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Beauprez Pins State's Success To Local Control, Hands-Off Government

CBS4 is profiling six candidates in three extremely close elections in Colorado. Bob Beauprez, a former U.S. House representative and governor candidate, is challenging Gov. John Hickenlooper for his seat. A profile of Hickenlooper will run later this week.

DENVER (CBS4) - Bob Beauprez believes he can mount a comeback. He thinks Colorado will, too -- if he's elected.

The erstwhile congressman represented Colorado's seventh U.S. House district for two terms last decade before bidding for the governor's seat in 2006. He lost handily to Bill Ritter and faded from politics somewhat before launching a campaign this year.

And Beauprez's comeback looks good. He's locked in a toss-up race with Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat who won in 2010, after trailing him substantially until mid-summer.

If he wins, Beauprez said, "Colorado's open for business again."

RELATED: In Bid To Keep Office, Hickenlooper Touts Strong Economy, Pragmatic Compromise

Parts of the state are struggling, he argues. During debates, the Republican challenger maintained that statistics showing Colorado rebounding well from the recession belie how badly some are faring.

"If you travel this entire state -- go to Pueblo, go to Grand Junction, Colorado Springs, out on the eastern plains -- there is an awful lot of people who wonder where that 'R' word -- recovery -- is for them," Beauprez said in a recent interview with CBS4.

He says there are many Coloradans who quit the labor force -- "went away, gave up," he said -- leaving a false shine on unemployment figures. In August, the state unemployment rate dropped, but Colorado lost a net 700 jobs because 3,700 job-seekers left the labor force.

"That is an astounding number when things are supposed to be moving well," Beauprez said.

He also points to a drop in median income among Colorado households -- about $4,000, he claims -- during Hickenlooper's first term and said the state hasn't rebounded as well as its neighbors.

His solution, as it has throughout his career, would limit government in the economy, reduce regulations and lower taxes.

"I want to look at every opportunity we have to get government off the backs of people. What's got them tied in knots, what concerns them, what's holding them back is government interference, regulations, delays and cost of compliance," he said.

Beauprez often references his roots as farmer-turned-banker in eastern Boulder County as emblematic of how Coloradans can solve problems: look to the people and local communities for solutions.

"We need to get back to what I call the real question on the ballot: Do you trust people or do you trust government? Where I grew up, you trusted in yourself and the people to get the job done. I think we can turn this around in a hurry," he said.

Give Back Federal Lands To Colorado

Part of that turnaround, he said, is grabbing control of and monetizing federal lands within Colorado.

There are, by Beauprez's count, more than 8 million acres in Colorado under the control of the federal Bureau of Land Management. Much of that land should be returned to state province, he said, for use in grazing and logging.

"We're not going to take back National Parks, and the DOD lands, or the tribal lands or congressionally designated land," he said. "But we've got over 8 million acers in Colorado that is BLM land, multi-use land and the federal government, frankly, is doing a poor job of (managing) it."

He said the money to cover the administrative costs would come from leasing rights to lumber and agriculture companies.

"It's not just idle land," he said. "It could be very productive land."

Beauprez asserts the intention was to transfer the land back to the states once they became states.

"It never happened," he said, "and now the federal government seems to keep finding ways to not only deny us access or use of the land but to seize more of it."

Anti-Fracking Measures Should Have Died On Election Day

The use of Colorado lands to develop oil and gas, especially through the fracking process, has claimed a substantial spotlight.

Earlier this summer, Hickenlooper forged an agreement among anti- and pro-fracking groups to call off four ballot measures that could have dramatically changed the practice in Colorado. As part of the agreement, the governor formed a committee that would explore fracking's effects and report them to the legislature.

But Beauprez said the governor erred. Often a critic of Hickenlooper's penchant to compromise, Beauprez said he wouldn't have brokered the deal and would have instead allowed the ballot measures to find their fate in the election. The anti-fracking propositions would have failed, Beauprez said, and Hickenlooper should have led the campaign to defeat them.

"I was convinced that if you make the right argument -- and their polling was demonstrating that -- that they would have likely been beaten, and beaten badly, on the ballot," Beauprez said. "The problem that he perpetuated is uncertainty in the marketplace. That's what's driving jobs out of Colorado right now is the concern that all of those initiatives, maybe some other ones, will be back again."

Fracking is tied inexorably, at least in some eyes, with climate change and the economy.

Beauprez walks the line delicately, saying he thinks the state should "let the good science lead us" while being healthy skeptics. He said Coloradans should be good stewards of the land, but he questions how much humans are causing climate change.

Colorado Third-Graders' Reading Skills Must Be Improved

Beauprez has also made education policy a significant portion of his campaign. Among his talking points is that 30 percent of third-graders in Colorado can't read at grade level. He calls it an "atrocious scandal" and says Hickenlooper failed to prioritize the Colorado READ Act, a House bill that passed in 2012 aimed at improving skills of students reading below grade level.

"Give our little ones a chance by teaching them to read," Beauprez said, adding that low-proficiency "has been going on way too long and just got worse again."

He said Hickenlooper signed the legislation with a lot of fanfare but didn't get the funding. "What he could have done is adjust priorities and lead on this," he said.

If elected, he said his wife, Claudia, would start a privately-funded foundation to provide a book each month to every child in Colorado until they start school.

"If third-graders can read at grade-level proficiency, 95 percent of them go on to graduate from high school. If they don't, the story is pretty tragic," he said. "We can make a dramatic improvement."

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