Diane Mitsch Bush, Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District Democratic candidate, has found many residents in the district are working together to improve their communities. (Courtesy photo)

Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District is vast. With a population of about 750,000, it encompasses the entire Western Slope, from New Mexico to Wyoming, plus a swathe of the Eastern Plains.

District 3 is also diverse, with small towns and cities, sparsely populated ranch and desert lands, national forest and mountain resort towns like Telluride.

Perhaps it’s not surprising, then, that Diane Mitsch Bush, when asked about her policy priorities, speaks on issues as varied and wide-ranging as the district she hopes to represent.

The Democratic candidate in the District 3 race, Mitsch Bush is a former member of the Colorado House of Representatives, representing House District 26 from 2013 until January 2017, when she resigned to focus full-time on running for U.S. Congress.

Campaigning for a year and a half, Mitsch Bush has crisscrossed the district, working to unseat Rep. Scott Tipton, who was swept into office on 2010’s Tea Party wave. The Republican from Cortez won re-election for a third time in 2016 by 14 percentage points. Tipton did not respond to interview requests for this story. This time around, the race is tighter, according to poll aggregation website, FiveThirtyEight.

Mitsch Bush has pledged not to accept money from corporate PACs (political action committees) and the fossil fuels industry, so perhaps it is unsurprising that she identifies income inequality as the “overarching issue” that influences her policy positions.

“Overall, we need to bring America back so that it works for everyone, so that everyone has opportunity,” she said.

For her, this begins with better access to affordable health care as Mitsch Bush pointed out that those of us living on the Western Slope have “the dubious distinction of the highest health insurance premiums in the United States.”

“Health care is a human right,” she said. “We are the only industrialized democracy that doesn’t cover all of its people. We need to cover everyone.”

She continued, “We can pass a uniquely American version of single-payer, universal health insurance. My opponent likes to say, ‘She wants a government takeover.’ No, this is an insurance policy so that everyone is covered, similar to what we have now with Medicare. Medicare is an insurance policy. Medicare doesn’t pick your doctor. Medicare doesn’t pick your hospital. In fact, it’s the insurance companies that do that. That’s why Medicare is superior to private coverage.”

Mitsch Bush acknowledged that while providing for universal access to health care might have to wait for a political shift in the White House and Congress, Democrats in Congress have already introduced three bills — all of which have her support — that would provide some immediate relief on a smaller scale. One would do away with a 2006 law that prevents Medicare from negotiating lower drug prices with pharmaceutical companies.

“The VA has long had the authority to negotiate and their drug prices are less than a third of Medicare’s,” she said, adding of the pharmaceutical industry: “They are shameless, utterly and completely shameless. They have a big, strong lobbying presence both at the state and federal levels. I know how to stand up to these people because I did it at the statehouse, and I promise I will do it at the nation’s capital.”

Another piece to the income inequality puzzle, for Mitsch Bush, is “an economy that works for everyone, not just the 1 percent.”

In achieving this, she stressed, improving infrastructure is key.

“We used to invest in our infrastructure, and our people, and it made us strong and prosperous. We need to do that again,” she said.

Mitsch Bush said she supported funding for transportation — multimodal as well as roads and bridges — improved broadband, especially in rural areas, and improvements to the nation’s electricity grids and water systems, including water quality, water monitoring and wastewater.

She said she also supports better investment in education, including protecting public education.

“There are also two issues we should pursue: one is universal preschool and also, at the other end, reducing the onerous burden of college student loan debt. There are very sensible ways to do both,” she said.

Mitsch Bush is an avid backcountry skiing and outdoorsperson, and spoke of her love for Colorado’s wild places and natural beauty — and of the need to protect the environment.

“This administration has rolled back science-based environmental protections,” she said. “We need to bring those back so that we can protect our air, our water, our habitat. Along with that, we have to keep our public lands public … And we have to tackle climate change now, and by ‘now,’ I mean January 2019. We’ve waited too long, but there is still room to get some things done. We need to do it now.”

Mitsch Bush has spent the past two years looking forward to what she would do if elected to represent Colorado’s 3rd District in the U.S. House of Representatives.

What about looking back at her time in the state House of Representatives? What is she most proud of?

“We in the House passed a bipartisan bill that would have provided relief for those who can’t afford their health insurance premiums,” she explained. “Unfortunately, it was killed in the Republican-controlled Senate.”

The conversation moved away from policy for a few minutes when Mitsch Bush spoke about her experiences on the campaign trail.

“I think what surprised me in a very positive way is that we hear so much today about the hatred and division ... I have found just the opposite,” she said. “I have travelled around our beautiful district for a year and seven months and I have found so many people who care about their community, who work so hard to make their towns and their counties work and who are compassionate … People are wonderful, and it gives me great hope and great inspiration.”

The candidate, however, soon reverted to talking policy, focusing lastly on immigration and citing the case of Rosa Sabido, who has lived in the United States for 30 years and has been sheltering in the United Methodist Church in Mancos since July 2017 to avoid deportation.

“We need comprehensive, evidence-based immigration reform,” Mitsch Bush said, adding that meeting Sabido “really reinforced for me how important it is to deal — hopefully, in a bipartisan way — with immigration reform.”

She added, “It’s a shame that some are using our immigrants as targets, as a basis for division based on hate. That’s not American. We don’t need that.”