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The plight of veterans remains a passionate issue in Colorado

Bob Beauprez, the Republican gubernatorial candidate in Colorado (at the head of the table) chairs a Veterans Working Group in Colorado Springs. (Sebastian Payne/The Washington Post)

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Veterans may not be at the forefront of every Colorado resident's concerns. But those who do care, care passionately. Bob Beauprez, the Republican candidate for governor, chaired a veterans working group Thursday to discuss what the state is doing for veterans and how it could be improved.

The meeting was a passionate one — with dispiriting tales from veterans who can't find jobs due to their disabilities to those responsible for rehabilitation struggling to cope with a shrinking military. On the positive side, a strong philanthropic community has emerged from local businesses in Colorado. They are providing rehabilitation to families, serviceman and spouses, as well as offering assistance with finding jobs and helping veterans reenter civilian life.

But there is still considerable anger toward the federal government and the Veterans Administration. Although he may disagree with his opponent Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) on many matters — Beauprez said Hickenlooper has “the same problem as Obama, he has no plan” — both see eye to eye on this. Beauprez described the problems at the Department of VA as a “shameless scandal,” while Hickenlooper said Monday that it was “disgrace, and everyone I know thinks it’s a disgrace.”

Beauprez, a former dairy farmer who served as a Colorado congressman from 2003 to 2007, believes governors need to work more closely with each other to ensure that Washington serves veterans effectively.

Discussing this morning's meeting, Beauprez said “we’ve got a number of our leading members of the business community that have a real passion for helping our veterans. I think what’s needed from the governor’s office is the ability to bring together a coalition of support for veterans, and I'd look forward to leading that effort.”

The incumbent governor has been active in veterans affairs. Hickenlooper has said that his aim is to “make Colorado the most military- and veteran-friendly state.” During his term as governor, Hickenlooper has introduced legislation to allow service members (and their spouses) to use their military skills towards gaining professional licenses, encouraged military missions to come to Colorado and reopened a closed prison to help deal with homeless veterans.

Beauprez said the veterans issue is an example of why  is reentering politics seven years after leaving office. "I want to get something done," he said. "I've seen Colorado going in the wrong direction. In the last eight years, we've seen the state fall back." Capitalizing on the anti-Obama sentiment in Colorado, he hopes to make this election about "who is in charge," since he believes people are frustrated by a lack of leadership, both at the state and federal level.

The governors race remains tight, even though Hickenlooper has raised more than three times more than his opponent. A recent Quinnipiac poll put Beauprez at 44 percent, compared to 43 percent for Hickenlooper. Beauprez admitted that he’s surprised by the “amount of movement in the pools” but is encouraged and optimistic about his chances.

If Beauprez wins, he would be the first Republican governor of Colorado elected since Bill Owen left office in 2007. If Hickenlooper triumphs, he is likely to play a significant role in the 2016 election. Although the GOP is poised to do well in November, Colorado has been traditionally a purple swing state — its Electoral College votes went to George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004, and to Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012. If Hickenlooper manages to hold on, it would not be out of the question for him to be mentioned as a potential running mate for Hillary Clinton.

Sebastian Payne is a national reporter with The Washington Post. He is the Post’s 35th Laurence Stern fellow.



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