Scott Tipton has never faced a political opponent quite like James Iacino, and if Diane Mitsch Bush has anything to say about it – and she does … quite a lot, in fact – the five-term congressman never will square off against the likes of Iacino.
Mitsch Bush is confident she will prevail in Colorado’s June 30 Democratic primary against Iacino, forcing a rematch against Tipton in the Nov. 3 general election. Even though Iacino claimed the top line on the primary ballot with a 7-vote virtual state assembly win, Mitsch Bush says her experience as a former Routt County commissioner and state representative will pay off.
Iacino, a Ridgeway resident and the executive chairman and part-owner of the 102-year-old, Denver-based Seattle Fish Co., cites his business chops and political newcomer status – pointing out that Democrats have run four straight former state lawmakers against Tipton, all with the same dismal results.
On the Republican side, Tipton faces a spirited June 30 primary challenge from Republican Rifle restaurant owner Lauren Boebert, who has made headlines for prematurely reopening during Garfield County’s COVID-19 shutdown. Boebert’s gun-themed Shooters Grill was shut down by officials but later allowed to open again on a limited basis.
Voters in Eagle County, the western two-thirds of which is in Tipton’s massive 3rd Congressional District (CD3), should have received their mail-in ballots, which were mailed out on June 9 (see press release below and click here for more information). Choices include CD3 and U.S. Senate, where Democrats John Hickenlooper and Andrew Romanoff are squaring off to challenge incumbent Republican Sen Cory Gardner on Nov. 3.
Democrat incumbent Congressman Joe Neguse, who represents the eastern third of Eagle County as part of Colorado’s 2nd Congressional District, doesn’t face a primary challenge, and even though they’re on the ballot and hoping for reelection Nov. 3, Democratic Eagle County Commissioners Kathy Chandler-Henry and Matt Scherr don’t have primary challengers either.
In CD3, with its lively slate of primary candidates in both major parties, Mitsch Bush – a Steamboat Springs resident – feels she has more than earned a right to a rematch with Tipton, an arch-conservative businessman from Cortez. Mitsch Bush was the only one of the last four Tipton challengers to come within single digits of unseating the congressman.
Two Latino male state lawmakers from Pueblo – Sal Pace and Abel Tapia — lost to Tipton by 12.3% and 22.3% respectively in 2012 and 2014, former state Sen. Gail Schwartz of Crested Butte lost by a 14.3% margin in 2016, and Mitsch Bush lost to Tipton by 7.9% in 2018. The 29-county, 88% Anglo district is 37% independent, 33% Republican and 28% Democrat.
Iacino, should he prevail on June 30, would be the first white man and non-state-lawmaker to take on Tipton. The district is mostly rural, with its largest two cities – Pueblo (112,000 people) and Grand Junction (63,000) – not all that large.
RealVail.com recently took a look at the CD3 race from the perspective of health care, producing a story for Colorado Politics on one of the thorniest issues in the district. A spokesman for Tipton declined to discuss health care issues and did not offer to make the congressman available for an interview. But the other three candidates had a great deal to say on a wide range of issues besides health care. Here they are in the own words, starting with the top-line Democrat Iacino:
“I’m definitely leaning on business experience because the last four challengers have all been former state legislators and I think that business is something that really crosses the aisle. People understand small business, family business, building jobs, our history of over a century of investing in our workers and building a great business. And I think that that’s something that resonates with folks. It’s definitely still a majority unaffiliated district, as most of Colorado is, and then Republican and Democratic. We’ve been very progressive in my business and have a history of that and focusing on our sustainability leadership, which we’ve won numerous awards for, and really investing in our workers. We’ve been a Teamsters union since the 1930s, and I really believe in building the working class and investing in people and paying great wages and great benefits to give them opportunities to succeed. And I think that resonates in all different parts of the district. So Pueblo has deep Democratic roots and deep labor roots and you get that throughout the district as well. But there are a number of entrepreneurs and small businesses starting in outdoor rec and in renewable energy and obviously our tourism industry and hospitality, which continues to grow as a bigger part of the Colorado economy. So I definitely think that something Tipton hasn’t faced in the general election is a business candidate and somebody who has that experience about that leadership. And I think that that’s something that will resonate with voters throughout the district to help us win.”
RV: Is CD3 won or lost in Pueblo, which has been hard-hit economically in recent years and is suffering even more during the COVID-19 crisis?
