Scott Tipton is seeking fourth term in Congress
A measure backed by U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., aimed at directing money from the sales of federal land to education and recreation, has become a flash point in Tipton’s bid for a fourth term.
Gail Schwartz, a Democrat and former state senator, accuses Tipton of aiming to sell off federal lands. Her television ads use Colorado’s mountainous landscape as a backdrop.
Schwartz’ argument is based on H.R. 5836, the Hunting Education and Recreational Development Act, which was introduced in July by Rep. Paul A. Gosar, R-Ariz. Tipton is a co-sponsor.
The measure calls for the “orderly disposal” of surplus lands and would require that the Agriculture and Interior departments offer surplus lands to local governments before considering them for sale or exchange.
“Not less than 30 days before the offering of lands for sale or exchange pursuant to subsection (a), States or the unit of local government in whose jurisdiction the lands are located may elect to obtain any such lands for local public purposes pursuant to the provisions of the Recreation and Public Purposes Act,” the bill says. “Pursuant to any such election, the Secretary concerned shall retain the elected lands for conveyance to the States or such unit of the local government in accordance with the provisions of the Recreation and Public Purposes Act.”
Supporting the Hunting Education and Recreational Development (HEARD) Act puts Tipton “in alignment” with interests seeking to gain control over federal lands, Schwartz told The Daily Sentinel.
The HEARD Act is hardly a blank check, but it “gives the administration the flexibility to make good management decisions,” Tipton told The Daily Sentinel.
The idea of the HEARD Act, Tipton said, was to give the administration a free hand to sell lands already deemed surplus by federal agencies and to designate where proceeds from any sales might go.
If those lands are sold, the HEARD Act would require that 5 percent of the sale price go to the state to supplement public schools and colleges. Ten percent would be set aside for the acquisition of lands to benefit hunting, fishing, shooting, off-highway vehicle recreation or similar purposes.
Another section of the HEARD Act notes that no existing law requires the BLM to dispose of identified lands on a regular or frequent basis.
“As a result, lands identified as potentially available for disposal under valid resource management plans are rarely disposed of by the Bureau of Land Management,” the bill says.
The Forest Service, meanwhile, “has several authorities to dispose of federal lands, but such authorities are rarely used,” the bill says.
Those provisions underlie her point that the measure opens the door to the sale of federal lands, Schwartz said.
“There is not one bill that backs up her statement,” Tipton responded.
The League of Conservation Voters is attacking Tipton in a television ad campaign saying he would offer public lands to “out-of-state public interests.”
The ads, said Tipton spokesman Michael Fortney, are “more of the same extreme environmental interests coming in for Gail Schwartz because they know she could be bought and paid for.”
Tipton’s own party has been an issue for him on certain lands issues, he said, pointing to frustrations in getting legislative support for designation of Chimney Rock as a national monument. He eventually supported a presidential declaration under the Antiquities Act, a measure that has long been a focal point of criticism from congressional Republicans.
Tipton also has questioned the president’s use of the Antiquities Act and he offered, H.R. 1459, the Ensuring Public Involvement in the Creation of National Monuments Act, which would require the application of the National Environmental Policy Act whenever the president uses the Antiquities Act to establish national monuments encompassing more than 5,000 acres.
Issues about public lands and natural resources have dominated much of Tipton’s tenure in the House and for most of his six years so far in Congress, Tipton has focused on natural-resource issues important to the sprawling district.
The 3rd Congressional District includes most of Colorado’s ski areas, the main stem of the Colorado River, the Piceance Basin and its 66 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, coal mines, fields of Olathe sweet corn and Palisade peaches, national parks, wilderness areas and two main population centers, Grand Junction and Pueblo, with near-diametrically opposite politics. It encompasses some of the nation’s wealthiest and most impoverished counties, some of the state’s highest mountains and its slowest-recovering economy. It’s dominated by federal land administered by the Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Reclamation and other agencies.
A continuing theme of Tipton’s tenure has been frustration that Congress has so little to say about regulations from Washington, D.C., especially those affecting rural areas and natural resources.
“No member of Congress, no Republican, no Democrat” has cast a vote on the regulations issued by the executive agencies, Tipton frequently tells audiences, adding that reversing a regulation “takes the proverbial act of Congress.”
He has backed legislation that would give Congress approval on regulations deemed to have an economic effect of $100 million or more, but that legislation has stalled in the Senate, when it was under both Democratic and Republican control. Barack Obama has been president for Tipton’s entire tenure in Congress.
Tipton has called several times for the Senate to “allow the legislative process to work,” meaning that House-passed bills should be taken up by Senate committees, amended, voted on and allowed to move forward, or die for lack of support.
What’s not appropriate, Tipton says, is for the Senate simply to do nothing, as has been the case with his legislation that would require the federal government to recognize state water law. The Water Rights Protection Act, H.R. 5538, has roots in Mesa County. It was prompted by a U.S. Forest Service requirement that the new owners of Powderhorn Mountain Resort sign over water rights in order to lease forest land for skiing.
Tipton’s success includes his Small Conduit Hydropower Development and Rural Jobs Act, which President Obama signed into law in 2013.
The bill has been used to develop a small project at Shavano Falls in Montrose County. The hydropower bill so far represents Tipton’s most successful measure. It also underscores his frustration with the Senate, where his bills, and those of others, have stalled.
After his election to a third term in 2014, Tipton changed committee assignments from House Agriculture to the House Financial Services Committee, where he has introduced several measures aimed at bolstering small, rural community banks.
“A lot of our small businesses simply weren’t able to get financing,” he said, referring to the district’s problems in recovering from the Great Recession.
His bills would allow regulators to take into account the ability of small banks to deal with regulations designed for large banks and to give borrowers, especially small businesses, greater access to capital.
As the co-owner with his brother until recently of a pottery shop in Cortez, Tipton is a co-founder of the Small Business Caucus and the vice chairman of the Western Caucus.
Soon after he arrived in Congress, he cosponsored a Katie’s Law measure patterned after one he pursued in the Colorado Legislature. The bill encouraged states to implement minimum DNA collection standards and enhanced collection processes for felons in order to strengthen law enforcement’s ability to prevent violent crimes.
He also has taken up the epidemic abuse of opioids and heroin in his district, conducting several town hall sessions about how to deal with the narcotics.
“It’s a blessing, an opportunity” to deal with a wide variety of issues, Tipton said.
He and his wife, Jean, have two daughters, Elizabeth and Liesl, and one grandchild.