EL JEBEL - Sal Pace, the Democratic candidate for the 3rd Congressional District, told party loyalists during a stop in El Jebel on Wednesday that he will portray his foe throughout the campaign as too extreme to represent western Colorado.
Pace took several shots at incumbent Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, during a speech to about 20 supporters at El Korita restaurant. He said Tipton exemplifies the partisan politics that has bogged down Congress.
"He decided that his tea party ideology was more important than serving his constituents," Pace said.
Pace, 34, added he doesn't begrudge Tipton for following an ideology, but he said it shouldn't come at the expense of the communities he serves.
"We have real problems that won't be fixed by a radical, right-wing ideology," Pace said.
He pointed to Tipton's unwillingness to support a $20 million federal grant to the Roaring Fork Transportation Agency, which operates the bus system. Tipton wouldn't sign a letter with other members of Colorado's congressional delegation that urged the Federal Transit Administration to approve the grant as quickly as possible. Tipton objected to the grant being awarded in a lump sum. He wanted the application for funds to be scrutinized to see if certain items could be eliminated or reduced to boost savings.
Tipton is a fiscal conservative who wants the federal government to slash its spending to balance its budget.
The RFTA grant was ultimately awarded in full. U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and Mark Udall as well as Rep. Jared Polis, all Democrats, signed the letter to the transit agency urging quick approval of the funding.
Pace also said there is a "huge contrast between me and Scott Tipton" on a variety of environmental issues. Two examples he provided were:
• Pace wrote a letter to U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ken Salazar asking that the Bureau of Land Management deny a request by gas company SG Interests to cluster its leases into one unit and start developing in the Thompson Divide area, southwest of Carbondale. He said any drilling should be subject to "extensive environmental analysis and transparency and accountability" to members of the public.
In contrast, Pace said Tipton has accepted thousands of dollars of campaign contributions from oil and gas companies, including from officials from SG Interests.
• Pace said he supports preservation of wilderness and other public lands as well as possible additions to the inventory. Outdoor recreation has created thousands of tourism jobs in Colorado as well as some businesses that make outdoor equipment. The outdoors, he said, are the backbone of Colorado's economy. Therefore, any extraction of natural resources must be balanced with preservation of public lands.
"I'll go toe-to-toe with him on that," Pace said.
He noted Tipton is co-sponsor of the Wilderness and Roadless Area Release Act of 2011. The bill would release some wilderness study areas managed by the Bureau of Land Management and release some roadless areas within the national forest system. Any lands not recommended by the agencies to be held as wilderness or roadless couldn't be managed as potentially protected areas, the bill said. The bill hasn't been voted on yet.
In other position statements, Pace said he wants to remove U.S. troops from Afghanistan "as soon as possible."
"We've been there over 10 years now, and I don't see us making the region more stable," Pace said. Those funds would be better spent improving the nation's education system, he said.
Tipton hasn't made campaign appearances in the Roaring Fork Valley yet, as the campaign is young. He and Pace know each other well, though, having served in the state Legislature together. Pace won a state House seat from Pueblo in 2008, was re-elected in 2010 and served as minority leader in the chamber.
Tipton moved out of the state House and defeated incumbent John Salazar for the 3rd Congressional District seat in November 2010.
The race between Pace and Tipton is being forecast as one of the 11 "toss-up" races nationally in the 2012 election by the Rothenberg Political Report, a non-partisan newsletter covering congressional campaigns and presidential politics.
Pace told his supporters, who included Aspen Mayor Mick Ireland, Pitkin County Commissioner Rachel Richards and Basalt Councilwoman Jacque Whitsitt, that he plans to make several campaign stops in the Roaring Fork Valley this year.