Boebert leans into environment policy in bid to win over critics

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Lauren Boebert wants you to take her seriously.

Seriously!

The Colorado Republican, a member of the far-right House Freedom Caucus, has attracted controversy. She has alienated fellow Republicans on Capitol Hill and back home. And her reelection prospects are dimming.



President Joe Biden is targeting Boebert. He’ll travel to her district Wednesday to highlight CS Wind, a renewable energy manufacturing company in Pueblo.

Still, Boebert says she’s making a concerted effort to advance policy important to her district.

“Obviously, a lot of people see me as a fighter — I had to fight to get here,” she said in an interview. “But I do believe I have arrived to a position where I am taken seriously in this country as an effective legislator. And I’m very proud of that.”

Such talk might raise eyebrows, especially from someone whose brand has mostly revolved around media appearances, strong fealty to former President Donald Trump and calling those engaged in Covid-19 vaccination outreach “Needle Nazis.”

Infamously, she and a date were kicked out of a Denver theater in September for vaping and groping. Boebert has since apologized.

Boebert campaigned on water issues in her 2020 bid for the House and moved to act on her promises, but her early flirtation with QAnon conspiracy theorists — which she has since disavowed — and actions like calling Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) part of a “Jihad Squad” repeatedly overshadowed her work.

Now some fellow lawmakers and advocates are giving her at least some credit for digging in on policy.

“She’s a serious legislator,” said Rep. Anna Paulina Luna (R-Fla.), who sits with her on the House Natural Resources Committee.

Even some Democrats are offering grudging respect and have noticed a shift, though with caveats.

“I’m not ready to pronounce her a serious legislator,” Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) said. “But I will say that I appreciate the fact that there’s been a noticeable reduction in the performative antics.”

A review of Boebert’s policy efforts shows she’s getting traction on several fronts.

She has secured amendments to freeze a Biden administration overhaul of oil and gas regulations on federal lands and remove endangered species protections for gray wolves.

Boebert has also secured funding for important district projects like water treatment facilities and irrigation projects. Those would-be successes have yet to be enshrined into federal law.

Some Democrats have noticed her willingness to work with them on certain issues.

“We might disagree on some things,” said Rep. John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.), who is working with Boebert on a bill — H.R. 8601 and S. 636 — to extend conservation protections in her district.

“But she hasn’t been obnoxious to work with in any way. … Obviously, she’s got a different take on energy than I do. But that’s whether you got spots or stripes,” he added.

The 36-year-old grandmother and former oil pipeline inspector faces a brutal reelection bid, after winning last cycle by just 546 votes.

Adam Frisch.
Colorado Democrat Adam Frisch. | David Zalubowski/AP

Democrat Adam Frisch, her 2022 opponent, wasted little time announcing he would seek a rematch.

Before taking on the Democrats, Boebert has to vanquish a competitor from within her own party, Grand Junction-based attorney Jeff Hurd.

Even though he agrees with some of Boebert’s policy positions — on addressing gray wolves, and permitting and regulatory reforms — he said the district deserves a “serious and credible and hardworking” candidate.

Boebert has waved off concerns about her tight race to represent Colorado’s 3rd District, even if she noted the busy congressional calendar has kept her in Washington longer than she’d prefer.

“I like to think I spoiled my constituents being in the district so much last Congress,” she said. “I certainly go home on the weekends and try to visit them as much as possible, but you know … the appearances aren’t going to be as frequent as they were in the first Congress just ’cause there is so much to do on the East Coast.”

Her campaign put a finer point on it.

“Congresswoman Boebert has passed more pieces of legislation out of House committees this year than anyone in Colorado’s House delegation,” campaign manager Drew Sexton said in an email.

“When this election takes place, Colorado’s 3rd District voters will clearly understand she has led the way to securing tens of millions of dollars for water, infrastructure and economic development projects for their communities.”

‘Trying to moderate myself’

Boebert showed up to Congress flaunting her gun and running her mouth, but some Democrats now say she’s figuring out how to holster both those weapons.

