Last week, McCain said in an interview with Charles Ashby of the Pueblo Chieftain that the Colorado River compact, first signed in 1922 and amended numerous times since then, should be "renegotiated over time amongst the interested parties…(to adjust) to the new realities of high growth, of greater demands on a scarcer resource."
The comments drew furious responses from Coloradans of all political parties. Sen. Ken Salazar (D-Colorado) and Republican senate candidate Bob Schaffer both used the phrase "over my dead body" to describe their opposition to re-opening the compact. The water from the Colorado River is split among Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Wyoming and the down-basin states of Nevada, Arizona and California.
Last year, the seven states entered into a new agreement on how to share the water and Gov. Bill Ritter (D-Colorado) said it is working.
"It would be sheer folly," he told the Chieftain, "to re-open the compact at a time like this when all of the states are working cooperatively on this issue."
Romney's comments via satellite from Boston were in response to a viewer question for a taped segment on 9NEWS' YOUR SHOW set to air this Sunday. The former presidential candidate and possible vice presidential selection attempted to reassure Colorado voters that the Arizona senator shares their concerns on the issue and that Colorado farms and cities will not go dry to green golf courses in Phoenix or help fountains at Las Vegas casinos.
"Senator McCain has no interest in reopening the compact," Romney said. "Senator McCain believes as I do that a compact that's been worked out between the governors and between the states is the right way to go. States are the ones who build these kinds of understandings. The federal government shouldn't meddle in that compact.
"I think the senator recognizes that way down the road there may be changes and that states will come together to reconsider the settings at that point, but there's no reason on the senator's mind to re-open the compact or to insert federal interests. This is an issue that's been resolved by the states and should stay resolved as it has been by the states."
The response from one of McCain's top surrogates did little to assuage Colorado Democrats.
"Sen. McCain made a major blunder and now Gov. Romney is trying to provide some political cover," wrote Ritter's Communications Director Evan Dreyer in an e-mail to 9News. "It won't work. Sen. McCain showed his true colors: he's a Lower Basin Senator trying to grab up as much Upper Basin, Colorado water as possible. Coloradans won't take kindly to that."
"Senator McCain said very clearly that he believes the Colorado River Compact should be opened for renegotiation," wrote Salazar's Press Secretary Matt Lee-Ashley in an e-mail to 9NEWS. "Either Senator McCain is so out of touch with Western water issues that he needs the former Massachusetts governor to defend him, or he really has some interest in overhauling the law of the river that has been in place since 1922. Both scenarios are troubling."
In his interview with the Chieftain, McCain described himself as a federalist who "believe(s) in the rights of states" and he specifically said he did not want to deprive Colorado of any of its water to meet its needs. However, he still stressed that the compact should be renegotiated.
"Let me make one thing perfectly clear: I would never advocate any course of action that would damage the state of Colorado's rights over the water, or any other water resources that is going to be one of the most precious commodities for Colorado and the entire West," McCain said in last Friday's Chieftain. "I would never support any policy or any federal role that would impair the state of Colorado or other state's rights to their resources. But I know there have been discussions amongst the governors. I encourage those discussions as to how we best use a scarcer and scarcer resource in the West."
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