Impact of Trump’s election echoes around the valley

 

From immigration and public lands to legal marijuana, only one feeling persists: fear

Donald Trump’s election as president has revived feelings of fear, anger and uncertainty across a wide spectrum of valley residents, according to sources interviewed about immigration, public lands, health care and legalized marijuana.

The president-elect’s rhetoric about deporting millions of undocumented people he labeled as rapists and criminals, and the building of a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, already had many Latinos on edge.

Now with the certainty that Trump will be in the White House, there were tears Wednesday morning inside the Literacy Outreach office in Glenwood Springs.

The nonprofit works with a wide swath of the Latino community, and executive director Martha Fredendall said she saw tearful clients who awoke Wednesday to scared children who did not want to go to school.

“They’re terrified,” she said. “Even those who are here legally are nervous.”

They’re worried that, should Trump enact his promised crackdown, they will lose family members who are undocumented, Fredendall said.

Berisa Morales, Literacy Outreach coordinator, said she spoke with language students worried about what will happen to their parents. She also saw a tutor and student crying together, while another instructor, after a sleepless night, was simply angry, Morales said.

“My daughter was worried about me, and I told her, ‘Don’t worry, it’s going to be OK for us.’ But I know other people are very, very worried,” she said.

Chris Pooley, who practices immigration law in Glenwood and Avon, confirmed that sentiment.

“My phone’s been ringing off the hook all day,” he said. “Immigrants are very concerned about Trump being elected.”

With an executive action within his first 100 days in office, Trump could rescind the Obama administration policy known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, Pooley said. The program allows some undocumented immigrants who entered the United States before they turned 16 to receive two-year work permits and exempts them from deportation.

Noting that immigration authorities under the Obama administration have deported hundreds of thousands of people annually, Pooley said the incumbent has created a “deportation machine.”

“Now all Trump has to do is flip the on switch,” he said.

Pooley had just gotten off the phone with a client who has a green card and wants to become a naturalized citizen. She, like many of his other clients, will now “do what they can before Trump comes into office,” he said.

“I don’t think he’s going to change our naturalization laws … but I think there’s more risk with Trump than Hillary,” Pooley said.

Another sentiment among his clients is that Trump said whatever he needed to say to get elected and perhaps won’t do all the things he promised.

“Building a wall and deporting everybody, when the rubber meets the road he’s not going to be able to do that,” Pooley said. “Time will tell what he’s going to do.”

Drilling advocates see more options in 
Thompson Divide fight

Trump’s election comes at a critical time for the battle over whether or not to conduct natural gas drilling in the Thompson Divide. The Bureau of Land Management this summer announced its plans, via a “preferred alternative” described in a final Environmental Impact Statement document, to cancel 25 leases in the heart of the unspoiled region west of Carbondale, while making modifications to other leases near Battlement Mesa.

The decision was announced after years of debate that united most of the Roaring Fork Valley’s political constituencies, from ranchers to mountain bikers, in opposition to mineral extraction in the area. However, the energy companies whose leases are threatened, as well as U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, a Republican who was re-elected on Tuesday to his fourth term representing the Western Slope in Congress, have assailed any efforts to cancel the Thompson Divide leases as an assault on property rights and the integrity of contracts the federal government makes with private industry.

The BLM indicated that it would release its final Record of Decision on the local leases this fall, following a 30-day public comment period.

Zane Kessler, the director of the Thompson Divide Coalition, which led efforts to protect the area from drilling, said that the “work will continue, in the same way it always has.”  

“As a community we need to ensure that public lands remain in public hands, and that the wishes of local communities are followed,” he said, noting that the BLM was responding to overwhelming community support when it cancelled the leases.

The local sentiment was that the area should be preserved for its wildlife habitat, recreation, agricultural, clear air and clean water characteristics, which would be incompatible with industrial fracking and related infrastructure.

In regard to the pending final decision on the leases, Kessler said coalition supporters are working to ensure it comes without delay, “because that’s what the communities have asked for.”

David Ludlam, executive director of the West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association, said he expects that with Trump’s inauguration coming Jan. 20, the BLM will finalize the lease cancellations “with a sense of urgency.”

“Technically we are still waiting” for the final word on lease cancellation, but the writing has been on the wall for at least four years, he said.

“It’s been telegraphed from day one — this was a political outcome looking for a process,” Ludlam said.

A Trump presidency is likely to “broaden our options” for fighting back against the expected lease cancellations, in terms of legislative or administrative appeals, Ludlam said. The likelihood of more oil-and-gas-friendly leadership at the Department of Interior is encouraging to him, but may be frightening to conservation advocates.

Trump’s potential short list for interior secretary includes oil executive Forrest Lucas, according to news reports that have surfaced throughout the campaign. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who popularized the “drill baby drill” mantra, has said she’s interested in the job. So has Trump’s son, Donald Trump, Jr., who has been photographed on hunting trips.  

Trump has said he is not in favor of proposals to sell off federal public lands or transfer them to the states, telling Field and Stream magazine in January that,  “I want to keep the lands great, and you don’t know what the state is going to do.”

However, he has also expressed support for giving states a larger role in the management of federal lands, and in general ran on a platform of reducing regulations on the oil and gas industry.

Whomever Trump picks for his cabinet positions dealing with energy, environmental policy and public lands, Ludlam said he expects a change in tone.

