Moffat County resident Joe Calhoun said he is big oil.
He does not own an oil company, work for one or have relatives who work for one. But he does have a retirement plan with investments in energy companies - a plan, he said, that hit the skids since the stock market jumped down the rabbit hole.
"The last month, I've lost half my retirement," Calhoun said. "Big oil isn't these companies and executives; it's us and the whole country and everyone with investments in those companies.
"It's America that's big oil."
For that reason, Calhoun said he takes exception to attack ads that paint Republican U.S. Senate candidate Bob Schaffer as a man who protects energy companies at the expense of American workers.
After hearing Schaffer speak and answer questions during about an hour-long forum Wednesday morning in Craig, Calhoun said he was even more convinced Schaffer is the man who will take primary American interests to Washington, D.C., not his opponent, Democratic U.S. Rep. Mark Udall.
Calhoun added that he was on his way to vote - and cast a ballot for Schaffer - as soon as he left Serendipity Coffee Shop.
"Everyone asks the same questions, and we heard the same ones today as we do on the radio and on TV," he said. "He seems to be very up on things that normal, average middle-Americans are concerned about: the economy, the education of our children, which is in the toilet, and energy."
Calhoun said he was "pleasantly" surprised by the candidate's position on non-traditional fuels, specifically wind power.
In an interview before the candidate's speech, Schaffer said he supports aggressive government programs to encourage all forms of energy. While he was the vice president of business development for an Aspect Energy subsidiary, Schaffer directed the company to invest in a wind power program.
Not all of his work with Aspect was for renewables, however.
The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel reported Schaffer also helped work out a deal for oil exploration contracts with the Kurdish government in Iraq from 2006 to 2007, a business move that has come under fire because it was made while the Iraqi Congress was working out a unified oil profit-sharing system between the country's three ethnic regions.
The Bush administration also condemned such actions at the time for undermining American foreign policy - oil profits were thought to be central to the country's stability because some regions, such as the Kurdish north, are more resource-rich than others.
Schaffer addressed energy issues directly, as well as statements made in the media that he is in the pocket of oil companies.
For renewables and non-traditional fuels, Schaffer said he supports research grants, "various forms of tax support" and tax credits for research and development projects.
The federal government "needs" to offer incentives to encourage progress and investment.
What differentiates him from Udall, Schaffer said, is that he supports these programs for all energy sources, including clean coal and oil shale.
"The same technological fervor needs to be applied to sources of energy that are already abundant," Schaffer said. "Clean coal technology is every bit as useful and exciting as wind power."
The government should encourage all production, Schaffer said, "rather than have government pick winners and losers and decide the future of American energy production needs to be wind and solar. That's the wrong direction to go. The answer needs to be creating a broad-based, competitive marketplace where there is a race to the consumer by all players."
He highlighted his "consistent" support of clean coal technology as one area where Northwest Colorado can depend on him to protect local economic interests and jobs.
Schaffer said he understands people across the country are concerned about the economy, but he doesn't approve of the recent $700 billion aid bill for national investors and Wall Street.
It's not really $700 billion, he added, more like $1.4 trillion after including government loans and other programs.
"I would have voted against it," Schaffer said.
"You are going to pay for it," he told the crowd, "and you are going to pay a lot."
If Schaffer were in Congress, he said, he would have advocated reduced government spending to offset any aid given to investors, as well as lowering the tax on companies that move their money from foreign banks into domestic ones.
There is a 35 percent tax on repatriated dollars, Schaffer said, which he worked to reduce to 5 percent for one year while he was a U.S. representative. He added that companies moved about $250 billion into American banks that year.
"That $250 billion circulating through the economy is better than printing $700 billion new dollars," Schaffer said. He then went on to tell the crowd that existing congressmen should be ashamed of passing a poorly-thought-out bill "so they could go on another five-week vacation."
Lowering taxes on repatriated dollars is part of what Schaffer called an "optimal" tax system. He also advocated lowering capital gains taxes - to 0 percent in times of national financial emergencies - as well as corporate income tax credits for employees, tax credit incentives for personal health insurance and lowering taxes on retirement plans.
"Our government needs to find the optimal rate of taxation," Schaffer said. "It needs to create the maximum amount of government revenue off of the maximum amount of activity. Too high, and activity slows. If (the tax rate is) is too low, it wouldn't be optimal."
Schaffer drew applause from the audience on a few occasions - mostly for social issues, such as abortion and gay marriage, both of which he opposes - but also for education.
As one of the original authors of the No Child Left Behind Act, Schaffer said he knows what went wrong with that bill when it went into Congress. He ended up voting against his own bill, Schaffer added, because it was changed to increase federal standards in every school in America.
Countrywide mandates from the federal government do not work, he said, and he will push to have more state and local district autonomy if elected to office.
He said he also will pressure Congress to fully fund the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which requires schools to provide services for students with disabilities. The federal government promised to pay 40 percent of the bill's costs to schools, "but that has never happened," Schaffer said.
After it was all over, Calhoun shook the senate candidate's hand and left to vote.
"If he will do the things he said he will do, that's a wonderful thing," Calhoun said. "There's nothing he said here today that we (the crowd) don't agree with."