John McCain and water rights – another gaffe

The more John McCain speaks, the more he gets into trouble. His command of the issues is terrible, and his recollection of his own positions is sometimes even worse.

His campaign has been “clarifying” McCain’s stated positions on a regular basis. The latest involves water rights in Colorado, which could spell trouble for McCain in an important swing state.

Arizona Sen. John McCain’s call for renegotiating how much water some Western states can pull from the Colorado River has a set off quite a stir in Colorado, an up-for-grabs swing state that next week plays host to the Democratic National Convention.

“Over my cold, dead, political carcass,” said Republican Bob Schaffer, who is running against Democratic Rep. Mark Udall to replace retiring Republican Sen. Wayne Allard, offering a sentiment widely shared in Colorado and across ideological lines.

In the arid West, water is an explosive issue. Political fortunes have been lost because of it, and ranchers occasionally shot and killed. As a local saying has it, “Whiskey is for drinking. Water is for fighting.”

McCain, a proud Westerner, triggered the latest round of fighting when he told The Pueblo (Colo.) Chieftain last Friday that “the compact that is in effect, obviously, needs to be renegotiated over time amongst the interested parties” — which was widely understood in Colorado as a process that would end up redistributing more of the river’s “liquid gold” downstream.

The Republican was forced to backtrack Wednesday, writing a letter to Allard saying, “Let me be clear that I do not advocate renegotiation of the compact.”

But the issue is not likely to go away soon. Democrats Udall, Gov. Bill Ritter and Sen. Ken Salazar are expected to blast McCain in a press conference today. In an interview Wednesday, Salazar said McCain’s remarks showed that he didn’t understand the issue’s importance. “There’s nothing more fundamental to the West than water.”

He may have just handed Colorado to Obama.


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