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







Bernie Sanders


Bernie Sanders

Independent U.S. Senator from Vermont





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.


Supports single-payer, government plan at federal level

A: Sanders supports a single-payer system run by the government, what he calls “Medicare for All,” which he pledged to introduce in his first week in office. The idea failed at the state level in Vermont, but Sanders has suggested any effort short of single-payer is the wrong approach. In its response, the campaign did not address Colorado’s efforts.


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.


Introduced legislation to import drug from Canada

A: The candidate has long favored drug importation, at least from Canada and introduced legislation on the topic. He pledged on his first day in office to order his health department and the Federal Drug Administration to allow patients, pharmacists and wholesalers to purchase Canadian drugs that are FDA-approved. It’s not clear how he would respond to a more robust state effort.


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.


Pledges to legalize marijuana through executive action

A: His stance on marijuana is pretty clear. If elected, he pledged to legalize marijuana in every state through executive action. In addition to vacating past convictions, he would make sure profits from the industry were invested in communities hurt by the government’s drug crackdown. He also would work to keep tobacco companies out of the industry.




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.


He’s a cosponsor of the legislation

A: In addition, his pledge to legalize marijuana in his first 100 days would address any banking issues for the industry in Colorado, he argues. “Declassifying marijuana will eliminate the current onerous barriers to banking services for growers and dispensaries and allow them to access the banking system like any other business,” his website states.


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.


Pledges to reverse BLM headquarters move in Colorado

A: Sanders told The Sun he opposes the transfer of the BLM headquarters, and if elected, he said he would reverse it. He believes the move was part of the Trump administration’s efforts to “weaken oversight on public lands.”


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.


Green New Deal would prioritize public lands

A: His Green New Deal plan would protect public lands, and suggests he would reauthorize and expand the Civilian Conservation Corps to help upgrade them. He believes the government-owned lands can help address climate change by preserving forests and maintaining healthy soils. It’s not clear if he supports the CORE Act.


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.


Wants to ban oil and gas extraction on federal lands

A: He introduced legislation in 2015 to ban new oil and gas drilling operations on federal public lands. If elected he pledged to issue an executive order prohibiting the practice.


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.


Longtime supporter of fracking ban

A: Sanders opposes fracking because he said it pollutes the environment and worsens climate change. Earlier this year, however, he introduced the Ban Fracking Act, which his office says would immediately stop all new federal permits for fracking and prohibit the practice within 2,500 feet, or roughly a half-mile, of homes and schools. In 2025, the federal legislation would ban fracking nationwide. A move to increase setbacks failed at the Colorado ballot in 2018.


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.


Move electricity and transportation to renewable energy by 2030

A: He pledged that his administration would reach 100% renewable energy for electricity and transportation by no later than 2030, and plans to move the nation’s economy to “complete decarbonization” by 2050 at the latest. This is all part of the Green New Deal plan he supports that would invest billions into developing more renewable energy. For the Colorado oil and gas workers displaced, Sanders said he would guarantee five years of the worker’s current salary and offer health care, housing assistance and pension support, as well as training for a new job placement.


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.


Federal government needs to help on Colorado River

A: Sanders said it’s the federal government’s responsibility to fully fund existing management programs to protect and restore the Colorado River. In 2016, he met with the Navajo Nation president, who urged him to grant the tribe water rights on the Colorado River. Sanders told The Sun that he believes the federal government needed to do more for the tribe. His climate plan also would address the issue of drinking water and aging infrastructure.


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.


$18 billion more for firefighting

A: The candidate’s Green New Deal proposal includes $18 billion more for firefighting. “We must change our framework of fire suppression and forest management to take the whole local ecosystem into account, including the rural communities who are most vulnerable,” he said in a statement from the campaign. He also would facilitate community response plans for evacuations and recovery “to avoid the use of martial law and increased policing in disaster response.”




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.


Reduce corporate influence in the agriculture sector

A: His plan to boost rural America is designed to help farmers address climate change and boost economic development. In addition, Sanders wants to use government regulation to reduce corporate influence in the agriculture industry. He supports a $15 minimum wage requirement and would invest in more small business loans.




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.


Opposes USMCA and wants to renegotiate

A: In January, Sanders issued a statement saying he opposed the deal, and if elected, would immediately renegotiate. He is concerned that it allows companies operating in the U.S. to move jobs to other countries and benefits oil and gas companies without addressing climate change. In terms of future trade deals, he would deem food supply a national security issue.




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.


Get teachers to a $60,000 base salary

A: The candidate’s plan to spend more on education includes teacher raises and a base salary of $60,000, as well as expanded teacher tenure and money for classroom materials. He would also allow states like Colorado to adjust the salary upward to address the local cost of living. Sanders also wants to provide free school meals to all students year-round and end the profit motive for charter schools.


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.


“Battleground” states only part of the election process

A: Pressed on the issue earlier in the campaign, Sanders said he supports abolishing the current system. “Presidential elections should not be fought out in just a dozen ‘battleground" states,’” he said in a statement.


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

Click a candidate to see where they stand.


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