The CO-03 Diaries: Interview with State Rep. Donald Valdez

This past week I got the chance to interview Donald Valdez. He serves as State Representative for the 62nd House District as a member of the Democratic Party. I want to thank him for taking the time to speak with me. You can find the full transcript of the interview below, edited primarily for clarity purposes. The full audio interview can be found on our podcast providers, like Spotify and Apple Podcasts.

What made you decide to run for Congress?

You know, I, I’ve done a lot of fence-mending in my time, but sometimes the fence just needs to be replaced. And our current Congresswoman, you know, her conspiracy theories are a threat to our democracy and our health. And I’m putting people first and putting our district first. You know, we need a voice now more than ever in DC and I’m running to be that voice.

How has your experience as a farmer and rancher and as a legislator doing work with people in Denver impacted your view of what government can do for people?

You know, as, as a farmer, from southern Colorado, we work hard every day from sunup to sundown, and it’s about working for the common good. And, you know, it’s about bringing things to the table. And that’s one thing I’ve done, in the state capital, has brought, brought people to the table and find solutions and, and some of those solutions, you know, they come with a compromise. But more than anything, it’s about communication and getting to the root of the problem. Sometimes that, like I mentioned earlier, sometimes means it just needs to be replaced. We have a lot of issues, agriculture, and water. We’ve been in a drought with this climate change that has been devastating to us on a daily basis. Our water is essential. Water is life, it’s our lifeblood to our communities, and we need to make sure we continue to look at our watersheds, protection and quality and quantity of water, but also look at how to we should restore stream bank restoration, vegetation, but also the ecology of our rivers, rivers, streams, and also our aquifers at the same time. So our first have been depleted and need to make sure we’re looking at our upper levels on a regular basis, and making sure water conservation is at the head of the table, in our communities, and in the state of Colorado. Right, that makes sense.

On the state level in Colorado, how did you first get involved in running for state representative?

You know, always been involved since an early age and part of it, not only just looking at the economic dynamics of politics, but also getting involved at a local level, I was involved in our county party in Conejos County. Being involved in listening and learning, I was at times a secretary, and at other times I was a vice-chair, not only looking at the dynamics that are at a local level, but also state-level and national-level politics. So with that, back in 2015, I announced my candidacy for the State House. And I continue to move forward, I had to, I guess, retired from the Department of Agriculture, as they would say, resign my position as a conservationist and a technician with the Department of Ag with the Natural Resource Conservation Service because of the Hatch Act, and with that, in 2015, I announced my candidacy for the State House and I never looked back. I won my primary in 2016 and then the general in 2016, November 2016. I got sworn in in 2017, and continue to serve the people in House District 62. I’m now running for the third congressional district for Congress to have a voice in Washington, D.C. for the people in the southern and western part of Colorado.

So you already, you already mentioned, you know, the biggest issues being, you know, water and the environment as well, and agriculture in general. But what are some of the other big issues that are facing the district? I know public lands is a big one, from having talked to Reps. McInnis and Salazar, and Campbell as well. But you know, I will, from your perspective, what are some of these other issues that are really important?

Absolutely, water is one of the major issues but also our soil health too. And that includes not only our public lands but our private lands and making sure that we have education and we can help out the public lands with our infrastructure. Our watersheds have been devastated by the bark beetle, and I never want to see another forest fire. And because of how devastating they are in 2018, we had one of the worst wildfires in my district, this Spring Fire – it burned over 108,000 acres and more than 143 homes and one of those homes was my brother in law’s and I’ll tell you one thing, it’s been devastating and nobody wants to lose a home. But what it does to the after-effects of erosion, and also water quality is bad too. And with that water quality is making sure our downstream water protection sheds are in place and making also looking at soil management, but also soil health because we don’t want that soil to be eroded down into the streets and plugged up for having other issues and to our water streams and nd river streams also.

Another part of the issue in our district is education, and that’s one of the aspects I want to continue pushing forward. You look at retaining and recruiting more teachers in rural Colorado now more than ever, but also the education factor, how to increase in pay for our teachers too. We need to make sure we’re we have the ability for good quality teachers. But more importantly, our students are in need now of education, in all aspects, because during this pandemic infrastructural needs for broadband to even our roads and bridges, and the infrastructure package we’re looking at, just continue to grow. Broadband in rural communities is important, which is a huge need not only for education but also for agricultural aspects. And, for small businesses to people can work from home. Builders and small businesses or entrepreneurs from home with broadband are expanding into whole areas of Colorado, which is a huge, huge bonus. And that telehealth bill that I passed in the State House continues to move forward and help out rural areas of Colorado with telehealth. You don’t have to be driving all the time to Denver from Durango or from La Jara direct to Denver to see a specialist or see a provider when we can see them online and communicate with them offline on a regular basis.

