THE BLOG
06/23/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Health Care Battle Rages on in Colorado as Campaign Season Heats Up

Once upon a time, there was a Colorado politician that vowed to push for health care reform even if it would cost a Democratic seat. Sen. Michael Bennet famously affirmed that he would rather lose his job than vote against health care on CNN's State of the Union in November 2009.

Rep. Betsy Markey did not need to go on CNN to vocalize her commitment to health care reform. She chose to allow her votes to speak for her instead. As health care reform became increasingly politicized, Rep. Markey's decision began to reflect an issue that has come to define the 2010 elections. Some have called her a pragmatist, while others have called her a flip-flopper, but her "no" vote on health care that eventually turned into a "yes" ignited one of the most heated races in the 2010 campaign season.

As a congresswoman charged with representing CD-4, which encompasses both agricultural cities of Fort Collins and Greeley, she covers 31,048 square miles of Eastern Colorado with a single vote. The district has historically voted Republican for the past 35 years until she was elected in 2008. Rep. Markey won with 56 percent of the vote against polarizing incumbent Marilyn Musgrave.

Now she is running against State Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Yuma), who has chosen to make her health care votes the central component of his campaign. The home page of his website asks for a letter petitioning Rep. Markey to oppose tenets of health care reform.

It has been rumored that she was one of the Democrats that was "allowed" to vote no the first time around on health care in order to save face in her district, which Rep. Markey denies.

"The House bill that I voted against I didn't think that it went far enough to try to bring in competition and reduce the cost of health care," Rep. Markey told New Era News. "There were some things I thought were done in the Senate bill that really addressed my issue of cost containment, which led me to vote for the bill."

The pivotal turning point for her was when the Congressional Budget Office report came out detailing that the Senate bill would reduce the deficit by more than $1.2 trillion in the coming 20 years. Coming from a non-partisan source, this data provided a safety net for legislators looking to support progressive causes while remaining fiscally conservative.

"When you're young, you're as concerned as I am about the deficit because you're the ones who have to deal with it in the out years," Rep. Markey said. "We really do have to take a look at our long-term deficit projections, making sure that our entitlement programs are sustainable in the long-term."

Following her decision to vote yes, the Huffington Post noted that President Obama took the time to thank her for the political choice that may end up costing her seat.

"Betsy's in a tough district," President Obama said. "The biggest newspaper is somewhat conservative, as Betsy described. They weren't real happy with health-care reform, they were opposed to it. Betsy, despite the pressure, announced that she was in favor of this bill and lo and behold the next day, that same newspaper runs an editorial saying, you know what, we've considered this, we've looked at the legislation and we actually are pleased that Congresswoman Markey is supporting the legislation."

The Obama administration has had to tread carefully in its support of Rep. Markey, whose association with the president could prove to be a divisive force in her re-election campaign. Nonetheless, Rep. Markey remains optimistic about the upcoming race. Since tackling the health care bill, Rep. Markey's days have been filled with damage control. She has become a one-woman PR machine as she bounces between town hall meetings and phone calls to constituents in order to quell the anger and clear up what she calls "misinformation."

"It's not some big scary takeover by the government, there's actually a lot of sensible reforms to bring in more competition to drive down costs," Rep. Markey said.

Some of the reforms hit close to home for her. The provision that allows young adults under the age of 26 to stay on their parents' health insurance plan even if they are no longer dependent or in school directly impacts her family. She has three children under the age of 26. One of her daughters recently graduated from college and has not found a job yet that provides coverage. While components of the bill might be personally beneficial to her family, they certainly did not make her job as a public official any easier.

Aside from responding to a slew of e-mails and phone calls about health care reform, being a congresswoman is nothing short of exhausting. Her days often run 12 hours long, stacked with meetings and a few votes whenever she is called to the Capitol to take a position. Sundays are her only day off, when she is able to be far from D.C., contentious town hall meetings in her district and fundraising events.

Her recent vote precipitated a flood of money into both campaigns in CD-4. State Rep. Gardner raised $273,000 in the first quarter of 2010, while Markey raised $505,000.

The Coloradoan reported that Markey "raised the vast majority [$355,000] of her first quarter donations in the two weeks after her March 19 announcement that she'd vote for the Democratic health-reform plan after voting against an earlier version in November."

Read more at New Era News.