“Regardless of who is appointed … from a philosophical approach we will have a greater appreciation of the benefits we provide to society,” Ludlam said of the oil and gas industry. “ … It’s difficult to imagine based on what we’ve experienced over the last eight years that a Trump administration is going to be less appreciative.”

Marijuana industry hopeful Trump 
won’t snuff it out

With Trump’s election, Colorado’s marijuana industry is warily watching who will be in his cabinet. Rumors of Rudy Giuliani or Chris Christie, both of whom have been critical of legal cannabis, being appointed attorney general are of particular concern.

The Justice Department under Obama instituted a hands-off approach to marijuana in states where it is legal — a number that increased significantly at the ballot on Tuesday.

Mason Tvert of the Marijuana Policy Project, who was instrumental in Colorado becoming the first state to legalize the drug for recreational use, said Wednesday that he isn’t too concerned about a potential federal crackdown after Trump takes office.

“The fact is Donald Trump has only said a finite amount of things about this issue,” he said. “He’s said states should be able to establish their own marijuana policies.”

Trump has also repeatedly said there should be legal access to medical marijuana, Tvert said.

Even with Giuliani or Christie as attorney general, he said he doubts federal authorities will come in and wipe out completely the cannabis industry.

“Are they really going to roll back a bunch of voter-approved laws and get rid of thousands and thousands of jobs and give [the industry] back to Mexican drug cartels?” he said. “That doesn’t seem to jibe with what he’s been talking about.

“I’m not overly worried but then again it is Donald Trump.”

Aspen attorney Lauren Maytin, a board member of the Colorado chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), said she hopes Christie is “so troubled” by the scandal over the New Jersey bridge closure that he will not be a viable candidate for attorney general.

Giuliani is more concerning, she said.

“He thinks medical marijuana is a gateway to legal and doesn’t think [medical pot] is necessary,” Maytin said. “He was part of the war on drugs … Colorado exemplifies a working system, and I’m very nervous about the destruction of the system as we see it.”

Gerry Goldstein, a renowned lawyer and part-time Aspen resident, said, like Maytin, that he’s more worried about who Trump will appoint to the U.S. Supreme Court and resultant search-and-seizure issues.

“I’m scared s---less,” he said. “We could have a sea change in our rights, and it seems like this guy’s not even into it. It’s like the news became entertainment.”

He said while Trump may continue the current policy of the Justice Department, “we don’t have any guarantee of that. Bob Dylan was right, we better watch which way the wind blows.”

The fact that California, Nevada, Massachusetts and Maine approved recreational marijuana “may be our saving grace,” Goldstein said, noting that medical cannabis was approved in states that did not vote for Hillary Clinton.

He said he remains confident marijuana will one day be legalized throughout the nation.

“People ought to have those rights,” he said.

Obamacare benefits, costs hang in the balance

Trump and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan may not agree on much, but one area where their ideas line up is a call to repeal the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, observed Amy Downs, vice president of the Colorado Health Institute, which studies health care policy.  

In the wake of the ACA, Pitkin County has seen health insurance rates for individual plans sold on the state exchange introduced in 2014 continually climb in price. Average monthly premiums for those plans are expected to reach $514 in 2017 for a 27-year-old male, a 35 percent increase from last year and among the highest rates in the nation (group plan rates used by employers have stayed more stable).

The sky-high rates in the resort regions of the Western Slope are also nearly double the average monthly premium costs for the same plan in the Denver area, thanks in large part to less competition both among insurers and health care providers.

While some who are paying the individual rates might be glad to see a return to the pre-Obamacare status quo, residents earning less than about $47,000 per year or those with pre-existing conditions have a lot to lose. For those making less than $47,000, the federal government under Obamacare provides a subsidy to help them pay for their insurance when purchasing plans on the individual exchange. According to Joe Hanel of Colorado Health Institute, those subsidies are used by 101,000 Coloradans.

The program also made Medicaid coverage available to 466,000 more people in Colorado, supported by over $1.6 billion per year in federal funding. If Obamacare is repealed, both the subsidies and the expanded Medicaid would go away, affecting 567,000 Coloradans, unless Trump and Congress replace those programs with something else.

Downs noted that replacement health care legislation offered by Ryan, who has put forward more detailed policies than Trump, would maintain guaranteed coverage for pre-existing conditions but drop the requirement for everyone to carry health coverage. Trump has expressed his support for a similar policy. But insurance companies see that as a precursor to the “death spiral,” where only the sick, who are guaranteed coverage, buy insurance, she said.  

Downs speculated that people on health plans supported by the government funding that now hangs in the balance may decide they better use their insurance or Medicaid while they still have it, meaning there could be a rush on services. However, she said that any changes are likely to take time. Obamacare, for example, took four years to be fully implemented after its 2010 passage.

The Republican Congress has already passed a bill vetoed by President Obama that would repeal the ACA within two years.

Local insurance broker Michael Sailor agreed that drastic changes to health care policy in 2017 are unlikely.

“My guess is that 2017 will be status quo for subsidies,” he said.

 

Beyond that, Sailor said he hopes the government does an in depth study of the positives and negatives of the Affordable Care Act.

curtis@aspendailynews.com  •  chad@aspendailynews.com