3rd Congressional District: Republican Stephen A. Varela

As recently as 2021, Stephen Varela was a registered Democrat, one who for a while organized voter outreach efforts in Pueblo’s Latino community. In describing why he switched to being a Republican (one of his many party-affiliation changes over the years), Varela quoted former President Ronald Reagan, who said he didn’t leave the Democratic party, but instead “the party left me.”

3rd Congressional District candidate Stephen A. Varela.

Varela said he and his wife, both military veterans, didn’t see their values reflected in the party, including encouraging people to build generational wealth and maintain a strong work ethic. He also felt that the Democrats did not really value him as a person, but instead only saw his race.

In 2022, Varela unsuccessfully challenged Democrat Nick Hinrichsen for a seat in the state Senate. A year later, a Republican vacancy committee appointed Varela to the state Board of Education, for a term that ends this year. Instead of running to retain that seat, Varela decided to enter the race for Congress. He won top-line billing on the primary ballot from delegates at the 3rd Congressional District assembly in April.

In his campaign for the U.S. House of Representatives, Varela has aligned himself closely with former President Donald Trump and been a harsh critic of President Joe Biden’s economic and immigration policies, in particular. 

Earlier this year, the Denver Post reported the federal government appears to be investigating Varela over his time as the president of the southern Colorado chapter of the union representing Veterans Affairs employees. Sources told the Post that Varela had misused an estimated $100,000 in union funds. Varela categorically denies the claims, telling the Pueblo Chieftain the allegations could be a “political hit job” by his opponents.

Varela spoke to CPR News about his position on the issues that are most important to voters in the district.

On democracy and good governance

Varela said his big goal is to “create unity” in the Republican party. He sees himself as a pragmatic person, he explained, and hopes to gain a good understanding of own caucus so he can help build consensus with the party and, in turn, create “great government.” 

He said he’s traveled more than 20,000 miles across the state, to nearly every county, and in his talks with voters has found they’re looking for strength from their government.

People want to see the United States as a “pivotal light” they can look up to, Varela said. They want to know  “we have the ability to protect our own borders as well as protect our allies and other countries.”

Varela invoked a favorite phrase of former president Trump, saying he believes a Republican-led Congress can “bring greatness back to our country.”

On the economy and cost of living

Varela calls inflation “the modern-day taxation without representation,” with the cost of everything becoming untenable for the average Coloradan. With his experience in the world of education, he said he’s seen teachers making as little as $50,000 in mountain towns where the typical home may cost $1 million. 

The biggest issue is “Bidenomics,” Varela said, and while he believes he and other members of congress should be able to address these economic woes with legislation, “one of the biggest things we're going to need is a major change in the presidency come this year.”

Varela said that if former President Trump gains office again, he’ll be able to work with Republican lawmakers to enact measures to stimulate the economy. 

On immigration

Varela calls the current situation at the border “inhumane” and blames Democrats for allowing people into the U.S. “without having a place to live, knowing the language, a job,” likely referring to Venezuelans who are filing for asylum due to economic collapse and political oppression in their country. 

Varela said he’d like to overhaul the immigration system and allow for people who’ve legally entered the country to go through the process of becoming citizens quicker, while keeping out those who try to come across the border without prior authorization. He mentioned meeting a doctor who’s been waiting for citizenship for 13 years and calls situations like that “very unfortunate.”

While a staunch Trump supporter, Varela differs from the former president when it comes to support for legal immigration. While Trump worked to curb even legal entry for foreign nationals, Varela said guest worker programs in particular were “viable.” He described both his father and grandfather as traveling migrant laborers, and he wants to make sure that people willing to work and become part of the fabric of this country have that chance.