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







x Tom Steyer


x Tom Steyer

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





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.


Public option will increase competition and lower prices

A: Steyer supports a public option, rather than “Medicare for All,” saying he opposes a single-payer system “because I don’t like the idea of telling Americans who are getting their health care through their employer that they don’t have a choice.” Steyer did not respond directly to the question about whether his administration would assist state-run plans. But his stance suggests he may be more supportive of a state-level public option, like what’s being pushed in Colorado, than a state-run, single-payer system. At the federal level, he argues that competition from the government will drive down the cost of private insurance, drugs and hospital care.


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.


FDA-approved drugs OK’d for importation

A: Steyer says he’s in favor of allowing Americans to buy drugs internationally -- as long as they’re FDA-approved. “As a businessman,” he said, “I understand the value of a competitive and innovative marketplace and know that choice is a fundamental American value that drives markets to respond to consumer demands.” Even though he didn't specify whether he supports state-level drug importation programs, his definitive stance suggests his administration wouldn’t get in the way. However, FDA approval is the tricky part. The American pharmaceutical industry has long argued that FDA safety protocols to track drugs through the supply chain and prevent counterfeits would be difficult to replicate with international imports.


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 legalization and allow states to craft own policies

A: Like some of his rivals, Steyer supports legalizing marijuana and wants to expunge criminal records of those convicted of possessing or selling small quantities of pot in the past. However, he didn’t offer specifics on where he would draw the line when it came to prior convictions. His campaign website makes another pledge that’s sure to please many in Colorado: allowing states to craft their own marijuana policies.




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.


Supports the legislation to open banking

A: The candidate supports the SAFE Banking Act, telling The Sun he would “direct the federal government to open banking services to the marijuana industry.”


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.


Wants BLM headquarters to return to D.C.

A: Steyer opposes the relocation and advocates for returning the headquarters to D.C. “Moving the headquarters to Colorado places heavy burdens on career staff who have dedicated their lives to this agency, reduces transparency, and risks allowing mining and fossil fuel interests to exert more influence over the BLM’s decision-making without normal oversight,” he told The Sun.


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.


Supports CORE Act and wants free national parks

A: When asked if he supports expanding access to public lands and the CORE Act, Steyer responded: “Yes.” He went further to say he wants to make national park admission free for all Americans and promised to put $25 billion toward upgrading facilities. He also wants to “mobilize $130 billion in new investments” for forest health and wildfire mitigation, as well as carbon sequestration and regenerative agriculture. He sees management of public lands as part of the effort to address climate change.


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.


Called for end to oil and gas production on federal lands

A: Steyer rose to prominence as a billionaire climate change activist and he’s clear on his position: “We need to stop all forms of fossil fuel infrastructure and production on public lands.” The candidate also wants to permanently ban drilling in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge. In addition to ending any current oil and gas production on public lands, he wants to restore protected areas.


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.


Supports eventual ban on fracking

A: Steyer supports a ban on fracking -- but not right away. “We need to push as hard as possible to make the transition in a smart way and as fast as we can,” he says. He proposes spending $50 billion to phase out existing operations while investing in new jobs and programs to help workers in affected communities. In addition to halting new leases for fracking on public lands, Steyer also promises to end federal permitting for new fossil fuel infrastructure “on day one.” In years past, Steyer has taken an active role in the anti-fracking movement. He financed legislative candidates in Nevada who backed fracking bans, and called for a ban on fracking in California unless two-thirds of the host county’s voters approve it in a referendum.


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.


Declare climate change a national emergency

A: Steyer pledges to declare climate change a national emergency on Day One of his administration. He proposes requiring 100% carbon-free electricity no later than 2040, and has a goal to make the entire economy carbon neutral by 2045. And if Congress doesn’t act quickly, he says, “I will not hesitate to use the emergency powers of the presidency to protect the American public from the climate crisis.” This is an idea that caught on among progressives after President Donald Trump used emergency powers to divert funding to a border wall last year. Additionally, Steyer says he would direct every federal agency to tackle climate change, and he plans to make $2 trillion in climate-related investments that he says would create 46 million jobs over the next decade.


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.


Colorado River flow sign of “existential threat”

A: The decreased water flow in the Colorado River is an “existential threat” related to climate change, Steyer says. He said his administration would study options for responsible management and consider conservation technology, voluntary cutbacks, water rights and the agriculture industry. As part of his broader water plan, Steyer said he would find $75 billion to protect upstream watersheds and groundwater, as well as undo the Trump administration’s rollback of regulations.


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.


Additional federal help to states

A: Steyers says the threat of wildfires and other disasters demands that the federal budget adapt to the realities of climate change. More specifically, he would expand federal help -- through FEMA, emergency responders and the National Guard -- to states that are experiencing wildfires. On the prevention front, he would focus new spending on healthy forest and soil management.




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.


Big money needed for broadband and mental health

A: Steyer blames unchecked corporate power for not addressing problems in rural America such as income inequality and climate change. He proposed a $247.5 billion investment in broadband technology and a $175 billion plan to address mental health services and opioid addiction. He supports a $15 per hour minimum wage to help farmworkers and would protect the rights of those workers to unionize. For areas below the federal poverty line, he would direct additional funding under a bill proposed by U.S. Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina.




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 the deal because it ignored climate change

A: Steyer opposed the trade agreement because it failed to factor in climate change -- which he said should be “central to our diplomacy and trade policies.” If elected, he said his administration would negotiate a deal with Mexico and Canada with input from environmental groups, indigineous populations and labor unions. He said tariffs should not be “used as punishment tools,” but rather applied to further U.S. industries and national interests.




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.


Send federal matching dollars to raise teacher pay

A: As part of his education plan, Steyer wants the federal government to match every additional dollar that states put toward increasing teacher pay until educators are paid like skilled professionals. He also supports student loan forgiveness for teachers after 10 years of service. On a broader level, he pledged to double federal spending on education from pre-kindergarten through high school, investing $100 billion over 10 years to upgrade schools and educational resources.


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.


Favors the national popular vote

A: The candidate favors the national popular vote method to select presidential candidates and supports eliminating the Electoral College.


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: Steyer was definitive: “Pueblo chiles are definitely the better chile!”


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: Great Divide’s Barrel-Aged Yeti, an imperial stout aged in whiskey barrels. It’s one of the state’s iconic beers.


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