Joe O’Dea is running as a Republican in the Colorado Senate race against incumbent Democratic Senator Michael Bennet. O’Dea is a first-time politician and is the 30-year CEO of a Colorado construction company that employs 300 workers.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Question: When you talk to Colorado voters, what are they most concerned about right now?
Joe O’Dea: Look, all they’re talking about is inflation, crime, and parents. They’re talking about education a little bit, too, but mostly it’s inflation, cost of gas, cost of their heating bills coming up, cost of groceries. And then this record crime that’s taking over our city. It’s up 30% in the last two years.
Q: What can be done to increase access to housing? When you see that as an issue in the state, what’s your strategy there?
JO: Well, there’s two things. The cost of housing is being driven by the cost of diesel, cost of fuel, everything gets delivered to a building site in some kind of diesel truck, and those prices are up 30%, 35% — delivery is. And the other thing that’s really bogged down Colorado is some of the red tape that’s in the way of building affordable housing.
I’ll give you an example. Back in ’04,’03, they passed a bill in the state that was called Construction Defect and …extended the warranty for eight to ten years, depending on how you’re reading the bill. And so that put an enormous amount of cost onto builders. It basically eliminated the condominium product here in Colorado because of the cost of ensuring something like that so that you would have enough there to pay for any defect that showed up ten years later. That has eliminated a lot of people’s ability to buy a first home. My wife and I lived in a condo for the first four years of our lives, married life, and that product is gone. And so it’s a combination of government red tape and it’s a combination of cost of goods that has been driven up by a Democratic fuel policy that has more than put $1.50 a gallon onto the cost of gas, $2.50 onto the cost of diesel. And those two elements are driving this cost.
Q: What can be done to improve access to health care in Colorado?
JO: Well, we need innovation. We need to support competition. Again, government red tape is causing the cost of a lot of this health care to drive up. And the fact that working Americans that are buying their own insurance are having to subsidize people that don’t have insurance is driving the cost up for working Americans. We need to get [the] government out of the way so that we can promote good competition across the markets. We should allow multiple providers into different areas so that they have a choice. And when we do that, we flood the market with the availability of this health care that then the price is going to be driven down.
Q: What can be done to address inflation and the cost of those really essential items in Colorado?
JO: Well, the first thing we got to do is get government out of the way. Right now, the Biden-Bennet regime, they walked into office two years ago to basically kill the [Keystone] XL pipeline, killed permitting on federal lands, have made it extremely difficult to build any kind of energy source in our nation.
It’s taken 12 years to get permitting done for some of the windmill farms that they’d like to build. It’s taking 10 years, 12 years, for [a] solar panel farm that would generate good, clean energy. And at the same time, they’ve basically made it almost impossible to drill for good, clean natural gas here in Colorado and across our nation. That’s a fuel source that has helped to lower emissions more than any other fuel source in the last ten years. Across Colorado, it’s made an enormous difference in our emissions. If we were to flood the Asian market with good, clean natural gas, we would begin to lower worldwide emissions from some of the dirty energy that they’re using over in China. And so this is a chance for us to make a difference. Not only lowering inflation, it’ll have an extreme amount on inflation — right out of the gate — as soon as the supply goes up, the cost goes down, and it’ll help us manage this inflation as quick as we can turn this around.
Q: What do you think can be done to improve education and access to education?
JO: Well, this is really a personal issue for me. I’m a product of school choice. I got in some trouble when I was a kid in junior high school. My dad and mom moved me to an all-boys Catholic school where I could pay attention a little better because the nuns forced it on me, which was great. And it was a monumental change in my life.
And I believe that every parent, regardless of their zip code, should have that same choice to be able to have their kids put in a situation, whether it’s a charter school, a private school, or a public school. And I believe if we give them that choice, that’ll help our public schools as well because they’ll have to compete for students. Parents need a voice in what their kids are being taught. I believe that they are the ones that are going to make that decision. And if they want their kids to have a great life, they got to put their kids in a situation — they got to be allowed to put their kids in a situation where their kids have a choice and their kids can excel. I believe that’s at the core of our responsibility in the United States.
Q: What do you see as the most important climate goals for Colorado?
