Diane Mitsch Bush

Diane Mitsch Bush.

Having trounced her two opponents in June’s Democratic Party primary for Colorado’s 3rd U.S. House District, Diane Mitsch Bush now has her sights set squarely on incumbent Congressman Scott Tipton.

Mitsch Bush, a former state representative and county commissioner from Steamboat Springs, faces Tipton, R-Cortez, in the Nov. 6 general election. She visited the Roaring Fork Valley on Thursday evening for a fundraiser, and on Friday, she sat down with the Aspen Daily News for a wide-ranging interview. The newspaper has extended the same offer to Tipton’s campaign.

Tipton has held the seat since 2011, having been first elected with tea party support in 2010. Asked how she plans to unseat Tipton following the failed challenges of Democrats who opposed him in 2012, 2014 and 2016, Mitsch Bush said she plans to hammer away at his seven-plus years of voting against the district’s best interests and being unresponsive to constituents.

“What I’ve seen in every election — and it’s not going to happen in this one — is that Scott Tipton has, to a great extent, stayed under the radar,” she said.

Tipton, she suggested, has a knack for “slipping away” when others have called him out for his positions on certain issues.

“I feel that my job is to point out — not just on one or two issues, but on issue after issue after issue, bill after bill — how he’s voted against our interests,” Mitsch Bush said. “By our, I mean everybody in this district: seniors, veterans, children, small businesses, coal miners. He voted against coal-miner safety. Most people don’t know those specific votes.”

She called Tipton’s record on protection of public lands “abysmal.” She recalled that in early 2017, Tipton backed a bill introduced by then-U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, that could have resulted in the sale of 93,000 acres of Colorado’s public lands. Chaffetz withdrew the proposal, the Disposal of Excess Federal Lands Act, amid intense opposition. The legislation would have transferred 3.3 million acres of public land in 10 Western states from the Bureau of Land Management to state ownership.

“Tipton was a huge supporter and proponent of that bill. He never had to vote on it because Chaffetz withdrew it,” Mitsch Bush said.

Like many other members of the GOP-controlled House and Senate, Tipton has been aloof, she said.

“So many people from all walks of life and political views are fed up,” Mitsch Bush said. “They’re fed up with Washington, they’re fed up with a Congress that doesn’t listen to them and doesn’t work for them.”

Mitsch Bush said in her travels throughout the district, she hears from voters who claim that Tipton’s staff is unresponsive to their needs.

She said she often is told of instances in which a constituent has called his office, “‘and a staffer tried to change my mind.’

“That is not what your staff does. My staff doesn’t do that. My staff listens, because the people are our employers. And they have a perfect right to tell us exactly what they think,” Mitsch Bush said.

‘Dubious distinction’

She also talked about the nation’s health-care woes and the “outrageous premiums” for insurance that are being applied to Western Slope residents.

“That’s a dubious distinction, isn’t it? We have the highest health-care premiums in the country,” she said.

As a state representative, she found it nearly impossible to bring insurers, providers and pharmaceutical companies to the table, even privately, to discuss pricing.

“Insurance companies negotiate with the providers, especially at the hospitals, on what they’ll charge for each specific procedure. And those agreed-upon charges are very different on the Western Slope than they are on the Front Range. That’s one of the reasons our premiums are so high,” Mitsch Bush said.

In the long run, the federal government should move toward a universal single-payer health-care system, she said. Industrialized nations that have low administrative costs are “in the single digits” as a percentage of overall costs. That compares with a U.S. health-care system that has administrative costs of 33 percent, she said.

For the short term, Congress should defend the Affordable Care Act, which is under attack on a number of fronts, Mitsch Bush said, noting that she decided to run for the 3rd District seat on May 4, 2017, the day Tipton voted in support of House legislation that would have dismantled the act.

Mitsch Bush said Tipton’s remarks that the legislation provided a guarantee that pre-existing conditions would be covered was “technically true.” But the reality of the bill, which ultimately failed, is that insurance companies would have been able to charge whatever they wanted.

“So your rates, if you had a pre-existing condition, would go through the roof,” she said. “OK, so you have insurance? No, you don’t. You can’t afford it.”

Another piece of the health-care solution, according to Mitsch Bush, would be to allow Medicare to negotiate prices for prescription medications.

The Veterans Administration has been able to negotiate prices for many years, she said. “The [VA’s] costs to their clients are about one-third of what Medicare’s are. Given the sheer number of Medicare recipients, that’s a huge pool. Being able to negotiate gives you a lot of power there.”

Next, it’s necessary for the federal government to continue its financial support for public health clinics and initiatives such as the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP. And, according to Mitch Bush, Congress should cap rates for increases in insurance premiums and drug prices.

Flaws in the health-care system can be solved “if you have a combination of all these things, and work with insurance and drug companies to try to get some price transparency,” she said.

Disparate economy

Mitsch Bush said the Western Slope economy is of paramount concern. Colorado’s House District 3 “is really several districts, economically and culturally,” with some counties booming and others busting.

Not long ago, she noted, Pueblo was renowned for its steel industry. The city lost 12,000 steel jobs “in a short amount of time,” she said, and has now shifted its economic focus to other types of manufacturing, tourism and the arts.

And federal support for the hemp and cannabis industries would help struggling agricultural-based counties across the district, she said. On the topic of “mountain counties,” she said not everyone is benefiting from economic growth, citing high costs for housing, child care and health care.

Rural counties with a tradition of farming and ranching are facing tough times as well because of high tariffs, Mitsch Bush pointed out. Tariffs on steel and aluminum also are hurting the state’s economy.

She said the energy industry, including coal, oil and gas, is in decline in western Colorado. Mitsch Bush said the Trump administration and Congress “talk a big talk about coal, oil and gas,” but legislation related to workplace safety protections cannot pass committee muster.

“Oil and gas is one of the most dangerous occupations that there is,” Mitsch Bush said.

It’s time to stop framing issues such as energy versus environment. The two go hand-in-hand, she said.

Federal support for renewable energy can bring manufacturing opportunities to the state, Mitsch Bush said. Investment in infrastructure, including broadband networks, also will spark new jobs, she said.

Trump and the GOP leadership aren’t doing Colorado any favors when they cut money for rural-development loans and training funds for farmers out of the federal budget, which they did last year, she said.

Had she been a member of Congress, “I would have been gathering together my colleagues from all the intermountain states and demanding that the secretary of agriculture meet with us,” Mitsch Bush said.

Who’s in charge?

She said she would treat the office as though it were guided by the people of the district, not the other way around: “I honestly believe — it’s not just a sound bite — that I’m a public servant, this is a job interview, and that I work for you.”

Mitsch Bush said when she was elected as a Routt County commissioner, and through her three terms in the state House of Representatives, she often repeated to constituents, “I’m your employee, so what do you want me to do?”

“It’s so sad. People have rightfully become disillusioned about public officials at all levels, especially at the congressional level. So many members of Congress, particularly our incumbent representative, don’t listen to the people,” she said. “They listen to Washington insiders, party leadership and to big donors.”

She said she doesn’t understand why Tipton rarely conducts town hall meetings. She said as a congresswoman, she’ll meet with anyone, anytime — especially those who oppose her ideas or positions.

“Some [people] may be unalterably opposed to you, but you represent them, too, and you better listen to them. And that’s what I’ve always done.”

Andre is a reporter for Aspen Daily News. He can be reached at andre@aspendailynews.com.