Huffman acknowledged that he’s “locked horns” with Boebert on Natural Resources, notably over her gun advocacy and wanting to be armed on Capitol Hill. During an interview this summer, Huffman said he has noticed a change in attitude.

“Hey Lauren!” Huffman yelled over to her. “I just got asked if you have reached out to any Democrats about any bipartisan legislation. Is there anything you would like me to work with you on?”

Boebert had a ready-made list.

“I would like you to help me with my ‘CONVEY Act’ and my Dolores River bill,” she told him, referring to measures that would transfer 31 acres of Bureau of Land Management land to a local county for economic development and the bipartisan conservation effort, respectively.

“These are all natural resources, and I’m currently working on revamping my forestry legislation. And I’m trying to moderate myself with that a little bit so we can get some agreement on it.”

She also has a water bill that would protect the sucker fish.

“It’s Endangered Species Act, you love that,” she told him. “Those are all my top priorities, and I would love to work with you on those.”

As she walked away, Huffman said, “So yeah, you can certainly notice the effort.”

Still, he said, she continues to introduce bills that are “wildly controversial and just terrible policy, and probably terrible politics, too.”

He pointed to her “Trust the Science Act,” H.R. 764, which would require the Interior Department to remove protected status for the gray wolf.

“We had a recent election of both her and the wolf in Colorado,” he said, referring to the state’s 2020 vote on Proposition 114 to reintroduce the gray wolf, which passed by a margin of just 57,000 votes out of more than 3.1 million cast statewide. “The wolf’s more popular. So I question some of the battles she picks.”

‘A serious legislator’

In the recent debate over the fiscal 2024 Interior-Environment spending bill, Boebert succeeded in adding eight amendments to the bill.

Her wins focused on a host of issues popular in her rural district.

Among those was a proposal to shift $5 million from EPA to hazardous fuels reduction in national forest lands, as well as language to halt the BLM’s proposed Fluid Mineral Leases and Leasing Process rule.

Boebert also had some red meat for her conservative base. She floated a proposal to slash the salary of Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Director Liz Klein to $1, calling her a “radical, partisan extremist.” It failed overwhelmingly.

“She’s doing what’s right for her constituents,” said fellow Republican Rep. Tom Tiffany of Wisconsin, who co-sponsored the gray wolf legislation with Boebert. “She’s doing what’s right for the environment. She’s doing what’s right for wildlife management. She’s principled.”

Another Republican who sits with Boebert on Natural Resources offered high praise.

“I think she’s actually very smart,” said Luna, the Florida Republican. “And she’s been very effective. Oil and gas is a major component of her district so she’s advocating [for her constituents].”

Luna pointed to Boebert scoring six amendments in the Military Construction-Veterans Affairs spending bill.

“That was incredible. She’s a serious legislator. I know the media tries to paint her as not, but she is,” Luna said.

‘Not just all throwing grenades’

Within her district, Boebert has also won praise for her active support of the “Dolores River National Conservation Area and Special Management Area Act,” H.R. 1534.

The bipartisan effort, backed by both of the state’s Democratic senators, would include 52,000 acres of BLM lands and 15,000 acres of Forest Service lands across three counties in the southwest corner of the state.

Those lands would be managed “to conserve, protect, and enhance the native fish, whitewater boating, recreational, scenic, cultural, archaeological, natural, geological, historical, ecological, watershed, wildlife, educational, and scientific resources.”

The proposal is the result of more than two decades of negotiations among local residents and stakeholders to protect the region while avoiding a more restrictive Wild and Scenic River designation.

“The counties have been working on that for a lot of years, so by the time she got elected it was a little late to be a driving force, but she’s definitely been a contributing force,” said Shak Powers, who works for the nonprofit Region 9 Economic Development District of Southwest Colorado, which serves local communities and the Southern Ute and the Ute Mountain Ute Indian tribes.

