When Justin Mahan, a Pueblo resident, couldn’t make a meet and greet lunch with U.S. Rep. Jared Polis in early August because the meeting wasn’t in a wheelchair-accessible space, the Colorado gubernatorial candidate stayed late, paid for Mahan’s pizza and the two took a few minutes to chat about Mahan’s concerns on national health care policy.
What happens with the Affordable Care Act and whether it is repealed and how it will impact Medicaid is important to Mahan, as he relies on the program.
“I have a disability and Medicaid pays for people to come into my home and help me do everyday stuff. It more or less ensures my independence, so it’s very important to me,” Mahan said. “The big thing I stressed to him (Polis) was that if Medicaid were to receive major cuts, such as those proposed during the health care repeal, there was a good chance I might end up in a nursing home.”
Given the chance, Mahan said he’d lay out the same concerns with U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, who had some reservations of the the GOP but ultimately voted for to repeal and replace ACA. Afterall, Tipton is the congressman for Pueblo.
Polis, a Boulderite, represents Colorado’s 2nd Congressional District in congress. This summer he has made more trips to speak with Puebloans in an open setting than Tipton has.
It didn’t seem to matter much to those at the meet and greet with Polis which district he represented, many came with questions and concerns of the Trump administration and what Democrats are doing in congress to fight various policy changes. Pueblo City Council president Steve Nawrocki even took an opportunity to say how embarrassed he felt that Trump was the president, and even worse that he’d won Pueblo.
The Polis event was reminiscent of a town hall with a congressman because it was. It just wasn’t a townhall with Pueblo’s congressman.
“It seems like Republicans are more reluctant to have town hall-style events ever since the health care debacle,” Mahan said. “They got a lot of bad press during those events.”
Jason Munoz, a Pueblo Democrat running for city council, helped organize the meet and greet.
For him, the town hall-style event was a good way to meet Polis and get to know the candidate’s stances on Colorado issues. But admitted there were a lot of questions for Congressman Polis, as opposed to candidate for governor Polis.
“Maybe because that was the first time in a long time that they had a federal representative willing to field tough questions,” Munoz said. “I think it does say something about the political climate.”
Tipton has hosted a handful of tele-townhalls where constituents can call in with questions, but just one in person meeting in Pueblo West.
“I think his (Polis’) town hall approach is an attempt to bridge that gap, he’s trying to connect with people who feel left out of the conversation so far,” Mahan said.
That’s also a major theme of Polis’ stops in Pueblo so far, Mahan said. When voters are asking about healthcare or Trump or education, they’re reminding the candidate that Pueblo hasn’t seen the same kind of economic growth as the Denver metro area has.
Mahan calls it the rural resentment issue, and it’s noticeable at campaign meets with Polis.
“Several people asked very pointed questions about what he is going to do about the issues places like Pueblo face, and people really felt that they’re being left out in favor of more urban places to the north – especially in Denver,” Mahan said.
Of course, those issues aren’t new. It’s not unusual to overhear a conversation where the hook is how state government has neglected Pueblo and southeastern Colorado, whether that be in jobs, infrastructure resources or education, all umbrella issues that a governor — opposed to a congressman — could more quickly create lasting impact.
For the issues Pueblo and its constituents face, there isn’t always a hard line between whether it falls in the jurisdiction of a governor or a congressman. The Polis campaign says this is particularly true with healthcare.
“Jared has a strong record of championing bold solutions to expand healthcare access and reduce costs, some of that can be applied at the state level such as pricing transparency,” said Polis’ campaign spokesperson Mara Sheldon. “That is why Jared has been traveling the state, hearing from Coloradans on what is working and not working. Jared’s guiding principles on healthcare reform are that he supports changes that expand access, reduce costs, and maintains quality.”
But the question, given the concerns of those who attend the meet and greets, remains: can Polis do more at home than back in Washington, where a lot of people’s political anxiety seems to be rooted?
“Yeah, probably so. Unless maybe he ran for Senate in 2020,” Munoz said. “But even still he could probably do more for Colorado ASAP if he becomes governor.”