What ideas do you have about combating diversion projects and keeping Colorado’s water in Colorado and not saying Utah or Wyoming?

Well, it was a historical call just last couple of months ago, on the Colorado River to send water from the Flaming Gorge to Blue Mesa and from Blue Mesa to the Navajo reservoir into Lake Mead to keep up with their levels, on the south Southern basin on the Colorado River. And in that aspect is not only to keep the lights on in Las Vegas but the need right now, it continues to impact our communities in those on the Colorado River watersheds, this aspect of economic development. As water levels continue to drop for storage, we need now more than ever above-average, but multiple years of above-average snowpack coming forward. And as we’ve seen, and climate change has devastated or is currently changing things on a regular basis. We need to continue looking at and monitoring our snowpack levels in all areas to make sure that we have enough water to regain the storage that we’re putting back into the Colorado River for Lake Mead right now. With that, we need to make sure that the Front Range is living within its means, and not looking for expansion or speculation, or more water from the Western Slope, or from the San Luis Valley, and southern Colorado. In that aspect, conservation needs in all areas, not only in the state of Colorado, but the country, the US, and surrounding neighbors, we need to look at water conservation and, you know, utilizing only the need for now, instead of wasting more water and reusing our water on a regular basis. And if people continue to look at more speculation, as we heard in Water Resources Committee, we need to make sure that what is the need and why and how this is going to devastate our communities in the long run. I do not want to see things get dry anywhere, as I’ve seen in the past. I’ve seen how it’s devastated our communities here in southern Colorado, especially on the Arkansas watershed.

You support robust climate development and environmental measures to combat climate change. But in parts of the district, particularly in the northwest, near Rangely, and Craig and Meeker. there’s a big economy around fossil fuels, coal, and oil. So you know, how do you plan to balance the needs of those types of communities?

Oh, absolutely, we need a balance, but also a transition for economic development from coal and renewable energy, and looking to see the dynamics of that. With our water storage, I’d like to look at more hydro energy in our communities, and how do we utilize that as beneficiaries, as beneficiaries of a waterfall and gravity. We can capture that, that would be a huge benefit to the energy sector.

Lauren Boebert is a lightning rod for Democrats. You’re one of a field of, I think, six or seven candidates that are running. Why are you a better fit for the districts than the other candidates who are running in the primary?

You know, I’m running my own campaign and reaching out to people in the district, in all of our counties, from the western slope to southern Colorado, making sure that, you know, people are heard as a state representative for House District 62, covering counties in the third congressional district. And so it’s a large area, not only being boots on the ground, but you got to be with people, you got to listen to hear the issues and concerns. Because we have identity issues. If you’re not out and about with the people, you’re out of touch. For community meetings together, we’ve held them and we continue to listen to people on a regular basis. And as we move forward in all aspects, it’s about the people, and the people will choose who they want us to be represented by. And right now, our Congresswoman is out of touch with the people.

This district, obviously, has a high amount of Democrats in it,.Democrats routinely 46%. But to get over the hump to that 50 is really, really difficult. Democrats need to win unaffiliated voters, who on the western slope and in southern Colorado oftentimes are conservative-leaning independents. So, you know, as a Democrat, how do you you know, how does one or how do you plan to win over some of those voters?

Well, one thing is reaching out to them. A lot of times, you know, the unaffiliateds have felt they’ve been left out, that they don’t have a voice and, you know, reaching out to them, meeting with them, talk to them about the issues, they want to be heard. With that, I’m picking up momentum not only with unaffiliateds and independents, but also with the Democrats. Doing well with each portion is about people. With that, I have some Republican friends that have endorsed me, and they’re supporting me in this race. And it’s a huge aspect, it’s about the people it’s, you know, moving forward as a whole, and being united on the front line. More than anything, it’s about bringing back funding and programs for economic development, growth, and protecting our natural resources from our public lands, to our water and our soils, and our air. The beauty of Colorado is, bar none, one of the prettiest states I’ve ever seen in the US. And I’ll tell you one thing, everywhere you go in the state of Colorado in the third CD, I’m always touched. I always learned something new, whether it be history, or something innovative, or a new face, or a new name. That’s one thing I love about the third CD and will continue to always be inspired about our communities. For the Western Slope and southern Colorado. We have San Luis where Colorado began, and we have people who still have those water rights in Colorado. How do we continue to protect and making sustainability as COVID?

Latinos are an underappreciated aspect of the Democratic coalition in CD3. How are you planning to fight for Hispanos and Latinos in the district?