Powers, who previously worked as Montezuma County’s administrator, which is not an elected position, praised Boebert’s attention to the district, both in terms of constituent services and her legislative efforts.

“She has been very attentive,” Powers said, pointing to Boebert’s work on the Dolores River as well as on drought mitigation projects.

Boebert has been an advocate for both state and federal funds — supporting local grant applications and pursuing a U.S. Forest Service pilot program — for removing invasive species like Russian olives and tamarisk, or salt cedars.

He also credits Boebert for her attention to increasing broadband access in the region, pointing to ongoing efforts by her office to pursue unallocated Federal Communications Commission funds designated for that purpose.

“I think she’s got a lot of political opposition that would just as soon highlight her being far-right and not give her credit for any of the things she does well,” Powers said.

He added: “It’s not just all throwing grenades across the aisle in Congress; she’s doing what she can for the 3rd District.”

Earlier this year, Boebert also began embracing earmarks — funding for specific projects in a district, which was revived by Congress in 2021.

She submitted 10 requestsfor more than $34 million in funds for her sprawling district. She did not request any funding in fiscal 2023.

The projects would bolster reservoirs, address drinking water quality, and build new roads and a bridge. The congressional stalemate on spending, however, could endanger those efforts.

A matter of style?

Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) with her grandson.
Boebert holds her grandson, Josiah Boebert, as she departs a vote at the Capitol on Nov. 14. | Francis Chung/POLITICO

A sprinkle of bipartisanship may not be enough to secure Boebert’s return for the 119th Congress.

Despite her seat’s Republican advantage — the Cook Political Report gives the GOP a 7-point edge in the district, which spans the entire Western Slope and most of the state’s southern border — observers also see the seat as one of the most competitive of the 2024 cycle. Cook rates the race a toss-up.

That’s in part due to Boebert’s narrow victory in 2022 to Frisch. The former Aspen City Council member has been talking up his prospects in 2024, telling the Guardian last month that people are “sick and tired” of the “circus.” His campaign did not respond to requests for comment.

As for the primary challenge, Hurd in October rolled out a major endorsement from former Gov. Bill Owens, the last Republican to lead the state, as well as nabbing the backing of key officials from Delta and Mesa counties.

In an interview, Hurd acknowledged that Boebert has targeted some important issues for the district — including delisting the gray wolf to allow ranchers to protect their livestock — but asserted that she has failed to pursue economic policies that would benefit the rural district.

“We’ve been suffering because of our incumbent’s inability to advance that kind of legislation in a meaningful, bipartisan way,” Hurd said. “I think it’s critical that we have somebody that is principled, but also pragmatic and who recognizes the need to work across the aisle to advance economic issues.”

Hurd noted that even on issues that should be a win for the district, Boebert’s bid for attention stands to derail progress.

He pointed to Boebert’s name for the gray wolf legislation, the “Trust the Science Act,” suggesting that the title could be off-putting to would-be co-sponsors.

“I agree with the policy goal, I think it’s critical that we delist the gray wolf,” Hurd said. “But we need to make sure that if we actually want to get this passed into law, that we can do it in a way that will encourage getting as much support as we can, including from folks on the other side of the political aisle.”

Hurd, who has represented electric cooperatives in his work with the law firm Ireland Stapleton Pryor & Pascoe, added: “I think I would stylistically approach this in a different way.”

Boebert herself expressed little concern that her theatrics could undermine her efforts, even after she introduced articles of impeachment against President Joe Biden, claiming he failed to uphold immigration laws. The effort fizzled on the House floor and angered many Republicans.

Her campaign was unfazed by political attacks of any kind.

“As expected, Congresswoman Boebert’s opponents are flat-out misrepresenting her strong legislative accomplishments,” Sexton said.

Moreover, Boebert said that gender may play a role in how she’s perceived. “I think women do have to prove themselves a little more to be taken seriously,” she said.

Ultimately, she said she’s unconcerned about the year ahead and will continue to fight.

“Democrats are going to try everything they can to buy this seat,” she said. “I am not worried about that.”

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