Dems keep hammering McCain on water comments

Renegotiation would be "dangerously naive"

By John Schroyer
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

Even after several days of controversy following Republican presidential candidate John McCain’s comment that he’d be interested in renegotiating the 1922 Colorado River Compact, Colorado Democrats seem determined to keep hammering McCain over the perceived misstep until November.

During a conference call Wednesday, Gov. Bill Ritter and U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar slammed McCain’s statements — which were initially printed in The Pueblo Chieftain a week earlier — calling the suggestion to reopen the compact “dangerously naïve.”

McCain told The Chieftain, “The compact that is in effect, obviously, needs to be renegotiated over time amongst the interested parties.”

The Republican presidential candidate added that he wouldn’t necessarily intervene as America’s chief executive because he prizes states’ rights over federal power.

Even a suggestion of renegotiation, however, was enough to send Colorado Democrats into a frenzy.

“The political destruction that would result from renegotiation of these allocations would create a water war across the West. It is foolhardy for him to make that suggestion,” said Salazar.

McCain has been backpedaling on those comments for several days, and in a letter to Colorado’s Republican U.S. Sen. Wayne Allard, he wrote, “My recent remarks may have been mistakenly construed as a call to rescind the Colorado River Compact and commence negotiations for new water allocations. Let me be clear that I do not advocate renegotiation of the compact.

“A federally driven scheme to reopen the compact would run afoul of my long-held respect for the importance of state law… Under no circumstances would I move forward with Colorado River policies not supported by all states involved.”

He further called the compact “the backbone of water law in the Southwest,” and said it represents “the critical foundation” for water law and planning among the western states involved.

But Ritter derided the letter as “a retraction,” and charged that McCain had mistakenly revealed his true sentiment as an Arizonan.

“The word ‘renegotiate’ does not have a double meaning. It is about opening (the compact) up and negotiating it again, and the fact that he’s willing to do that, it has to demonstrate… a bias for the lower-basin states,” Ritter said. “This is a reversal of direction, but it’s a reversal I think Colorado voters have to pay close attention to.”

Former U.S. Sen. Hank Brown and former U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis, both prominent Colorado Republicans, defended McCain.

Said Brown, “Colorado has a strong friend on water in John McCain. John is one of the most knowledgeable, deeply versed senators there is on water and Western issues. I am disappointed that the Democrats would engage in this type of election-year politicking.”

McInnis added, “On the Western slope and across Colorado, we have no better friend who cares and understands Western water than John McCain.”

Salazar, however, predicted that McCain’s comments last week will haunt him through Election Day. He pointed to the statewide ballot question Referendum A, which failed spectacularly at the ballot box in 2003 because it was perceived as a water grab by the Front Range. He said that was an indication of how seriously Coloradans take water issues, especially in rural areas where water is the lifeblood of agriculture.

Salazar called McCain’s suggestion to renegotiate the compact “A fundamental question that the people of Colorado will remember for a long time.”

The compact was shaped over more than a decade of negotiations, between 1910 and 1922, and was signed by Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.

Salazar stumps for Obama, promises “very short speech” at convention

Just two hours before his conference call with Ritter, Salazar held a call of his own, in which he stumped for Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama and laughingly promised not to make a “41-minute speech” at the Democratic National Convention next week.

Salazar touched on McCain’s water compact comment, again promising that the compact would only be renegotiated “over my dead body,” and warned that the president of the United States has tremendous influence over interstate water policy.

But for most of the call, Salazar mainly discussed Obama’s campaign, and said his remarks at the convention will focus on what he feels are the parallels between him and the Illinois senator.

“Both Barack Obama and myself are the personification of the greatness of this country,” Salazar said, referring to the fact that both rose from very humble beginnings.

He noted that both of them grew up poor, but through hard work and perseverance were able to make it all the way to the U.S. Senate.

“Those possibilities could only happen here in this country. They couldn’t happen anywhere else in the world. That’s what makes, for me personally, this election so exciting,” Salazar said.