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Action 22 Candidate Debates

September 27, 2010

Action 22 is a regional membership coalition working on issues of common concern to twenty-two southeastern Colorado counties. Saturday, 25 September they held a series of candidate debates at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Colorado Springs.

Candidates for State Attorney General, Treasurer, Secretary of State and Governor debated; Republicans Scott Tipton (CD-3) and Cory Gardner (CD-4) appeared to speak but their Democrat opponents declined. Democrat Senator Michael Bennet also declined. His opponent Ken Buck had accepted but later decided not to appear alone.

The format was perhaps the best I’ve yet seen. A different local media person moderated each debate. A timekeeper held up time cards and the questions came from the audience. Each candidate had a two-minute answer followed by 30-second rebuttal. There were opening and closing statements. The audience was warned to be quiet and respectful which they mostly were.

It was the audience questions that made this debate more interesting: they really got to the heart of issues and I did not perceive that the questions favored one candidate over another.

The first debate was between State Attorney General John Suthers and Boulder District Attorney Stan Garnett. As befits a debate between two lawyers, it was well argued: they generally argued the issues, answered the questions directly–unlike Bennet in last week’s debate–and stuck to the facts as they understood them. Garnett mentioned that this was their sixth debate–I’m sure that practice helped. Suthers emphasized his work protecting Colorado’s people, land, rights and water. Garnett claimed there was a “crisis of consumer protection.”

The questions involved the healthcare lawsuit, illegal immigration, consumer protection, 60/61/101 and others. On the healthcare lawsuit, Suthers addressed where it currently stands and the Constitutional, state’s rights and individual rights grounds that he used in deciding to pursue it. Garnett attacked Suthers or bringing the suit but didn’t address the issues.

The question on immigration was really about Arizona’s 1070 law and Garnett said the law was bad policy–a typical Democrat response. However, he did say that he would actually uphold that law if passed here, which was somewhat surprising. Struthers, who said he was strong on federalism, didn’t agree with all aspects of the Arizona bill because the Constitution does give Congress powers in that sphere. Garnett actually mentioned Ronald Reagan: the clearest example I heard that day of Democrats trying to sound like conservative Republicans.

Consumer protection was Garnett’s big issue. He tried to make the case that there was a crisis and that it was Suther’s fault. He tried to pin a general rise in consumer fraud complaints on Suthers; on it’s face somewhat absurd and Suthers was able to pick apart Garnett’s statistics. Neither mentioned the observation I’ve learned over time that in hard economic times, fraud rises. Garnett failed to make his case.

Amendments 60, 61 and Proposition 101 was a question in almost every debate. Suthers opined that they went too far; that they went past limited government, which is where he stands, all the way to fiscal anarchy.  The laws are fairly complicated and in the time allowed he did make points about the relationship between Amendment 23 and property taxes and that the three don’t mesh well with current state law.

Garnett agreed with Suthers and said they restrict government too much, also mentioning the conflicting nature of spending restrictions in Colorado law. While Suthers talked about the problems, Garnett provided a solution–and you won’t be surprised at what it is. Get rid of all these conflicting laws and let government decide.

Overall, it was the kind of debate one might expect in more normal times, with the incumbent relying on a strong record of achievement and the challenger attacking it. But these are not normal times and–normal or not–Colorado has a great Attorney General in John Suthers and we need to keep him in place. Although Stan Garnett tried to make himself look like a conservative, he failed. As Dick Morris said, conservative Democrats are extinct and moderates are on the endangered species list. This is true nowhere more than in Colorado.

Next, the State Treasurer debate.

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