ALAMOSA—U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet visited Alamosa for what was his third town hall on Thursday, after speaking in Colorado Springs and Pueblo. For one hour it was standing room only at the Rio Grande Water Conservation District.
Questions were not screened and Boys and Girls Clubs of the San Luis Valley President Chris Lopez moderated by reading off names of those who signed up to ask.
The first question was about President Trump's proposed budget since it was the news of the day. The budget would eliminate funding of all 49 National Heritage Areas. Three of those are in Colorado with the Sangre de Cristo National Heritage area located in the Valley. An audience member expressed concern and asked what Bennet was doing about it.
"Obviously it's a huge concern and it's not the only concern," said Bennet. "To be honest this budget is the first blush of the budget. It's not specific yet and we're going to have to see what the specifics are. But this is a budget that takes a huge whack at rural America.
"I think it's a huge mistake to do what they’re proposing. Fortunately there are a lot of Republicans pushing back against this as well."
To continue a theme, the second question asked if Bennet supported the Antiquities Act and Bears Ears National Monument, a monument in Utah that is threatened to no longer be protected by the act.
Bennet said that he supported both and that he, Gov. John Hickenlooper and U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner have written a letter asking for the Outdoor Retailer Market to be held in Colorado instead of Utah.
"They don't care about public lands so they should bring it to Colorado where we do care about public lands. I think we're winning this fight on public lands, though it may not feel like it with the current administration."
Alamosan James Bird asked why Bennet voted against having drugs imported from Canada. "I was disappointed to here that," Bird said.
Bennet agreed that people are paying too much for prescription drugs but he said that importing isn't the answer.
"I think the solution to that is to allow Medicare to negotiate with the pharmaceutical companies," Bennet said. "I can tell you the companies don't share that view. The idea that we're going to solve this in some Rubik’s Cube way by reimporting drugs that have been sent to Canada is crazy.
"You should be able to buy drugs in America at a reasonable price. Why should we be the only people in the industrialized world that has to settle for that kind of insurance?"
San Luis Valley Area Health Education Center Executive Director Freddie Jaquez mentioned that he is also concerned about Trump's budget proposal. SLVAHEC and other organizations have been working on stopping the opioid problems in the Valley.
"If the funding gets cut, we're going to be in a real hurt because then we won't be able to address it," said Jaquez.
"I'm deeply concerned, and we should all be deeply concerned, that the national balance sheet is totally out of whack," Bennet said. "If our debt becomes more expensive to serve, we're just going to see more cuts to domestic discretionary spending. We're going to have to work together to figure out how to deal with it.
"They're claiming the plan is fiscally responsible but the reality is that they're shifting the responsibility, without the money, to you and the state."
Sandra Wagner, an adjunct chemistry instructor at Adams State University, told Bennet that she was worried about the lack of students in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.
"I would trade everything we're talking about here if I knew that every child in America, no matter what circumstance they're born into, had access to quality education," responded Bennet.
He discussed how the science classes no longer captivate the minds of students and mentioned that Denver Public Schools used to only require one to two years of math classes.
"We're a long way from where we need to be, but we're a lot closer to that today than we were 10 years ago," Bennet said.
Bennet ended the town hall by announcing that he will have Farm Bill listening sessions in a few months.
"I'm wide open to your suggestions about water," he said. "I'm really worried about our forests and our watersheds. If these things collapse, everyone down stream is going to care about it in a hurry. I was sad to see that he was cutting the forest service. If you think it's somehow less expensive to wait for the fire to happen than to mitigate it before it happens, you're nuts."
After the town hall Bennet immediately headed to Durango for a town hall Friday morning and another later in Grand Junction.