RIDGWAY – Democratic candidate for Colorado’s 3rd District Congressional seat Sal Pace stopped in at Cimarron Books and Coffeehouse in Ridgway recently as part of a seven-day, 1,600-mile road trip around the district from his home in Pueblo.
This reporter was unable to attend the event, but did manage to talk with Pace this week. The Connecticut native (he moved to Colorado as a teenager and attended Fort Lewis College in Durango) has his campaign office in Pueblo’s oldest existing structure, the historic Quaker Flour Mill downtown. He has a wife and three kids, and teaches American government and political science at Colorado State University Pueblo.
Pace, currently the State Representative for the 46th district, was elected to the legislature in 2008 and re-elected in 2010, told me he thinks it is vitally important “to listen to the concerns of the voters at home.”
Over the course of his Sunday, July 8 Ridgway stop, he said, he “heard a lot of talk about putting partisanship aside, and the importance of rural infrastructure, including broadband. “Who wouldn’t want to live in Ouray County?” he asked, “if you had broadband to support your business? It would create jobs and stability, and that’s the kind of thing government should be doing.”
The Denver Post reported that the Democratic Congressional Committee named Pace among “the 18 candidates best positioned to help the party win seats in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives” in January. The so-called Red-to-Blue program provides financial, communications and other support to Pace and other Democratic candidates.
In response, according to the Post, the National Republican Congressional Committee “has hired someone to follow Pace with a video camera in hopes of recording a flub that can be used against him.”
Pace said this was true. “Sometimes there’s a little buddy who follows me around. I guess it’s the nature of politics today. But there’s way too much of this, when there should be more focus on issues and policy.”
In 2011, Pace led the successful opposition in the Colorado legislature to a proposed $250 million in state cuts to education. “Congress should look at what we did in passing our state education budget on a 64-1 vote,” he said, when asked about the federal education policy. “We looked each other in the eye, treated each other with respect. I believe this is the way public service ought to work.”
Pace’s November opponent is first-term Republican Scott Tipton, from Cortez. (The 3rd District is huge, encompassing almost all of western and most of southern Colorado, including Grand Junction, Durango, Pueblo and the San Luis Valley.) Tipton, who started a pottery business in Cortez 30 years ago, with his brother, portrays himself as a small-business job creator.
Pace presents himself as more of a regular guy, albeit a well-spoken one. He has worked as a dishwasher and a maintenance man. He has to worry about the price of a gallon of gas.
Asked about the lawsuit in the North Fork Valley seeking to end the Bureau of Land Management policy of withholding the identity of those who nominate public lands for oil and gas drilling, Pace said, “I’m for transparency.” He went on to praise Governor Hickenloooper’s recent regulatory victory in getting industry to agree to divulge the chemicals in fracking fluids, after the fact. “It’s a really positive first step,” he said.
“There is a place for drilling, and mining. We have natural resources that are going to be developed. But we have to find a balanced approach. It’s about mutual respect. Respect for the air, the water, the local economies. There has to be a place for wilderness. The San Juans Wilderness is a prime example of a wilderness proposal done right, collaboratively. I’m in support of it.
“My opponent has signed a pledge saying he would never support wilderness, ever. My staff can get you the details.” And this while Rep. Tipton continues to hold “listening sessions” and claims to be undecided on the wilderness bill sponsored in the Senate by Colorado Sen. Mark Udall.
And so, Sal Pace continues to crisscross the vast 3rd District. He’ll be back in Ouray County, he told me, in August. Meanwhile, a one-line ticker at the bottom of Pace’s campaign emails keeps count of his travels: “Campaign Ticker: 25,180 miles, 398 days, 332 events, 1 new fuel pump for the trusty old Ford pickup, 1 near miss with a moose.”