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Water, housing and democracy: Senators lay out priorities in Congress

Bennet and Hickenlooper hope to make progress on curbing climate change
Sens. John Hickenlooper and Michael Bennet

In the upcoming Congress, U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper say they plan to prioritize affordable housing, water shortages and climate change, among other national concerns.

Bennet said he would like to use federal resources to help build affordable housing more cheaply, thereby confronting a pricing issue that is deeply affecting working-class Coloradans.

“They’re working really, really hard, but no matter how hard they work, they feel that they can’t afford some accommodation of housing, health care, higher education, or early childhood education,” Bennet said in an interview with The Durango Herald. “Nowhere is that more true than in Southwest Colorado.”

Bennet also wants to “keep the tax code fair” for working class people, as he said he did with his Child Tax Credit Expansion in 2021, which cut child poverty nearly in half.

Hickenlooper said housing ranks as a “high priority” for him. He has multiple plans of action, but plans to place an emphasis on mobile homes.

“Mobile home parks are true affordable housing,” Hickenlooper said in an interview with the Herald.

Mobile home parks often face the threat of being purchased by private equity companies, which then tend to increase rent on tenants making it more difficult for them to afford to live there. Hickenlooper, after visiting parks and speaking with residents, said the lack of affordable housing can be addressed, in part, through vouchers to build more structures, affordable housing tax credits and expanding supply of housing.

Hickenlooper also wants to address workers and small businesses in Colorado, saying he predicts a surge in experience-based learning such as apprenticeships and trade schools, which he hopes will receive bipartisan support.

This extends to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, or the HELP Committee. Through the committee, a program called CareerWise Colorado was developed to encourage kids to join apprenticeship programs and develop useful life skills outside of a traditional four-year college track.

“I think that’s something that can touch a huge amount of people and change America forever,” Hickenlooper said.

In the wake of supporting trade schools, Hickenlooper is also focused on supporting small businesses, saying he wants to “simplify life” for owners and employers. And he is eager to get more involved with immigration and gun control, two issues that are steeped in partisanship.

Both senators want to continue expanding access to water and internet services for Indigenous tribes.

In terms of climate change, both senators agree that immediate action must be taken, with Hickenlooper urging to depoliticize the subject. Bennet said the crisis of the Colorado River Basin, specifically the lack of water in Lake Powell and Lake Mead, as having a possible impact on Colorado.

“We have to come to some sort of agreement about what we’re going to do as communities to be able to pass the Rocky Mountain West over to the next generation of Americans,” Bennet said.

Hickenlooper cited the Inflation Reduction Act as moving the needle forward on climate change, but he said more progress is needed to harness wind and solar energy.

Overall, Bennet’s three main priorities are helping to grow the economy, drought implications and restoring hope for democracy. Hickenlooper echoed these sentiments, calling for more faith in democracy as a whole.

“I think this has the potential to be a Congress that surprises a lot of people, because you have the House that’s dominated by some very, very conservative Republicans who are going to really drive a lot of the activity there,” Hickenlooper said. “I think the Senate’s going to be the repository of common sense.”

Sarah Mattalian is an intern for The Durango Herald and The Journal in Cortez and a student at American University in Washington, D.C. She can be reached at smattalian@durangoherald.com.

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