JI: “We received 71% of the delegate vote in Pueblo [in the April state assembly], and I’m most proud of that because we spent a lot of time in Pueblo. I’d been working with them on their food council down there even prior to launching the campaign and spending time in Pueblo. We’ve got my [Colorado State University] ties and CSU Pueblo and we really spent a lot of time down there activating that community. And to have that support is what’s going to be key to us winning, because Diane did not win Pueblo in 2018, and I do believe the numbers that, if you don’t win Pueblo, it’s very, very difficult to win this district.”
RV: There’s often tension in the district between energy, mining and other extractive industries and the outdoor recreation sector that depends on public lands and tourism. What’s your take on that?
JI: “On the tourism piece, I am not saying that it’s the be all, end all for our economic opportunity in the district. We have an incredible opportunity to build out our renewable energy infrastructure, both in our energy grid and the more efficient transmission of electricity in local communities, whether it’s solar in La Plata County or as Tri-State converts up north, we’re going to have those opportunities as well. And then clearly in Pueblo where Vestas wind farms, their orders are up 40% and they have a multiyear backlog and we just need to put people to work to build that out as it continues to move quickly in that direction.[Light manufacturing] ties into when you do build up your tourism industry and your outdoor rec economy; you attract jobs of people that are going to want to be where their customers are. And so I think of the fly fishing manufacturing here in Montrose. I think of the outdoor ropes course and mountain bike manufacturing in Grand Junction. I think there are jobs that will come where their customers are going to be, and they want to be a part of that. And we have those opportunities that are ancillary supporting businesses to that sector of the economy. So you will build that out and, again, people want to live here and what we need to be doing is putting incentives in place for those jobs to come here, knowing that they can have a solid workforce and put people to work.”
Diane Mitsch Bush
RV: We’ve talked about this at length in the past, but here we go again. Can a woman from a ski town [Steamboat Springs] win this district? Gail Schwartz fought that label and lost by more than 14 points, and she’s now endorsing your primary opponent, Iacino.
DMB: “I was a county commissioner. I’ve worked with ranchers, coal miners, oil and gas people for 30 years. It’s Tipton that wants to portray me …. as a ski town woman just like Gail. This is a very blue-collar community that happens to have a ski area. The largest property taxpayer in this community is not the ski area, it’s the coal mine and the power plant. We have a real ranching community and a big one and they support me.”
RV: What about that Schwartz endorsement for Iacino?
DMB: “She can endorse whoever she wants, but I’ve been endorsed by a whole host of people ranging from Sen. Mark Udall to our former secretary of state Bernie Buescher who’s from Grand Junction and served Grand Junction in the Colorado House to a host of current and former state House and state Senate members, including the current representative from Pueblo, Daneya Esgar. I have a varied support, though. Different kinds of people. Diverse, very eclectic, very diverse. And it kind of is like our district — people from all over, people from all walks of life. And that’s where my contributions are from, people from all over and all walks of life. I’ve got ranchers, coal miners, musicians, jewelry makers, doctors, nurses, teachers, engineers, you name it.”
RV: In addition to your public service as both a Routt County commissioner and state representative for Eagle and Routt counties, you’ve had a long career as a social scientist and educator. On the Republican side of this ticket we see Lauren Boebert and Tipton toeing the conservative line on fossil fuels, climate change and even COVID-19. How does your background inform your thinking on those topics?
DMB: “There’s an underlying foundation that Tipton is sorely missing and, and so is [Boebert], and that’s science. Tipton tends to make decisions, if you look at his record, based on what party leadership, big donors and what Republican ideology says. I have always used science and evidence. I’m a social scientist. I used to do research. Science is so critical in so many ways, whether it’s public health, understanding of viral transmission curve. And I’m a statistician; I trained as one. And so, understanding that curve, that line is really important. Saying like Tipton does, ‘Oh, the climate always changes in the mountains’: Hello, the scientific process is one of great skepticism, is one in which you have to show that the null hypothesis isn’t accurate. It’s really important and you look at the data. And then people will say, ‘Well, you can do anything with statistics.’ That’s part of being a scientist or a social scientist. You’ve got to know how studies were done, how they were sampled. Ignoring science is what we’ve seen writ large in [the Trump] administration and by Tipton, and that’s one of the reasons we are in the fix we’re in now.”
RV: Is the state being too cautious reopening the economy after shutting things down to combat the spread of COVID-19 — especially on the Western Slope of Colorado?
