U.S. Rep. Jason Crow, a Democrat representing Colorado’s Sixth Congressional District — which includes Aurora — won The Gazette’s endorsement in his 2022 re-election bid. He recently spent time with The Gazette’s editorial board to discuss multiple challenges ahead, including the potential loss of a fighter jet wing at Buckley Space Force Base, a flood of illegal immigrants into his district and a deadly fentanyl crisis. The interview was edited for length.
Gazette: Our editorial board recently visited Buckley Space Force Base and was impressed anew with the critical roles that are played by both facets of that installation: the cyber and aviation in the nation's defense, as well as supporting Aurora's and Colorado's economy. How do you view the future of this linchpin in your congressional district?
Crow: I am an unabashed and unapologetic national-security Democrat. I have spent my life in service to this country, first in uniform and now as a member of Congress. When I was in private practice as a corporate lawyer, I did a lot of community work. I believe in a very strong, robust and sensible national security and Colorado plays an essential role in that. We are at the tip of the spear in so many ways… we can't really talk about too many of the specifics, but I think you all are aware of the general confines of what happens behind the fence at Buckley. And being on the House Intelligence Committee gives me the perch to take a deep dive into both the intelligence aspects, what happens in the district, as well as the national security aspects of what happens. But the other element to this is the fusion with the private sector. The defense industrial base is huge in Colorado. And I'm proud of the fact that I represent one of the largest defense aviation and aerospace industries in the country.
I have over 250 businesses all the way from the primes -- the Lockheeds, the Raytheons and the Boeings – and the small mom and pop shops of 3 to 5 folks who are helping develop software for drones that are assembling batteries that go into spacecraft and everything between. They employ about 30,000 of my constituents… Sometimes I get hit by folks in my own party who say, ‘Oh, you're just looking out for businesses and industry for your district.’ And I'm like, ‘well, that is my title.’ I promote jobs and businesses in my district. That's what I do.
Buckley is number one. Number two is the 140th Fighter Wing. That wing is under threat and I’m working very hard with the folks at the Department of Defense, with senators, with some of the private coalition folks, as well as the Colorado Guard to try to save that wing.
We’re also working on things like Star Command, which I think could be based at Buckley. We are well positioned to build out Buckley. We have the space, the physical land and the infrastructure.
Gazette: Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers would like to have Star Command relocate to Colorado Springs in the event his city loses Space Command. Does that put you at a conflict? You've got to fight for your district, yet Colorado Springs, the second largest city in your state, would suffer by losing Space Command and not winning Star Command.
Crow: I wouldn't use the word ‘conflict’ because it implies that we are adversarial. I think it's a healthy competition. This happened with Space Command. Buckley was one of the finalists for Space Command. So (U.S. Rep.) Doug (Lamborn, R-Colorado) and I and others sat down and said, ‘hey, listen, I'm a representative. My job is to represent my district and my constituents. I'm going to make a great case for Buckley, and he's going to make a great case for Peterson (Space Force Base)… Buckley didn't make the final cut, and then we very rapidly pivoted and I came to the support of the Springs and helped make the case down there. I'm first and foremost going to look out for my district. And if we lose out, then secondarily I'm going to look out for the state of Colorado.
Gazette: Do you think there's any chance we keep Space Command in Colorado?
Crow: I think it is an uphill battle if I'm being honest. As you know, the Alabama delegation punches above its weight. You have outgoing Sen. (Richard) Shelby, but Shelby still has a lot of influence. And ... you have the incoming chair of the Armed Services Committee, Mike Rogers, from Alabama. It's very hard once these decisions are made to unwind them. I thought that decision was made inappropriately without the proper process, without looking at the metrics in an appropriate way. And I also think they didn't incorporate metrics that really are the most important and the biggest – that being the workforce. I think they made a mistake on the assessment of housing costs using an outdated, outmoded housing-cost model. Number two, regarding infrastructure and construction costs, I thought that they used incorrect assumptions. And third is they didn't really look at the workforce because 80-90% of the success of Space Command is going to rely on a civilian workforce.
Those workers are already in Colorado, and they would rather be here than in Alabama.
Gazette: Have we seen this type of problematic relocation in the past?
Crow: The last big example was when STRATCOM moved to Nebraska. This is an amazing stat that nobody talks about. Only 10% of the people that worked for STRATCOM decided to move to Nebraska. They didn't want to live in Nebraska. That's the bottom line. So, they had to rebuild the entire workforce there. We can't afford that right now. We cannot afford the loss of time to move a command to have a whole bunch of the workforce opt out of that move, and then have to reconstitute that workforce in a new place. China is moving way, way fast. And if we lose the workforce, if we lose time, that is time we cannot afford to lose.
