by fracturing shale rock. The natural gas produced reduces a dependence on coal and puts out fewer greenhouse gas emissions. In Colorado, fracking has led to a boom in the energy industry in Colorado, which counts $30 billion in economic impact and thousands of jobs. However, the proliferation of wells and their location near Front Range communities is generating conflict. A shift in political power in 2019 led to a host of new regulations through Senate Bill 181, and some environmental activists want to go further with a ballot initiative to increase the buffer between communities and drilling operations.

 

Criticized other fracking bans as misguided

A: The former mayor’s campaign did not respond directly about whether he supports fracking. However, his campaign told The Washington Post previously that he does not support a fracking ban, and would instead seek to reduce emissions through other policies, like making buildings more energy efficient. In the past, he has criticized New York’s state ban on fracking, calling it “misguided.” Part of his reasoning: natural gas has helped speed the decline of coal, which is a more potent polluter. He would support a temporary moratorium on new fracking leases on public lands to revamp the current regulations.

 

Background: The push toward renewable energy continues, but reaching 100% would require major changes at the regulatory and consumer level. In Colorado, just 23% of the state’s power is generated from wind, solar and hydroelectric power, with the rest coming from fossil fuels like coal and natural gas. The national picture looks similar. Achieving that goal will mean financial pain for a fossil fuel industry that employs more than 30,000 workers in the state, among oil, gas and coal. Colorado’s Democratic governor set a goal to reach 100% renewable energy by 2040.

 

Takes a less aggressive approach to cutting emissions

A: Even though he is one of the most outspoken advocates for the Paris climate accord, Bloomberg’s climate targets aren’t quite as aggressive as some of his rivals. He’s calling for 80% clean electricity in the U.S. by the end of his second term -- 2028 -- before moving as soon as possible to a 100% clean power grid. And he wants to cut economy-wide emissions by 50 percent by 2030. He hopes to get there through a national clean energy standard, tax incentives and stronger pollution standards for power plants. He also wants to change federal policy “to give wind and solar -- which are often the cheapest option for consumers -- a level playing field” by ending all public subsidies for fossil fuels. He’s proposed $25 billion a year for research and development.

 

Background: The growing concern over the Colorado River’s ability to support a population of 50 million people in the western U.S. culminated last year in a water-management accord involving seven states and Mexico. But with the dual pressures of climate change and population growth only expected to exacerbate the challenge of water shortages, don’t expect the issue to dissipate. Colorado has a state-level plan for managing river usage, but the federal government will have a role to play in mediating the competing demands of the seven states and Mexico, where residents, farmers and environmental groups have concerns about having their needs met.

 

A regional approach is needed

A: In his response, Bloomberg did not directly address water use and conservation in the Colorado River basin. But he said his experience as a big-city mayor in a region with competing interests gives him the experience to help negotiate a workable solution with the states.

 

Background: The catastrophic fires that ravaged California communities for three straight years set records, putting policymakers across the West on notice: as global temperatures rise, natural disasters are expected to occur more frequently and be more destructive. States like Colorado have responded by increasing funding to fight fires and prevent them. The maintenance of power lines is another issue. The federal government is commiting more resources to the problem as well, even as the president has sparred with state leaders. But the federal government’s role could expand in unexpected ways if the trend continues.

 

More federal management of forests needed

A: Bloomberg’s plan to address wildfires includes a new federal effort to make forests more resilient through a historic investment in restoration and management. He set a goal to reduce the loss of life and property damage by 50% within four years. Part of the strategy includes working with states to reduce disaster risks, such as fire-proofing electric transmission lines and creating smaller more resilience power grids.

 

Q:

RURAL ECONOMY

How would your administration help struggling rural economies like those in Colorado, and what help would you provide to these communities?

Background: The struggles of rural America have been well documented. Nationally, small communities face shortages of critical professions like doctors, teachers and firefighters. They’re becoming older demographically, while shedding residents, businesses and jobs. Even in Colorado, which boasts one of the best state economies in the nation, a stunning 98% of new jobs in the last decade have been created along the urban Front Range, leaving wide swaths of the state behind. Recent federal assistance has come in the form of a farm bailout and tax incentives, but produced mixed results.

