Salazar defies conventional wisdom | AspenTimes.com

Salazar defies conventional wisdom

U.S. Rep. John Salazar has a reputation as a conservative Democrat who doesn’t always toe the party line. That certainly doesn’t prevent him from criticizing President Bush.When the president signed legislation Thursday that will add 700 miles of fencing along the U.S. border with Mexico, and he proudly displayed it as an example that the administration is tough on illegal immigration, Salazar dismissed the move.”It’s a political play by the administration to be able to say they did something,” said Salazar, speaking on the phone from his farm in the San Luis Valley.Salazar is a first-term representative of Colorado’s sprawling 3rd Congressional District, which includes Pitkin County and Garfield County.He said the fence alone will do little to stop illegal immigration. He questioned where the administration will get the funds necessary to build it.

As alternatives, he supports hiring more border patrol officers and coming up with a tamper-proof identification system that employers can use to check the status of prospective employees. Right now, he said, employers don’t have adequate tools to check the legality of workers.Salazar also sounded a note of caution against deporting illegal immigrants. If the U.S. had the ability to round up all illegal immigrants “and send them to Mexico,” it would ruin the national economy, he warned. He wants to provide the millions of illegal workers already in the country with some path toward legal residency, although not necessarily citizenship. That path, he said, may require payment of back taxes for the years they have been in the U.S., if they weren’t already paying using a fraudulent Social Security number.Salazar said it’s clear that the U.S. cannot fill the jobs that immigrants typically accept without their continued entry into the U.S. Therefore, he supports a guest worker program. The H2B program, which is utilized by the Aspen Skiing Co. to fill some seasonal positions, allows only 68,000 workers from foreign countries into the U.S. each year. There is demand for three to four million such workers, Salazar said.Wants troops pulled from IraqThe congressman, who is facing a challenge from Republican Scott Tipton, is also at odds with Bush’s policies in Iraq. More responsibility must be turned over to Iraqi troops, according to Salazar, a military veteran from the Vietnam-era. After two trips to Iraq, he said he questions if the administration is putting enough pressure on Iraqi military to take greater responsibility.Meanwhile, he believes U.S. troops are in a precarious position, targeted as outsiders among fighting factions of Muslims. “I don’t see how we can win against sectarian violence,” he said.

Salazar supports setting a timetable for pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq, although he won’t name specific dates or set deadlines.On domestic issues, Salazar labels himself “an independent voice for rural Colorado.” He said he weighs legislation and policy on its effects on his largely rural district in western Colorado, not by how his party views it.Salazar, 53, is a potato seed farmer and cattle rancher in the San Luis Valley. He is one of the few active farmers in Congress, which he said gives him special insights in the plight of agriculture.His brother, Ken Salazar, is a U.S. senator from Colorado.Pitkin County is the odd ball in the 3rd District. Its ranches and farms largely have disappeared. Throughout most of the rest of his district – the San Luis Valley, southwestern Colorado and the Grand Valley by Grand Junction – farming and ranching remains paramount. Salazar is concerned that family ranches will disappear throughout the district, as they have in much of the Roaring Fork Valley.Strategy for preserving farms

The American farm policy is flawed, he said, because it is set up to protect consumers and doesn’t let supply and demand run its course. It encourages over-production, which drives down prices. Then American policy provides subsidies to producers, which barely lets them keep their heads “above water,” Salazar said.The business isn’t profitable, so there is little incentive for future generations to hold onto a ranch or farm. “I’m really worried about where the next generation of farmers is coming from,” he said. “The only way we can keep farmers on the land is making it profitable again.”He has a strategy to make that happen. Instead of giving subsidies to keep land out of production, he wants to give farmers incentives to grow crops that can be used for alternative fuels. That not only keep farms productive, it decreases the country’s dependence on foreign oil, Salazar said.Incorporating agriculture into energy policy can range from growing grain for ethanol to more creative tactics, like converting crop land into wind or solar farms. As an example, Salazar pointed out how solar panels placed in a 168-acre field in the San Luis Valley produce enough electricity to supply 9,000 homes.As a member of the House Committee on Agriculture, Salazar is determined to help farmers and ranchers out of the crisis they are facing through alternative energy programs. Even if that’s too late to help preserve farm land in the Roaring Fork Valley, that part of his district still benefits from alternative energy sources, he said.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com.