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GOP Senate candidate Joe O’Dea used incumbent Democrat U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet’s absence from the Club 20 Debate in Grand Junction Saturday to claim repeatedly that Bennet doesn’t show up for Colorado. Debate moderator Brad McCloud said Bennet declined the debate due to scheduling conflicts.
O’Dea began his speech in Grand Junction by introducing himself as a fourth-generation native Coloradan, who studied construction management at Colorado State University before leaving a few credits short of graduating to start his own business. He mentioned he met his wife of 40 years the old-fashioned way – in a bar.
“I’m running because this country has been so good to me,” he said. “As CEO of a major construction company I’ve lived the American Dream.”
Establishing world dominance when it comes to energy exports, and loosening permit requirements for development projects were two of the issues O’Dea emphasized during his remarks.
He said he would establish America’s energy dominance in the world, in part, by developing oil and gas in Colorado. O’Dea criticized President Joe Biden’s killing of the Keystone XL pipeline
“We need to export on both coasts,” he said.
When asked about his economic policies O’Dea cited his 40 years in the construction business and his frustration in acquiring the necessary permits for various projects.
“Permits are always hard to get; that process has to be cleaned up,” he said. “I’ll be hyper-focused on cutting red tape. If you want business to thrive you have to get the government out of the way. There’s too much paperwork.”
Asked how he would advocate for Colorado’s water, O’Dea responded, “The first thing I’m going to do is show up. We need a Senator who will go to Washington and fight hard. I know how to fight, argue.”
He again mentioned loosening permitting guidelines to make it easier to build dams for water storage in the state. And, he would “kick California a bit, to do their part,” in conserving Colorado River water, he said.
When asked about federal policies he would reverse and why, O’Dea said he was
“disturbed” by the Inflation Reduction Act which calls for hiring thousands of new Internal Revenue Service (IRS) agents.
“We don’t need any more government agents shaking down Americans for taxes,” he said. “They’re going after us – the working Americans. We need to cut bureaucracy fat.”
Actually, social media posts falsely claim that new IRS agents would go after the middle class. The agency has said it would not increase its focus on people earning less than $400,000.
Regarding health care, O’Dea said the Affordable Care Act is “not working well” although the pre-existing condition provision should be protected.
O’Dea was also asked what policies he would put in place to improve the health of Colorado’s forests and public lands.
He responded he doesn’t agree with the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act (CORE), a bill put forth by U.S. Senators Bennet, John Hickenlooper, and U.S. Congressman Joe Neguse, that would “protect more than 400,000 acres of public land in Colorado, establishing new wilderness areas and safeguarding existing outdoor recreation opportunities to boost the economy for future generations.”
O’Dea said CORE is an attempt to “shove through a bill without bipartisan support,” although Colorado counties have worked over the past decade with businesses, recreation groups, sportsmen, and conservationists throughout Colorado in writing the legislation.
O’Dea also said the Wilderness Act should be changed to allow for mechanization.
Though O’Dea spoke unopposed at the event held at Colorado Mesa University’s Robinson Theatre, a Progress Now Colorado (PNC) “No Way O’Dea” bus was parked across the street to protest O’Dea’s candidacy. Outside the bus PNC’s deputy political director Ethan Black told reporters that O’Dea would be “dangerous for Colorado, and the country.”
Black cited O’Dea’s anti-union stance, and complaints against him by workers at his construction business Concrete Express. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has fined O’Dea’s business more than $135,000 for safety violations over the past decade. The business has also been fined for not paying overtime and underpaying employees, according to Dennis Dougherty, Executive Director of the Colorado AFL-CIO.
The “No Way O’Dea” bus has been following the candidate to events around the state to inform people of O’Dea’s history, said Black.
“He’s not consistent; you can’t trust him,” Black said.
O’Dea has said he would vote for Donald Trump again if he were the nominee in 2024, and that he believes Trump bears no blame for the Jan. 6 insurrection.
However, now that he’s won the primary and needs to appeal to a larger base, he’s avoided answering whether he’d support Trump or not, Black said.
Jennifer Hancock, a board member of Cobalt Advocates, a reproductive rights foundation, also spoke outside the Club 20 event about why she opposes the Republican nominee.
Hancock said people need to know that O’Dea has indicated he would limit abortion rights in Colorado.
“He’s not in step with the majority of Coloradans,” Hancock said. “It’s important for people to know (his stance on abortion) because he says he’s a moderate. But he has a track record of not supporting what Colorado voters want.”
Editor’s note: This story first appeared in the Colorado Times Recorder.