 

Federal support needed to address globalization

A: Bloomberg acknowledges that globalization and automation in the economy hurt rural areas and he believes the federal government has ignored the issue. To boost local economies, he wants to extend high-speed internet -- either through wireless, broadband or satellite -- and support worker training and business development. Without offering specifics, he said the creation of innovation hubs and other programs would increase high-wage jobs. In addition, the campaign says its plan to spend more on infrastructure would promote growth and spread prosperity.

 

Q:

TRADE AGREEMENTS

Do you support the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement and how would your administration address the issue of trade tariffs?

Background: President Donald Trump recently achieved a key campaign promise when he received bipartisan Congressional approval for a rework of NAFTA -- now known as the USMCA, or United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement. The deal includes new protections for auto manufacturing and labor and the environment, and it relaxes market restrictions on dairy products to encourage trade. It came as a welcome relief to many Colorado farmers and manufacturers. But the next president also inherits strained relations with China and other countries subjected to punitive Trump administration tariffs in recent years.

 

Supports deal because of labor provisions

A: Bloomberg did not answer the question about the USMCA trade deal, but told others he supports it because of labor initiatives. But on a broader level, he said supports agreements that boost American exporters and raise living standards for consumers. He also pledged to do more to help workers threatened by global competition and economic disruption.

 

Q:

TEACHER PAY

How would your administration address education problems facing Colorado, such as money for rural schools and low teacher pay?

Background: The teacher protest movement that spread across the country starting in 2018 led to pay raises in some communities. But the profession as a whole remains in a state of crisis, with shortages so acute -- and pay so unattractive -- that some communities are recruiting teachers from foreign countries. In Colorado, many teachers work second jobs or live in travel trailers to make ends meet, and state lawmakers are focused on how to help boost the wages offered by local school boards. Federal help could be a boon in a state that has struggled to raise revenue for schools and has huge disparities from one district to the next.

 

Create schools focused on career, technical education

A: Bloomberg said increasing teacher pay and helping recruit a quality, diverse workforce is a priority. He plans to use incentives to address teacher shortages in rural areas and create new schools to focus on career and technical education. As mayor, Bloomberg battled with teachers about pay raises and often butted heads with teacher unions.

 

Background: The Electoral College picks U.S. presidents by awarding electors to the candidate who wins each state, rather than the one who wins the most votes nationwide. It’s become a target of the left in recent years as critics argue the system gives disproportionate political power to rural communities and allows just a handful of swing states to decide national elections. Still, supporters say it ensures small-state rights are not overshadowed entirely by a few massive population centers in states like California and New York. Colorado has been at the forefront of the debate in recent years, and home to the “faithless elector” movement in 2016, a case now headed to the U.S. Supreme Court, and a controversial 2019 bill to join a national popular-vote movement that faces a repeal vote in November.

 

Appears to oppose national popular vote

A: The Bloomberg campaign did not respond to this question. But others report he opposes the move.

 

Background: This is just a fun question -- but one with political implications. Gov. Jared Polis is quite keen on promoting the Pueblo chile as a superior flavor and heat source compared to its rival, the New Mexico’s hatch chile. There’s even a marketing battle between the two. Similarly, green chile is considered an iconic state food. It’s not a surprise if the candidates pick the home-state chile, but it’s not clear how many have tried it themselves.

 

A: The campaign did not respond to this question.

 

Background: Colorado likes to think of itself as the “state of craft beer” and it’s home to two large brewers, MillerCoors and Anheuser-Busch, and about 400 small independent breweries. The Beer Institute, a trade association for the global beer companies, forecasts the direct economic impact at $5.3 billion and suggests the industry contributes to a broader $13.6 billion in commerce. The Boulder-based Brewers Association estimates craft brewers alone contribute $3.3 billion to the state’s economy.

 

A: The campaign did not respond to this question.

 

The Issues


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The Candidates


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Joe Biden

Joe Biden

Former Vice President and U.S. Senator   

Michael Bloomberg

Michael Bloomberg

Former New York Mayor and businessman   

x Pete Buttigieg

x Pete Buttigieg

Former Mayor of South Bend, Indiana (Campaign suspended 3/1/20)   

x Amy Klobuchar

x Amy Klobuchar

U.S. Senator from Minnesota (Campaign suspended 3/2/20)   

Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders

Independent U.S. Senator from Vermont   

x Tom Steyer

x Tom Steyer

Businessman and climate activist (Campaign suspended 2/29/20)   

Elizabeth Warren

Elizabeth Warren

U.S. Senator from Massachusetts