As a proud 5th-generation Hispano/Latino from southern Colorado, I have roots, I have family in all four corners of the state of Colorado, especially in southern Colorado and the 3rd CD. My family has not supported me but continues to reach out to me and pushes me along with that. When we unite, we are strong. Cuando nosotros somos juntos, si se puede a ganar, todo el tiempo. Pues, vamos a votar en esta elección. Vamos a ganar. Porque sí se puede, oiga, órale! (When we are strong, we can win all the time. Let’s vote in this election, we’re going to win, because yes we can!). Spanish is our language. And we need to make sure that we’re continuing to be a voice for the people in all aspects and all diversities, all ethnicities. Our Hispanic culture is deep in southern Colorado and in the Western Slope and tell you one thing, it’s the beauty, not only the language of the Spanish language but also the culture, the food, and diversity, that we bring to the table. That’s one thing I want to continue advocating for, and voicing for the next generation. Now more than ever.

In Colorado, the Democratic Party is increasingly becoming a liberal party dominated by politicians from the Denver area. On what issues do you differ most from them, you know, coming from the San Luis Valley, which has a very different type of area of Democrats from Denver?

I look at it, as one who is rural Colorado born and rural Colorado raised. Our natural resources, our water, and our air, to have a voice, you know. I have friends on both sides of the aisle and those are my colleagues. So we work together and continue to bring prosperity forward for the state of Colorado. And we have some of the similar issues. Yes, we have housing issues, yes, we have economic development issues, yes, we have the need for food sustainability. And as a farmer, I want to make sure that I know where my food is going. And making sure that those who are consuming it are enjoying it are wanting way more of it, too. So it goes back to marketing and advertising, but also food, health, and safety aspect of health and safety. We have needs for safety in rural Colorado for our hospitals and health and wellness, and exercise and diet. And our hospitals are exceptional. But also the bad part is we have great distance, sometimes 30 minutes to an hour from a hospital or an emergency room. And those dynamics are different from Metro Denver to rural Colorado. So that’s another aspect that we continue to make sure. Health and wellness are a necessity.

As a Democrat from rural Colorado, you know, do you have a unique perspective on gun-related issues?

Absolutely, yes, I am pro-Second Amendment and I’m a firearm owner and I’m a hunter, and I’m a fisherman. And I’m not only protecting my livestock or animals, but I also want to make sure that I have those firearms or tools for protecting my lifestyle and for hunting needs. But in the need for background checks, absolutely, we need to have background checks. We can’t just give firearms to anybody in that aspect. I want to make sure you know those who are purchasing firearms are registered in the state. And with that, we do need education and accountability. I do see the need now more for education., going to hunter safety, absolutely. Education is a great, great thing. I’m glad that Colorado Parks and Wildlife are putting on educational programs for those who continue to want to utilize firearms.

What do you say to Democrats who say you are too moderate?

Education is a huge aspect and reaching across to colleagues in all aspects is this educational factor of communication. The reason why is that it’s important to ask, how do we work important work together and bring everybody to the table. And a lot of times, you know, you hear from one side, but you don’t hear from the other side.

What committees do you want to serve on in the House, if you win?

Well, for one, Agriculture. Agriculture is a huge aspect in helping out our farmers and ranchers across America, but also, more importantly, in the third CD and rural, rural Colorado, it’s a huge need now more than ever. I mean, we needed a voice now in agriculture every single day. So we need to make sure that we’re providing and putting food on our table. If you don’t have food on our table, you know, it’s scarce and it’s there’s a fight for the aspects of hunger. Another committee, I’d like to continue looking at this, it’d be local government or also transportation. The transportation needs now infrastructural needs in our communities are exceptional, but infrastructure as a whole including broadband, the need for broadband and communication worldwide is a big aspect I want to continue to voice on.

Which Republicans do you admire?

Well, there’s a variety of them, but right now, you know, looking at it, the one that I probably would not want to work with is our current Congresswoman. And so with that, I’d be willing to work with most any rule, legislator, Democrat or Republican or independent.

Armin Thomas is a recent graduate of Yale University specializing in statistics. His interests include politics, elections, music, and the work of J. R. R. Tolkien. His Twitter is @thomas_armin and he can be reached at [email protected]

1 Comment

  1. I’ve been a supporter of Donald Valdez for several years. I think he’s an awesome representative of the San Luis Valley and I think he would serve D3 well in DC. The challenge is winning the election. I think the more Donald is out there, the more public he becomes with his views — and focused — the more likely he will be to have a solid shot. I don’t think the San Luis Valley is familiar to a lot of people in Colorado, either. That’s a challenge, too. Somehow he’s going to need to bring our (I live in the SLV) world to the rest of D3 to show how his experiences are relevant to most rural counties in Colorado — because they are. I hope to read more interviews in more publications. I’d rather see Donald Valdez in DC than any of the others who are running. I have met him and he’s a good guy. I think he’s very very effective one-on-one with people.

    Boebert is the knee-jerk sweetheart of a lot of people who aren’t thinking. Valdez will not get their votes, but I think there are more thinking people than reacting people in D3. Valdez’ moderate stance is appropriate, realistic and reflects the perspective of most of the people I know.

Leave a Comment