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Coffman lays out agenda as Jeffco's new congressman

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By AJ Vicens

The country's financial malaise has made Wall Street bankers mighty unpopular these days. But coming in a close second are politicians, who are scrambling to address an economic recession that seems to get worse with each news cycle.

In that vein, it's not hard to guess what freshman Rep. Mike Coffman's focus is right now in Congress.

"I'm primarily focused on the economy," Coffman said Feb. 17. Coffman is the Republican former Colorado secretary of state who won Tom Tancredo's seat in Congress in the November 2008 election. He now represents the 6th Congressional District, which includes parts of Jefferson, Arapahoe, Douglas and Park counties.

Local bankers are one constituency he says he wants to help.

"One thing I'm doing right now is working with local bankers to understand their situation," Coffman said. "They certainly made a case to me that they've been penalized by the actions of large Wall Street banks and some punitive regulations have come down."

Coffman said many bankers say funds available through the Troubled Asset Relief Program, the bailout passed by Congress last year allocating $700 billion to help struggling banks and other financial institutions, are hard to come by.

"It's very difficult to access," Coffman said of funds available through the TARP program. "It's a tough, bureaucratic process to navigate."

But the main focus for Coffman will be on local-level banking, he says.

"The core problem is that the credit markets are frozen," Coffman said. "I want to work with (President Obama's) administration on getting the credit markets on the grassroots level of our financial system moving again."

Some other Coffman priorities

• National security: "I'm on the House Armed Services Committee," Coffman said. "And we still have two wars going on."

Coffman sees two distinct challenges in the two wars the U.S. is waging abroad.

"I want to see the war in Iraq brought to a successful conclusion," Coffman said. "So far the signs are very good that we're moving this war to closure. I'm hoping we continue to wind down our involvement in Iraq."

Coffman says he supports Obama's plans when it comes to Iraq.

"Although I'm pleased with the progress, and I certainly foresee that we can bring our people home from Iraq, we still have to monitor the situation to make sure we don't prematurely do it and our gains aren't reversed and Iraq devolves into a failed state from sectarian violence."

But when it comes to Afghanistan, Coffman is not in line with the administration.

"The situation in Afghanistan really concerns me," Coffman said. "We've suffered some reversals there. I have to ask tough questions: What are our objectives there? Are they appropriate to the mission? There's a lot of questions to ask before we can begin to escalate our forces there, which seems to be the plan.

Obama announced Feb. 17 that he's sending at least 17,000 more troops to Afghanistan, which has seen a resurgence of the Taliban's power.

"Right now I can't say I'm supportive of greatly increasing the troop presence there," Coffman said. "What do we intend to accomplish? Are we there to support the Karzai government? Or are we there simply to secure the strategic interests of the United States? There are a number of questions. I can't say I'm supportive."

• Small businesses: "I want to focus also on small business," Coffman said. "In Colorado, the majority of the jobs created are created in small businesses. They're such a key part of this economy, and it's so important to have the appropriate policies applying to them." Coffman sits on the House Small Business Committee.

• Energy: "I want to look at the water and forestry issues in the district," Coffman said. "Oil and natural gas, and striking the appropriate balance between environmental issues and industry is important," said Coffman, who also sits on the House Natural Resources Committee.

Contact AJ Vicens at aj@evergreenco.com, and check www.columbinecourier.com for updates and breaking news.