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Border battles

Congressional race highlights immigration, security debates

Meet the candidates

U.S. Rep. John Salazar, Democrat

Age: 53

Residence: Manassa, in the San Luis Valley

Profession: Potato seed farmer, cattle rancher

Poltical experience: elected to U.S. House in 2004, appointed to House committees of Agriculture, Transportation and Infrastructure, and Veterans Affairs; member of the Colorado Agriculture Commission from 1999-2002

On the Web: http://www.house.gov/sal..., http://www.salazar2006.c...

Local contact: Lynn Abbott, secretary of Routt County Democratic Party, 870-6673

Scott Tipton, Republican

Age: 49

Residence: Cortez, in southwest Colorado

Profession: Owner of Mesa Indian Trading Co. and Mesa Verde Pottery, based in Cortez

Political experience: Chairman of Republican Party in Colorado's Third Congressional District for eight years, staffer for former U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis, Third Congressional District campaign coordinator for Ronald Reagan in 1986

On the Web: http://www.tiptonforcong...

Local contact: County campaign coordinator Paul Epley, 870-1970 or 276-2050

— Neither John Salazar nor Scott Tipton can be accused of sitting on the fence about illegal immigration issues.

In the race for Congress in Colorado’s massive Third Congressional District, which spans 29 counties and includes cities such as Pueblo, Grand Junction and Steamboat Springs, Democratic U.S. Rep. John Salazar and Republican challenger Scott Tipton have sharply differing views about illegal immigration reform and border policy. A bill called the Secure Fence Act, passed by the U.S. Senate late Friday night, defines that difference – one of many in a closely watched contest for the U.S. House of Representatives.

Salazar, 53, is a potato seed farmer and cattle rancher who lives in Manassa. Tipton, 49, is the owner of a multi-state jewelry and pottery business based in his hometown of Cortez. Salazar was elected to Congress in 2004, a surprising victory in a western Colorado district that traditionally has voted Republican.



The district is home to about 160,000 registered Republicans and about 140,000 registered Democrats. More importantly, there nearly 134,000 unaffiliated voters in the Third Congressional District, according to September figures from the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office.

Two years after Salazar’s 2004 win, Tipton hopes the district will see another surprising victory. To combat Salazar, an incumbent who has led in fundraising and pre-election polls throughout the race, Tipton is challenging the congressman’s votes on border security issues.



“We now live in a world in which we have to guard against and protect ourselves against the very real threat of terrorism,” Tipton said Friday. “It’s my contention that we need to secure our borders.”

Salazar said he agrees with the need, but differs with Tipton about the process.

“Fully funding border patrol must come before throwing money at a fence,” Salazar said.

698 miles of fence

Salazar was referring to the Secure Fence Act, which is now awaiting the signature of President Bush to become law.

The act authorizes construction of 698 miles of reinforced, double-layered fencing along the U.S. border with Mexico. The act also calls for the use of satellites, radar, unmanned aerial vehicles, cameras and sensors to prevent illegal entries into the U.S.

Should the act become law, the Department of Homeland Security would be instructed to complete fences around border towns in California and Texas, and along the majority of southern borders in Arizona and New Mexico, by the end of 2008.

The estimated cost of the fence is $6 billion. According to The Washington Post, “The president has indicated that he will sign (the act).”

Salazar voted against the act when it came before the U.S. House in September, calling it a political maneuver that does not solve larger societal problems resulting in illegal immigration.

“This leadership should be more concerned about fiscal responsibility and immigration reform instead of spending critical time and money trying to re-pass legislation and further partisan political rhetoric,” Salazar said. “We need real immigration reform, not rhetoric. I supported the House’s efforts to pass the Border Security Bill. And I supported the House’s efforts to establish a tamper-proof ID system. Now it is time to put aside partisan politics and develop a comprehensive immigration reform plan that addresses the problems faced by our farmers and ranchers.”

Tipton called Salazar’s res-ponse “lip service.”

“Where’s the proof in his action?” Tipton said. “I think that the vote against the fence demonstrates that he is not committed to border security in this country. We’ve heard the same song and dance from people like him before.”

Patrol funding

As did the rest of Colorado’s Congressional delegation, Salazar voted in support of the Homeland Security Appropriations Act of 2007. The act authorizes the use of millions of dollars to hire hundreds of additional U.S. Border Patrol agents, build new detention facilities, and fund border patrol operations and technology.

“First things first – we need to fully fund and support our current border patrol program,” Salazar said. “This leadership still can’t find the money to pay for the beds, equipment and additional agents needed by border patrol.”

Tipton campaign manager Dirk Hallen said that while such funding is crucial, fencing is also necessary to stem the flow of illegal immigrants across the border. Hallen used an analogy comparing the U.S. to a boat that is leaking water in the middle of a lake.

“Wouldn’t you plug the hole first, before you started frantically bailing water?” Hallen said. “It seems to me to fly in the face of logic, to not support something like (the Secure Fence Act). I don’t understand how you can say, ‘Let’s secure our borders,’ if you don’t vote for this bill.”

Local thoughts

Debates about border security are taking place in Routt County as well as Washington, D.C., and across the American West.

“I think the biggest issue we have on our plate is immigration,” said Paul Epley, chairman of the Tipton campaign in Routt County. “I don’t think (Salazar’s) votes are going to resonate well with people in the Third District.”

Salazar’s votes do resonate well with Strawberry Park-area resident and former Routt County Commissioner Ben Beall.

“I agree with John’s position on immigration,” Beall said. “I think this fence is just a boondoggle, and I am much more in favor of comprehensive immigration reform. To put up a fence on our border with Mexico is the wrong plan – they’re our neighbors.”

Jennifer Schubert-Akin, chairwoman of the Routt Coun-ty Republican Party, said she approves of Tipton’s “law and order” stance on border security.

“I don’t think Salazar is that way,” she said.

Beall disagreed.

“We need to have a stronger border, but a fence is the wrong approach,” Beall said. “An example of the right approach is to look at the whole issue – here in Routt County, we need worker visas for our ski industry. If there is a need for that type of labor, there should be a legal way to approach it, and that’s immigration reform.”

– To reach Mike Lawrence, call 871-4203 or e-mail mlawrence@steamboatpilot.com


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