Describing himself as a moderate Democrat — somewhat liberal on social issues but conservative on fiscal matters — Pueblo resident Abel Tapia visited Aspen on Wednesday and talked about his upcoming challenge to U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, for Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District.
Tapia, 64, is a former state lawmaker, having spent four years in the House and eight years in the Senate. After he was term-limited from seeking re-election to his state Senate seat, he became executive director of the Colorado Lottery in 2010. He resigned in January to focus on the campaign leading up to the Nov. 4 election.
The former civil engineer said he can work with politicians on both sides of the aisle.
“I’m not happy with the representation that we have in the district,” he said, referring to Tipton. “We talk about the gridlock in Washington, D.C. — nothing gets done. I just felt an obligation and a duty to run.
“I want to build confidence in our state and federal elected officials. I want to be the engineer that breaks gridlock.”
Tapia said he is pro-choice and also supports gay rights. But the nation’s energy policies are important to him, as well. Prior to becoming an elected official, he worked as an engineer in the mining industry.
That experience, he said, gives him a thorough understanding of issues facing the Western Slope. He said he wants to work to ensure that Thompson Divide, which is targeted for development by oil-and-gas companies, is kept in a pristine state. At the same time, he said that some sort of compromise on the issue would not be out of the question, from his standpoint.
He said he currently is studying the Thompson Divide controversy as well as issues surrounding protection for the sage grouse, a hot topic in the Gunnison area and throughout the West. The species is threatened by a loss of habitat, said to have been caused by residential building and energy development.
Through an agreement between U.S. Fish and Wildlife and environmental groups, the federal agency has until the end of September 2015 to propose rules governing the birds’ habitat.
Tapia said that as a former engineer, he has a unique perspective on public infrastructure and drainage issues. Deteriorating bridges, tunnels and roads throughout the sprawling district will receive his full attention if he is elected, he said. Recent flooding and wildfires in Colorado have put a spotlight on areas with sagging infrastructure, he said.
Tapia was selected as the Democratic Party’s official candidate on April 12 at the party’s state assembly in Denver.