Democratic Sen. Michael Bennett and his Republican challenger, businessman Joe O’Dea, each explained why they would best represent the state in Congress during a debate at the University of Colorado Mesa on Tuesday night.
The forum was hosted by CMU, along with Colorado Public Radio and the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel. Democratic Governor Jared Polis and his Republican challenger, Heidi Ganahl, debated just before.
The hour-long event focused primarily on western Colorado issues — from water and energy to immigration and infrastructure.
The race has drawn national attention as O’Dea seeks to upset the incumbent president and help his party gain control of the Senate. He recently made headlines when former President Donald Trump weighed in, lash out after O’Dea repeatedly slammed him. Trump called it a “big mistake” that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis endorsed O’Dea.
But that drama was generally absent from Tuesday’s forum. The two candidates even managed to agree on a few points, such as the need to speed up the federal authorization and regulatory process for the construction of infrastructure projects.
Both men also spoke about the lack of civility in public discourse and their belief that the two-party system is broken.
“We spend way too much time arguing with each other,” O’Dea said. “We need to start figuring out what we agree on, and we need to start pushing these kinds of policies forward.”
Although Bennet agreed with O’Dea that Congress needed fixing, he argued that he was not part of the problem. “I have not contributed to the toxic atmosphere that has prevailed since I have been in the Senate. I’ve never done it, because I don’t think it’s going to move the country forward.
On the need for immigration reform:
Whether it’s agriculture or the hospitality industry, Colorado, like many other states, depends on migrant labor as an essential part of the workforce. But getting visas to bring in workers can be expensive, unreliable and insufficient. The candidates were asked how they would attempt to remedy this situation, given that Congress appears to lack the will to advance broader immigration reform policies.
Bennet noted that in 2013 he was part of the so-called Gang of Eight who crafted a comprehensive set of immigration reforms that cleared the US Senate and failed in the House.
“It had four elements that I still consider very important – a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million people who are here, the Dream Act for people who came here through no fault of their own and know no other country than the United States, (and) all the agricultural provisions, visas,” Bennet said.
He also said getting $40 billion for border security was essential, but the country didn’t need Trump’s “medieval wall.” Instead, Bennet said he wants to see the country unfold
“The 21st century border security that we developed in Iraq and Afghanistan that would allow us to see every inch of the border.”
For his part, O’Dea said he would support comprehensive immigration reform that includes many of these elements.
“It starts with securing our border. I agree with Senator Bennet,” O’Dea said. “And we also need to provide citizenship to the Dreamers. This is the key. And we need to streamline our immigration system. Currently, it doesn’t work. »
O’Dea blamed partisanship for the standoff.
“I applaud the fact that he (Bennet) was with the Gang of Eight. But that issue needs to come back now. He needs to be executed again. I will personally put my name to a bill that does just that.
On the urban/rural divide:
People living in western Colorado often feel acutely the rural-urban divide and the lack of economic opportunities available in the more populated areas along the Front Range.
Although both candidates live in the Denver area, their campaign has taken them across the state. They were asked about an issue they heard from rural voters that Front Range Colordans might not understand.
O’Dea said he frequently hears people talk about the cost of diesel and how it makes every aspect of their life more difficult.
“I can’t fill my van.” “I can’t buy groceries.” “I can’t pay my rent,” he recalls. “I met a lady in Eaton, Colorado. She came up to me, she begged me. She said, ‘Joe, you have to win. You have to help us. I just paid $72,000 to fertilize 300 acres. His fertilizer bill has doubled this year.
O’Dea said people in rural Colorado need relief from Biden’s “war on energy.”
“If you look at the permits that are currently being drilled, they are far fewer than they were under any other president. And what I hear from rural Colorado is that we are detached.
For his part, Bennet said that in the past two years alone, he’s logged 14,000 miles in the state.
“I spend a lot of time in rural Colorado, [in] in many counties that I will never actually win an election, but I run again and again and again,” Bennett said. “What I hear are issues around…extremely expensive housing, a mental health epidemic, a lack of access to healthcare. And a real concern that rural America is being left behind.
He pointed to federal legislation to help communities in northwest Colorado transition with the closure of coal-fired power plants.
“I strongly believe that if you are a senator representing Colorado, you have an obligation to represent everyone in the state, rural and urban, whether people voted for you, whether they voted for you,” Bennett said.
What to do with water:
More than a hundred years after its signing, the Colorado River Compact must be renegotiated in 2026. The candidates were asked what they would do at the federal level if the seven member states could not reach an agreement in view of the increase in needs and the decrease in river flows.
Bennet said the states need to come to an agreement and he would like to help with those negotiations.
“Failure is not an option. It’s not something for the feds to determine from Washington, DC, I think that would be a disaster and very counterproductive,” he said.
Bennet also pointed out $4 billion in drought funding he helped secure in the Inflation Reduction Act, a bill which O’Dea opposed. He said the West’s fate hinged on how to deal with its increasingly scarce water.
“Our whole way of life, from agriculture to our ski resorts to our entire economy, depends on our success. The right role the federal government needs to play is to support the consensus that the states are reaching with real resources. federal.
O’Dea said he would like other states to do their part to distribute water resources more equitably.
“Colorado has done an amazing job using the water we’ve allocated to Colorado,” he said. “We retained, we did our job, but the lower states didn’t. And we need to push California back… We need a leader there who will hold California accountable and say, “Look, the water you claim as a right doesn’t exist”.
He said if Colorado were to move forward with long-term water storage projects and make decisions locally, the state should also pressure California to ease some of the burden.
“They have to talk about desalination. They need to talk about all the water they have available in the ocean that they could bring back to California and help solve some of this problem.
California has started to invest more in desalination plants. However, the technology is expensive and can damage marine ecosystems.