US Representative Joe Neguse speaks with Grand County Citizens

photo by Marissa Lorenz | US Representative Joe Neguse with Grand County Democratic Chair Susan Newcomer
photo by Marissa Lorenz | US Representative Joe Neguse with Grand County Democratic Chair Susan Newcomer

by Marissa Lorenz

US Representative Joe Neguse was the present at Monday’s regular February meeting of the Grand County Democrats, held on a snowy night at Maverick’s Grille in Granby. Neguse, who was elected to Colorado’s 2nd House District in 2018, mingled with the nearly 50 attendees before giving a formal address.

Neguse greeted the “largest group he’d ever spoken to in Grand County, outside of assembly”, and started into his high-energy address by stating that the “last 13 months have been the most interesting of my life.” He then began by discussing what he called “the elephant in the room,” referring to the recent acquittal of President Donald Trump by the US Senate on two articles of impeachment.

“We should be shocked that so many Republicans refused to see the truth. But if there is something to be optimistic about– and I never thought I’d say this– it’s Mitt Romney.” Neguse then praised Romney’s action as the only Republican to vote for conviction on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. “I encourage you to watch his speech in which he is talking about his own conscience” Neguse continued. “It gave me faith that there are enough people in this country willing to stand up for what is right.”

He then encouraged those present to be purposeful in this year’s senate election. “From my vantage point, it’s all on the line to do what we can to elect a new senate candidate and make sure that what happened in the Senate never happens again.” One of Colorado’s two senate seats is up for election this year, that of Republican Cory Gardner. The current forerunners among Garner’s opponents are former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper and former Speaker of the Colorado House of Representatives, Andrew Romanoff. “Democracy is not a spectator sport,” Neguse declared in closing. “And I will continue to fight for the 2nd District with the message that decency, humility, and respect still exist in the United States.”

He opened the floor to questions and, as a member of the House Natural Resources Committee and the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, was asked primarily questions with regards to the environment. He was asked about water issues, such as Grand County having the most diverted waters in the state and about wetland protections “going backward.” He was asked about the government allowing resource extraction in areas that have been set aside for conservation. And he was told about concerns around forest health and its effect on water, timber, and ag resources. Neguse agreed with the worries, but offered few instances of current action.

“Elections have consequences,” he answered, “and this administration’s current appointee for the Department of the Interior is putting public lands up for auction. Other proposed protections for Colorado, like the CORE Act [Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act, co-sponsored by Neguse and Michael Bennett CO-D, which would have protected 400,000 acres of land in the state], are completely stalled, with no hearing, let alone a vote.”

He indicated a concern about the funding level of the United States Forest Service. Summit County and Grand Counties are “putting their own monies out there to pay for wildfire prevention and mitigation. And here in Hot Sulphur, the district has gone from 36 full-time employees to 15 in the last 10 years. It has collateral consequences, in terms of management of the forests. (…) There was a 17 percent decrease in the President’s budget for the National Forest Service. But Republicans, Democrats, Unaffiliated – we all visit the national parks. The Superintendent is not looking at this as a political issue. She’s just trying to address the maintenance, so that American families can enjoy our parks.”

Other questions involved lack of understanding around why veterans whose medical care is fully covered by the Veterans Administration are now required to have Medicare also and why those who had paid into Social Security for the majority of their working life would be penalized if their now paying into PERA, the state’s public employees retirement fund. Neguse indicated that his staff would research the first situation but noted that the most recent proposed federal budget included $1.5 trillion in cuts to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid. “It tells you a lot about this administration’s values.” On the second, he indicated that a bill is currently being considered by the House Ways and Means Committee would hopefully address the second.

“But your sharing your story helps me as I make the case for why this bill should move through the house.”

“It’s easy to become jaded about our politics,” the US Representative closed to loud applause.

“But it’s important to resist the temptation of those who would debase politics until no one is interested and no one will get involved. We have to fight against that. If nihilism is the belief in nothing, the best way to beat nihilism is to believe in something. And we believe in something. We believe in fighting for clean water and clean air and making sure that our kids can go to a quality public school so they can live their dreams. That’s what we believe in. So are we willing to fight for it?”