JO: I think it’s critical that we boost all energy sources in Colorado. We need more solar. We need more wind. We need to look at nuclear. That potentially is a good, clean source of renewable power that I think we should look at, geothermal. I’m a supporter of all of it. At the same time, we need to allow ourselves to be able to use good, clean natural gas because that can make the most difference in the emissions the quickest. It’s something that is very clean. Colorado has the cleanest gas molecule in the nation produced over on the Western Slope. And as soon as we start to use that, we’re going to lower worldwide emissions. And I really believe that.
Q: What can be done to lower crime in the state?
JO: This is really tied to our border. Right now, we’ve got cartels that are running our southern border. It’s time we secure our border, we get our immigration system back under control. It doesn’t currently work, but part of that is closing down the ability of cartels to be shipping fentanyl and illegal drugs right up by 25, coming across that border. They’re killing our kids. Colorado is the second worst state in the nation for fentanyl overdoses. In addition to that, we’ve lost 1,880 good Coloradans to drug overdose in the last year. Those are record numbers. It’s the number one cause of death in the nation for 18- to 45-year-old adults. We’ve got to get this under control.
When you talk to the Denver police, they’ll tell you that these cartels are in our neighborhoods now. They’ve moved in. They’re very worried about the record crime that we’re seeing. Colorado is the third worst state for crime in the nation. That didn’t happen by accident. It’s because we’ve allowed this border to leak across and it’s really causing issues here in Colorado.
Q: You recently talked about the migrants. What more do you think can be done to address illegal immigration in a positive way?
JO: Well, I think it’s a two-fold process, right? We’ve got to secure our border, which Democrats are just out of touch with. They’re talking about this issue, but they’re not addressing it. Meanwhile, our kids are dying. At the same time, we’ve got to improve our immigration system. It needs to be streamlined. People need to depend on a process. We need to know who’s coming into the country. They should be allowed to sign up legally. And if they’re not a felon, they’re not a criminal, and they’re going to come in and support this great nation, then we need to streamline that process and make sure that they can. This is a nation of immigrants. Everybody came here at one point or another, and I’d be supportive of that.
Q: What do you think can be done to address drug addiction problems in Colorado?
JO: Well, if I can get my bill across the finish line, I will take the Inflation Reduction Act that just passed and they’ve got funding in there to grow an IRS bureaucracy by $80 billion. … I would devote that money to securing our border. I would hire more border security so that they can secure the border. I would help implement an immigration policy that works so that we can get people here legally. And at the same time, I’d take a balance of those funds and I would put them into our communities in terms of cops. We need more cops on the street. Right now, the city and county of Denver has an opening for 240 cops. We need to fill those seats. It means paying them more. It’s a very risky job. And then the last piece of this would be making sure that we fund mental health. We’ve got to get these people off the street and into places where they can get help for drug addiction and alcoholism.
Q: What do you see can be done to help mitigate the impacts of the drought and wildfires that we’re seeing?
JO: That goes back to a permitting issue that’s just holding everything up here across the nation. I just got done working on a project. It’s called Chatfield mitigation. … Chatfield Reservoir, we worked out there to allow 12 additional foot [sic] of water to be put on an existing dam. That permit took 25 years to get approved before we could actually do the construction. I’m working on rerouting the Colorado River around Windy Gap dam up in Granby right now. That permit started in 1997 — we just broke ground in June — 25 years is unacceptable. Those are the type of projects we need to implement for water storage here in Colorado. The Gross Reservoir took almost 22 years for that permit to be put in place. So those are the kind of issues that are holding up these drought measures.
At the same time, I think it’s good to hear that we’re going to invest in irrigation systems that are much more efficient, water efficient, but we can’t do it alone up here in Colorado. Right now, that Colorado water pact is going to come up to be renegotiated in ’26. We’ve got to make sure that California does their part.
Colorado can’t do much more. We’ve had bans in place on watering your lawns one day a week, two days a week, for years. I want to see California do more.
Q: Is there anything else I didn’t ask you about that you’d like to mention?
JO: Well, just the fact that Senator Bennet’s been in the Senate now 13 years, and his badge of honor is $20 trillion in debt. He voted for the two bills that have caused record inflation. He was the 50th vote in the $1.9 trillion rescue plan that caused this inflation, and now he’s running on a platform of solving it. If he hadn’t caused it, we wouldn’t need to solve it. And so it’s really disingenuous. I think he needs to own those bills that he voted on that have caused the problems that we’re having here in Colorado.