Gazette: Back to Buckley. What priority do you place on preserving Buckley's dual role? What will you do to protect it? That being the cyber side and the aviation side. What congressional hurdles are there? What are the risks to letting Buckley go all cyber and no aviation?
Crow: There are about 13,000 uniformed and civilian personnel associated with Buckley. From a national security standpoint, I believe we are well positioned. I think it's good for national security. It's good for the country because we have the infrastructure. We have the workforce. Geographically, we are positioned in a good place in the middle of the country… Loss of the flying mission would be a major problem for all those reasons. The Air Force has asked me, ‘well, why don't we replace it with a cyber unit much like they did in Ohio?’ I do not support that. I would be happy to add a cyber unit, but I don't view this as an exchange.
They're trying to save money by finding four more (wing operations) to cut and they're trying to do it using Guard and Reserve units. It's a mistake because you lose bang for your buck on Guard and Reserve units. You get tremendous value out of National Guard flying units because these are some of the most experienced pilots.
In the case of the Colorado Guard, these pilots are based out of the United Hub. So, they have tremendous numbers of flying hours. On average, they have about 50% higher flying hours than the average Air Force pilot. So, you're losing some of the most seasoned, experienced pilots in our inventory. And these are folks who are repeatedly being deployed and performing extremely well… We're doing a lot of foreign training assistance. Also, the ready alert mission for the western United States comes out of Buckley. So, if you lose that you're losing the red alert mission that covers the western United States, including NORTHCOM and NORAD and everything down in the Springs. And there's no replacement for that. So, you're losing that entire mission… I submitted a question for the record, a Q & A for General Van Kirk (commander of USNORTHCOM) asking him if he was aware of the plan to cut the flying mission and whether a cut to the flying mission would jeopardize NORTHCOM operations. He was not aware and said he would not support the cut of the flying mission as it would jeopardize NORTHCOM operations.
The next reason is you look at the NDS, the national defense strategy, and the national security strategy and assess how it is trying to realign us for great power competition and to address a rising China and the realignment of our resources. It does not call for the reduction of fixed-wing aircraft. To the contrary, it calls for what could be easily classified as an increase in fixed-wing platforms. So, by trying to find $10 billion by cutting Reserve and Guard fighter wings the Air Force actually jeopardizes their ability to comply with our stated mission. They need to find their money elsewhere.
The fifth reason is we do things in the south metro region. We build things that are required to keep that airfield operable.
Gazette: Does your status as a veteran place you at odds with a wing of your party on foreign and national policy issues?
Crow: Sometimes at odds with Republicans. Sometimes I'm at odds with the Democrats. I have voted for increased defense budgets and that's sometimes unpopular with my party. At the same time, I've been an unabashed supporter of Ukraine because I believe Ukraine is a fight for democracy and a fight for global stability and a fight for our economy and against tyranny. And I've been at odds with Republicans and Democrats on that. I'll put it this way. Labeling is easy. And it's popular right now in politics because you always want to label somebody, ‘oh, they're a moderate or they're progressive. Or they’re a liberal or a Freedom Caucus member.’ Labeling is an easy thing to do, but I find it intellectually lazy. People's politics and policies are more complicated than that. And I think my policies and my approach in a lot of ways defies labeling. I'm certainly progressive in some ways, but in other ways I might defy that label.
Gazette: Let’s leave Washington and go to our southern border, which is in utter chaos. Latin America refugees have poured into Colorado. Your district, of course, is as hard hit as any in the state. What are you doing to address this crisis on the border? Is the Biden administration doing its part? Have you heard from our US ambassador to Mexico, Colorado's own Ken Salazar?
Crow: I haven't spoken to Ambassador Salazar in a little while, but I have a good relationship with him. And he's been a friend for a long time. And I know he's working hard on this issue, and it's a tough one… My approach to it is several fold. Number one, recognizing that there are multiple prongs to the solution. Border security is one. We need to have strong border security, but that border security needs to be humane, and it needs to be appropriate, and it also needs to be effective… I disagreed vehemently with the last president's decision to spend $20-plus billion on a wall. I think walls are a waste of money, not because I didn't think we needed more security. There are more effective ways with personnel, with surveillance, with drones, with sensors to address that security concern. And we do need more resources there to do that. There's no doubt about it. But ultimately, we also must address both the push factors and the pull factors. These people are fleeing because of the instability and the violence and the terrible conditions in Central and South America.
