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







Elizabeth Warren


Elizabeth Warren

U.S. Senator from Massachusetts





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.


A transition to “Medicare of All” over time

A: Warren has proposed transitioning to a “Medicare for All” system within her first three years in office. Her plan would immediately lower the eligibility age of Medicare to 50. Children under 18 and families making less than double the federal poverty level would be able to opt-in to Medicare for free, while everyone else can buy in. After this trial period, Warren proposes adopting Medicare for All by her third year in office.

At the state level, Warren has proposed allowing state single-payer innovation waivers that would allow states to start experimenting with single-payer programs of their own. Colorado voters rejected a single-payer plan on the 2016 ballot, but Gov. Jared Polis is pushing for a public option with terms mandated by the state.


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.


Supports buying prescription drugs from other countries

A: Warren supports importing prescription drugs from other countries “that sell the same medicines and meet strong safety standards, but that charge their citizens a fraction of our costs.” She has introduced legislation in the U.S. Senate to use public funding to manufacture drugs at a lower cost to consumers. If a drug importation doesn’t advance at the federal level, her stance suggests she would support a state-based push to do the same.


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.


Legalize marijuana and erase related convictions

A: Warren favors legalization of marijuana at the federal level and supports a move to erase prior marijuana-related convictions to address what she calls the failed war on drugs. Marijuana is legal in her home state of Massachusetts, and Warren paired with Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner, a Republican, to introduce the STATES Act. The measure sets limited federal standards but otherwise allows states to set their own policies regarding legalization. “Our federal marijuana laws are outdated and pose a threat to our public health and safety. Marijuana should be legalized, and we must reverse the harm of these failed policies by wiping clean the records of those unjustly jailed for minor marijuana crimes,” Warren said in a statement reintroducing the legislation in April 2019.




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.


Worked with Colorado’s senator to draft the bill

A: Warren is a cosponsor of the bill’s companion in the U.S. Senate, once again teaming up with Gardner, Colorado’s Republican senator. "Forcing legitimate marijuana businesses to operate a cash-only business is dangerous. It creates unnecessary public safety issues for communities and business owners," Warren said in a statement when the measure was introduced. "The SAFE Banking Act is a common-sense bill that would advance state efforts to regulate the sale of marijuana and support businesses working to establish reliable business operations."


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.


Concerned about the impact of the move

A: The senator is skeptical of the headquarters move to Grand Junction, but would not say whether she would seek to undo it. Instead, Warren is trying to walk a fine line: She favors more BLM resources on the ground in Western states but is worried that it will weaken the agency and cause it to lose key staff. If elected, Warren said she would develop a reorganization plan for the agency to increase its effectiveness and accountability and improve the management of public lands. But she did not offer specifics about how it would work. Warren did pledge to fully fund the agency in her first term and eliminate the infrastructure and maintenance backlog for 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.


Increase access to public lands

A: The senator wants to dramatically expand access to public lands for recreation, allowing hunting, fishing and other activities on 50% of the 10 million acres that are currently inaccessible to the public. She also wants to make national parks free to enter, arguing that hefty entry fees make them virtually inaccessible to low-income families. The share of park expenses currently funded by fees would presumably shift to taxpayers more broadly, but she did not provide specifics in her campaign’s response to The Sun, or in a blog post outlining her public lands plan. Warren did not respond to The Sun’s question about whether she 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.


Moratorium on new drilling leases in favor of renewable energy

A: Warren wants to put a moratorium on all new drilling leases -- including those on public lands. As for public lands, the senator wants to expand renewable energy production, with a target of generating at least 10% of the country’s electricity from public lands and off-shore sources. The royalties from renewable energy would be shared with state and local governments to help offset the drop in severance taxes from fossil fuels that local communities depend on. She also backs restoring federally protected status to national monuments such as Bear Ears in neighboring Utah. <br>


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.


