U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton of Cortez visited Bayfield High School on Oct. 14 to discuss the ins and outs of making federal legislation and serving with congressmen who might not necessarily understand the importance of water law in the West.
Tipton said he was explaining water rights to a representative from Mississippi, where the problem in his district is often too much water, as opposed to the water wars in our part of the country.
"That is absolutely fascinating," the Southern legislator told Tipton.
Tipton, dressed in jeans, cowboy boots and a jacket, took questions directly from the students in the school's new auditorium.
One asked how he gets along with senators from Arizona and other states downstream from the Colorado River regarding water.
"We get along just fine as long as they understand it's ours," Tipton quipped, eliciting laughter from the students.
Tipton pointed out that Colorado is one of the few states with no major river serving as a water source. Instead, it's our snowpack.
"We need to store more," he said, explaining that is allowed under the Colorado River Compact.
He also said he has "deep concerns" about the new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposal, Water of the United States, particularly its impact on family farms.
Another student asked Tipton if he thought marijuana should be regulated at the federal, state or local level.
Colorado's voter initiative legalizing recreational marijuana "has created some challenges," he said. One area where the Republican legislator says he agrees with Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, is the impact of marijuana use on young people. He doesn't foresee a federal law anytime soon to legalize marijuana, but he said Congress is watching Colorado - and its tax revenues from legalized pot. He said in general, regulations are better handled at the state and local level, as opposed to federal control.
Another student asked Tipton what he thought of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision not to review several federal court rulings on same-sex marriage, making it legal for residents in the affected states to marry.
Tipton said he respects the ruling, even though he was raised with the belief that marriage is between one man and one woman. He said he has gay friends who want the legal protections offered by marriage.
"To me, that's sensible," he said.
What does Tipton see as the primary issue affecting Colorado? That was asked by Preston Hardy, a senior at BHS.
Jobs and the economy, Tipton quickly answered.
Tipton said he wants Colorado to have an economy where students can graduate high school, go to college, "and come back here if you choose to do so." He said broadband Internet will be part of that, as well as less regulation of small businesses. The number of small businesses closing down is exceeding the number that are being started up, he said.
Tipton serves on the house agriculture, natural resources and small business committees. He also chairs a subcommittee on energy, agriculture and trade. He encouraged students to vote as soon as they turn 18 and to be involved in their local political parties. Tipton won re-election in November, beating Democrat Abel Tapia of Pueblo.