One of the things that America is not good at is paying attention to the Western Hemisphere. We have ignored the Western Hemisphere for a very long time. And we don't have a good policy towards Central and South America to address bad governance, human rights issues, corruption and violence. And I'd like to see us focus more on that, so people aren't making the journey in the first place.
The other element is reform within the United States, making sure that we have immigration judges, that we have a pathway to citizenship, which we don't for many people. People say, ‘why don't people just follow the pathway and the laws?’ Well, the system is broken and there is really no pathway for most folks. I represent one of the most diverse districts in the nation. About 20% of my constituents were born outside of the United States. And that's not just from Mexico or Central America. I have 120 languages spoken in my district… What I think needs to happen is we need to go back and find a bipartisan approach to this. We came very close with the Gang of Eight, and (Sen.) Michael Bennet (D-Colorado) was a part of that process where there has to be a comprehensive approach that deals with securing the border, with providing a pathway to citizenship, with addressing our Dreamers, which I am very, very ardent about.
…Our businesses come to me all the time and they say our number one economic issue is we don't have enough workers, we don't have the workforce, and our immigration system is shooting ourselves in the foot because we're not actually importing the workforce that we need to grow our businesses.
We lose half of our economic growth opportunity for expansion because we don't have pathways for folks to come here legally… Our system does not account for supply and demand of workers. We’re using a sledgehammer in a system that needs a scalpel and it's really hurting our economy. We can figure this out if we can get beyond politics and get people to sit down and work together.
Gazette: Where do you stand on federal decriminalization of marijuana?
Crow: I'm in favor of federal decriminalization of marijuana. I think our drug war and our drug policies have failed. I think the data supports and shows that. I think mass incarceration in America has torn apart families and communities. And I think we not only spend exorbitant amounts of monies incarcerating nonviolent offenders, but that also has reverberating effects by tearing apart communities and reducing cohesive families. And I think there's a way to do it. I think it's challenging. At the same time, I'm a father and it does bother me when I'm walking around downtown, and you smell marijuana and how ubiquitous it has become. Certainly, teen use bothers me and there's been some increases there. So, I would like to see enforcement. I'd like to see better education. And I certainly am concerned about some of the impacts on children.
Gazette: Back to the border for a moment. Your state and your district are ravaged by fentanyl abuse and overdoses. The DEA just confiscated enough fentanyl in Colorado to kill every single Coloradan. This seems like a crisis that ought to be the first order of business in Congress. Do you agree with that? If so, what are you going to do about it?
Crow: Yeah, it is a crisis, there's no doubt about that. And it is killing a lot of folks. It is tragedy after tragedy, and we must address it. I sat down with the experts on this. I had a long meeting late last year with Special Agent (Brian) Besser, who is the head of the DEA in Colorado and the region that covers Utah, Wyoming and Montana. I asked ‘what’s going on? Give me the lay of the land. How do we address it?’ In his take this is not a border issue? It's kind of a border issue, but not really because of the nature of fentanyl. You can put $1 million worth of fentanyl pills in this coffee cup. So, you're not talking about truckloads of cannabis or truckloads of cocaine coming across the border. You're talking about people bringing small packets that can kill hundreds of thousands of people and make millions of dollars.
Gazette: Is there anything you could do in your role on the Intelligence Committee to disrupt the relationship between the Chinese Communist Party and the cartels -- to go after the money like we did with terrorism?
Crow: Without getting too much into Intel stuff, we do know that some of this is coming from China and that the Chinese are, for lack of a better word, permitting that to happen. This is tantamount to drug terrorism. If the Chinese wanted to lock this down, they could lock it down. We know they could do that, but they're not. So that is, frankly, an element of our great power competition against China and Russia to some extent. So, accountability is important there… One element of the focus of the Select Committee on China will be how we can stem that flow.
Gazette: On the penalty side, on one extreme you have former President Donald Trump floating the idea of the death penalty for drug dealers. Meanwhile, Colorado state lawmakers who have made it more or less a slap on the wrist if you deal a deadly drug, kill someone and cooperate with authorities. What's your position on this? Do we need to be harsher on people who distribute this drug?
Crow: Yeah, I would support that. Fentanyl dealers know damned well the dangers they pose. Excuse my language, but they know that they can't control the quality of that product… If you are dealing fentanyl, then I think you should be held accountable accordingly. I don't support capital punishment, but certainly we need to make sure that the penalties are severe enough that we're dissuading folks to the extent we can from conducting that deadly business.
Gazette: Rep. Crow, Thank you for your time and insights.