LB: “I would like to see the rural areas open up more rapidly. I mean, we’re not Denver, and in the 3rd Congressional District, our economy is far different than Denver’s and it always has been and always will be. Even as far as our energy industry, when there used to be chunks of mud on my floor [at Shooters Grill] that we had to sweep up in between serving people, that’s when the economy was doing good. And then when that dirt goes away, we’re not doing so good because that means that we don’t have those workers here anymore. But as far as tourism, Rifle is usually just a stopping place, and, honestly, for the past seven years, a lot of people stop in Rifle because of Shooters Grill. For the longest time at the visitor’s center, that was the number one asked question: Where’s the restaurant where the girls carry guns?”
RV: And COVID-19?
LB: “I’m fine with taking precautions. And, as a Republican, I believe in our constitutional right and freedom, but also personal responsibility. But we have to be open for business. Government should not be taking away our rights. I’m fine with him keeping us informed about the best practices that we should be able to use for our state and then determine for ourselves what risks we’re willing to take. I don’t believe that all of our rights should be taken away just because there’s an illness out there. That’s a part of our life. We take risks every day and we just need to be able to find that proper balance so we don’t wreck ourselves economically. I really agree with what [Republican congressman and Colorado GOP Party chief] Ken Buck said. He said, ‘We can’t sit idly by while we bankrupt ourselves.’”
RV: What about tourism and the outdoor recreation economy versus mining and drilling?
LB: “There’s so many people who depend on tourism and really make that a priority for how our economy is stabilized. But, for me, it’s always been the energy industry. And I have been very critical of Congressman Tipton and the way he doesn’t fight for our energy here. When it’s election season, he always has a great conservative message for us, saying that our energy industry is the greatest, it’s the cleanest, our workers are the best, the safest, and that’s true. However, he goes to Washington, D.C. and he promotes the Green New Deal. He co-sponsored a bill with Jared Polis a few years back, cuddled up to him with this Green New Deal idea to subsidize wind and solar on our federal lands, and I’m not for that. When government wants to take our energy industry away and subsidize solar panels, then that’s not the way to go. We just don’t want the government choosing winners and losers. I want free markets. I want markets to be open and to promote free trade and create opportunities for people, because good paying jobs in rural areas are much harder to come by. I am for an all of the above energy approach. I just want the market to decide, not government. So if our markets decide that thousands of square miles of solar panels are what’s best for us, then so be it. But I don’t want government being the one to step in and say, Hey, don’t worry, we’re going to help you out here on the cost. And then that incentivizes these companies to go that direction.”
Here’s a combination of two Eagle County press releases on the June 30 primary:
June 30 primary includes U.S. Senate, U.S. House, and County Commissioner races
Colorado’s June 30 State Primary will include party primary races for the United States Senate, U.S. House of Representatives and County Commissioner seats. Eagle County voters have the opportunity to nominate candidates to compete in the November General Election for those seats.
Ballot packets for the June 30 Statewide Primary were mailed to eligible Eagle County voters on June 9. Registered Republican, Democratic and Libertarian voters will receive the ballot of their party.
Unaffiliated voters who did not indicate a party preference before the June 1 deadline will receive both a Democratic and Republican party ballot and should only return one voted ballot.
Voters who do not receive a ballot by June 15 should contact the Eagle County Clerk’s Office; ballots can be mailed until June 22.
To limit the spread of COVID-19, Eagle County voters are encouraged to return their voted Statewide Primary ballot by mail or by 24-hour drop-box which are open now. 24-hour drop-boxes are located in Avon, Edwards, Eagle, El Jebel, and Basalt. Locations maybe found online at https://www.eaglecounty.us/Clerk/Voting_and_Elections/Upcoming_Elections/
Voted ballots must be received by 7 p.m. on Election Day, June 30. After June 22, voters are encouraged to return their ballot by drop-box rather than by mail to ensure their ballot is received before the June 30 deadline.
This is the first year that 17-year-olds are able to participate in Colorado’s two primaries, provided they turn 18 years of age by the General Election on November 3. Other key notes:
* Voters registered as Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians or Unaffiliated can participate.
* There are currently no other minor party contests for the state primary.
* Unaffiliated voters without a preference will receive both major party ballots, Democrat and Republican, but may only return one. If both ballots are cast, neither will count.
* Sample ballots and additional election information may be found at eaglecounty.us/clerk. For more information, contact email@example.com or call the Eagle County Clerk’s Election team at 970-328-8715.
* Eagle County voters can find more information, update and verify voter registration, register to vote online, find their Voting Services Polling Center, and check voter registration mailing address at www.GoVoteColorado.gov.