Wants national ban on fracking

A: Warren opposes fracking, and called on Congress to pass a national ban on the activity. The senator also plans to beef up the Environmental Protection Agency’s methane rules, which model Colorado’s practice but came under fire from the current administration. Further, she would take executive action to regulate air and water contaminants that result from fracking and other natural gas activities. Warren also proposes creating 10.6 million new jobs in renewable energy through a Green New Deal, which could help current oil and gas workers. “I am committed to leaving no worker behind as we transition to an economy powered on clean energy,” she states on her campaign site.


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.


A blue and green new deal fan

A: The Green New Deal is at the center of Warren’s climate plan, which calls for 100% clean energy within 10 years. Her 100% target is more ambitious than some, calling for decarbonization not just of the power grid, but also cars and trucks, which recently eclipsed the utility sector as the top source of carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S. To reach her goal, she’s offered a series of proposals that includes spending $1.5 trillion on U.S.-manufactured renewable energy products, $400 billion on research and development and $100 billion to export clean energy technology to help other countries reduce their own emissions. She also has a companion plan -- the “Blue New Deal” -- which calls for an expansion of off-shore wind farms, using the Block Island project off the coast of Rhode Island as a model. Warren has proposed establishing a Green Bank to finance the massive investments in clean energy, and issuing Green Victory Bonds modeled after the war bond program in World War II.


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.


Responsible growth needed to manage water

A: On the issue of water shortages, Warren says the federal and state governments need to work together to encourage responsible growth, and monitor and manage drought risks. Her Blue New Deal calls for working with tribal governments on drought management. And to combat the effects of global warming-driven natural disasters, she has also committed to investing $1 trillion in communities most affected by climate change. Her campaign acknowledged the stress on the Colorado River basin but did not offer any specific actions she would take here.


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.


Focus on fire mapping and prevention

A: The candidate said her administration would pay particular attention to wildfires and other disasters because they pose a particular threat to the West and vulnerable populations, such as low-income residents, seniors and people with disabilities. Her plan includes a focus on fire mapping and prevention that focuses on these vulnerable populations, as well as prioritizing spending on land management. One other component includes investing in microgrid technology to supply power to high-risk areas like those in California. She also pledged to work with tribal governments on the issue.




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.


Health care and broadband are key investments

A: The key to boosting rural communities like those in Colorado, Warren says, is providing health care to every family, a public broadband network at an affordable price and a sustainable agriculture industry that raises farm incomes and protects the environment. In terms of agriculture, she wants to reverse mergers that hurt competition and break up large, vertically integrated agribusiness companies. Other tenets of her platform are aimed at rural areas, too. She says her plan to cancel student loan debt will allow people to move to rural areas, rather than force them to move to cities for jobs. Likewise, an investment in renewable energy can help lead to jobs in rural areas. And she wants to pump billions into creating affordable housing in these communities.




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 the deal but wants climate change addressed

A: Warren expressed support for the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement, saying it represents progress and a step away from the Trump administration's erratic approach to trade. If elected, Warren has pledged not to sign a deal that doesn’t prioritize action on climate change and encourage the global economy to move to renewable energy. She also said she would put the interests of American workers and businesses first -- rather than multinational corporations.




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.


Make collective bargaining easier for teachers

A: Warren said the key to increasing teacher pay is to make it easier for teachers to join a union and collectively bargain. She supports legislation to help public employees unionize that includes voluntary deduction of fees from paychecks. In addition, Warren wants to use federal dollars to encourage states to spend more money on education and revamp how they fund schools. One of the goals is to increase teacher salaries and pay for paraprofessionals and other education sector workers. The senator would also ensure classrooms are well-equipped so teachers don’t need to pay out of pocket for supplies. For rural areas, she supports offering residency programs to boost teacher recruitment and health care services to help students focus on learning.


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.


Every vote, from every state, should count

A: Warren supports abolishing the Electoral College. She would replace it with a national popular vote, in which the candidate with the most votes nationwide is deemed the winner. She argues that every vote should count equally in every election.


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: Warren’s response is straight to the point: the Pueblo 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: Michelob Ultra, which is one of the brands produced at Anheuser-Busch’s brewery in Fort Collins.


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