AgricultureElection 2018FeaturedNews

Stapleton to ag community: I’ll stand up for you with Trump administration

Author: Marianne Goodland - July 20, 2018 - Updated: July 20, 2018

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Colorado State Treasurer Walker Stapleton addresses the 2018 Colorado Republican State Assembly while accepting his nomination for governor at the Coors Events Center on the campus of the University of Colorado Boulder in Boulder on April 14. (Photo by Andy Colwell for Colorado Politics)

State treasurer and Republican gubernatorial candidate Walker Stapleton hosted a roundtable Thursday for representatives of the agriculture community on trade and tariffs — a session that was closed to reporters.

The forum, hosted at the Colorado Farm Bureau’s headquarters in Centennial, included Stapleton and three Republican members of the General Assembly: his lieutenant governor running mate, state Rep. Lang Sias of Arvada; Senate President Pro tem Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling; and Rep. Hugh McKean of Loveland, who questioned why the press wasn’t allowed into the roundtable.

The Stapleton campaign closed the event to the press, in contrast to a roundtable hosted by Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet  a week earlier on the same issue, to which reporters were invited to attend.

Stapleton campaign official Michael Fortney, when asked why the press was barred, cited Colorado case law that said discussions of legislation outside the scope of public business was not a meeting under the state’s open meetings law.

Stapleton did speak to reporters after the roundtable, relaying that he had told the ag representatives that he would be a governor who backs the industry and would work with the Trump administration on policies beneficial to agriculture.

“I will stand up when policies damage Colorado’s economic future,” he said, adding he is concerned about the escalating trade war with China and its economic consequences for Colorado.

However, when questioned by reporters, Stapleton acknowledged that he has not spoken to President Trump or Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue about trade and tariff issues and the impact on agriculture. But he is concerned about it, he said.

Exports from Colorado are an $8 billion a year business, with Canada, Mexico and China the top three export destinations for Colorado goods, according to data from the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade. Meat is the state’s top export.

Stapleton said the ag representatives made it clear that they are willing to “cede some negotiating power to the administration” but that they want to see an “end game” rather than a policy of tariffs with no apparent end in sight.

Stapleton also appeared to back off recent statements that he would welcome Trump to Colorado to stump on his behalf. The president is busy with international affairs, Stapleton said. “I’m interested in protecting Colorado’s economy” from the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, U.S. Rep. Jared Polis of Boulder, he added.

The Colorado Democratic Party reacted to Stapleton’s forum later in the day.

“Nobody should be fooled by what this is: a laughably lame attempt by Stapleton to distance himself from Trump after clinging to him through the primary,” said Eric Walker, Colorado Democratic Party spokesperson. “Unfortunately for Stapleton, a photo op won’t erase his on-record support for Trump’s agenda of cutting taxes for millionaires, raising health care premiums, ripping coverage away from hundreds of thousands of Coloradans, and putting special interests ahead of what’s best for Colorado families.”

The forum included representatives from the Colorado Livestock Association; wheat, corn and potato growers; the state grange; and several farmers and ranchers, including Marc Arnusch, who owns a farm near Keenesburg.

Arnusch told Colorado Politics that what’s most important to Colorado agriculture is access to markets. He said he is most concerned about negotiations over the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) which were stalled while Mexico elected a new president.

“We’re having the right conversation about NAFTA but it needs to come to an end,” Arnusch said, adding that the agreement is the most important thing to Colorado farmers and ranchers, and it needed to be modernized. That would include areas that didn’t exist 22 years ago when the original agreement was hammered out, such as biotechnology and how to tap into export value for processed commodities such as red meat, pork, eggs and flour, he said.

“We create the value in Colorado” and that creates jobs and generates tax revenue, Arnusch said, and he’d like to see a market based on exported value rather than on specific bushels of the raw commodities.

What stands in the way, he said, is different sets of standards among the three nations for food safety and shipping. For example, the United States has one set of standards for herbicides and insecticides, he said yet Canada and Mexico have lower standards that may allow their exports to include the chemicals banned in this country.

Chad Vorthmann of the Colorado Farm Bureau said the agency is hoping to do a similar forum with Polis in the near future, although he said the campaign has not yet responded to that request.

Marianne Goodland

Marianne Goodland

Marianne Goodland is the chief legislative reporter for Colorado Politics. She's covered the Colorado General Assembly for 20 years, starting off in 1998 with the Silver & Gold Record, the editorially-independent newspaper at CU that was shuttered in 2009. She also writes for six rural newspapers in northeastern Colorado. Marianne specializes in rural issues, agriculture, water and, during election season, campaign finance. In her free time (ha!) she lives in Lakewood with her husband, Jeff; a cantankerous Shih-Tzu named Sophie; and Gunther the cat. She is also an award-winning professional harpist.