Senatorial Sitdown: Mark Udall on What’s Next for Colorado (Part II)

January 2012

In Part I of our extended interview with Senator Mark Udall, the congressman explained some of the recent developments and non-developments in Washington. In Part II we focus on his recent and upcoming legislative efforts that will more directly impact Colorado.

5280: What are some of the locally important issues you’re working on?

Udall: We’ve been looking at a circle of open space that will characterize the Denver region, which is a smart thing to do for quality of life, protecting wildlife. The wildlife of Rocky Flats is amazing. We need to find out how to stand it up and provide access to the public—but between the nesting birds and the hawks, and the predatory birds, the deer, there may even be some antelope and a few elk that’ll wander down. It’s really on track. They’ve come up with creative financing to purchase more open space. That’s the satisfaction. Not just when you get it done, but if you can think a little bit ahead, peer over the horizon.

5280: What will that look like when it’s completed?

Udall: They’re still negotiating. A lot of that’s local, county, and state driven. I don’t know that we at the federal level can make a difference. The idea is to make it as much of a thoroughfare, and less as a series of rest stops, so you’ll get more growth. I sound like it’s a done deal, but I think there’s still a number of years between here and there. It’ll come through Flatirons Mall and run south on Indiana Street, on the east side of the Flats. In the south it’ll meet up with 93 and go into Golden. I think it’ll be a modified system in Golden; they don’t want people blowing through there at 80 miles an hour.

5280: You also recently helped pass the ski-area bill.

Udall: It gives ski areas some flexibility as far as bikes or holding an appropriate kind of concert.  I’m not talking about a hundred thousand people, but a mountain concert that fits in with the backdrop. It was a great lesson in legislating and working the process through. Part of it is keeping people for another night, or another day, because there are additional things they can do: A zip line, a concert. There are a lot of reasons to be in the mountains in the summer. It’s cooler. It’s greener. It’s fun.

5280: By 2020, the Front Range population is projected to be about 7 million. That’s going to reshape a lot of things. The old way of running for statewide office is to pay more attention to the outlying, Western Slope areas, and you still do obviously, but the vast majority of Colorado’s population is concentrated in this three-hour radius. Does that change the way you look at running for your next term in office in 2014?

Udall: I don’t think so. The fundamentals are similar: the topography of Colorado, where the economic activity is located, where people are attracted to live. People are coming here to the Front Range because of the access to the airport, the schools, the universities, the federal labs, and the innovation economy that the governor is pushing as he builds on what Governor Ritter promoted.

There are about 14 counties that really determine who’ll win the election statewide. As you point out, most of them are on the Front Range, if you include Weld, an extended Front Range county. The counties that aren’t on that list, such as Pueblo, Mesa, which is Grand Junction, and increasingly, rural resort counties have a significant voter presence. Eagle, Pitkin, Summit; those three can play an important role. I want to be clear, I travel the state and I have a goal to get to every region, every year. There are 64 counties, and make sure I get to every county on the schedule.

5280: Your environmental efforts touch on every corner of the state.

Udall: When you think of the clean energy opportunities on the eastern plains that continue to increase, and it’s fun and a kick to get out there—there aren’t as many voters, and they tend to be redder counties. I believe I’ve kept faith with the promise I made to work hard, and that you don’t have to have a Democratic party card to come into my office and ask for help.

5280: Clean energy is job creation. That speaks to everybody.

Udall: That’s tright. Looking at the Keystone XL pipeline, those jobs are not insignificant, but the bigger, or I guess, equally large opportunity to create jobs is on the clean energy side. That’s why the Chinese are investing billions and billions of dollars, the Europeans are investing tens of billions of dollars. Look at the Brazilians, who have a real success story investing in sugar cane-based ethanol, wind, and other opportunities, as well as taking oil off their coast. Brazil is probably the most energy independent country in the world right now. I’m envious. We can come closer to that goal ourselves.

In the end, I think the people who will come here, in some regards, will self-select. They will represent the great political tradition in Colorado, which is libertarianism with a small “L.” They’re pro-environmentalism but with a realistic twist, which is that if we’ve got natural gas, we ought to produce it, but we need to protect our air and water. They’re also fiscal conservatives. People say, “Mark, why are you pushing so hard on the line-item veto on the balanced budget amendment?” It really reflects my own business experience and it reflects the state. And then generally we have a great tradition of open, clean government in places like Adams County and Summit County. Generally our state’s very open, our elected officials have a strict referenda, so I think people will be drawn here because of that.

I think, if I’m being modest, because of what I’ve advocated, my record, my personal history, and my love of the state, that sets me up to have a nice story and a compelling reason to the new people who are coming here to rehire me. But three years is a long time, that’s forever.