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Former Gov. Owens Criticizes Obama Visit

Calls Trip 'Counterproductive'
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Waldo Canyon Fire on June 26 (credit: CBS)

Waldo Canyon Fire on June 26 (credit: CBS)

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Investigator Brian Maass

DENVER (CBS4)- Former Colorado Governor Bill Owens is criticizing President Obama’s Friday visit to the Colorado Springs fire zone calling it ‘bad timing’ saying it will divert energy and resources from the firefighting effort.

The President is planning to be in Colorado Springs for about three hours Friday afternoon viewing the fire damage and visiting with evacuees and firefighters.

“It’s bad timing. It’s going to take thousands of person hours away from what we all ought to be focused on and this is fighting and defeating these fires,” said the former Republican Governor.

“I believe his visit will be counterproductive to our common goal of trying to defeat these fires.”

Owens said in 2002 when he was Governor and the Hayman fire was raging, then President George W. Bush inquired about visiting the fire zone.

“The Bush White House called me as Governor,” said Owens, “and said, ‘Would you like us to come out? The President is considering a visit to Hayman.’ And I said please don’t. I said it will divert us from doing what we need to be doing defeating these fires.”

President Bush did not make the trip.

Owens said he believes officials will be distracted in dealing with the Obama visit.

“The forest service, they will be figuring out where should he walk, who he should visit with, he thanks firefighters, several hundred, they would otherwise be doing something else. It’s a challenge logistically and it diverts them from what they should be doing,” said Owens.

But at a Thursday afternoon news briefing, current Governor John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, said his administration did its due diligence before accepting the Obama offer.

“Pretty much everyone we talked to said we don’t think it will be a distraction, won’t disrupt in any way,” said Hickenlooper.

Hickenlooper also said the President “was explicit when he called that he in no way wanted to be a distraction for the firefighters or people providing support services.”

Hickenlooper said his administration has reached out to various republicans who said the Presidential trip would be appropriate. Hickenlooper said the President wants to support firefighters and evacuated families “and demonstrate to them the country is in their court.”

But Owens is steadfast in his opposition, “There will be hundreds of persons who won’t be doing what they should be doing because this President has chosen to visit at this time.”

- Written by Brian Maass for CBSDenver.com

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