By Leslie Jorgensen
THE COLORADO STATESMAN
HIGHLANDS RANCH — Republicans got an “up close and personal” preview of four GOP candidates — former Lt. Gov. Jane Norton, former state Sen. Tom Wiens, businessman Cleve Tidwell and patent attorney Steve Barton — who revealed their positions on critical issues and exchanged humorous barbs.
More than 200 folks attended the forum on Wednesday that was sponsored by a South Metro Denver Chamber group, Business Leaders for Responsible Government.
Perhaps the only disappointment was that candidate Ken Buck pulled out at the last minute. Members of his campaign said that the District Attorney couldn’t attend the event because of a murder in Weld County.
Barton, Norton, Tidwell and Wiens answered questions from moderator Adam Schrager of KUSA-TV with candor that stirred the audience to applaud boisterously and at times, burst into laughter.
When each candidate was asked what Colorado government leader they most admired, Norton glanced at Wiens.
“Tom wants me to name him,” said Norton with such a straight face. Wiens and the audience burst out laughing.
Instead of Wiens, Norton selected former U.S. Sen. Hank Brown. She said Brown earned her respect because he wasn’t swayed by partisan politics or special interests during his terms in Washington, D.C. — but was influenced by what he heard from voters in Colorado.
Every candidate vowed to uphold the United States Constitution, but they differed slightly when asked to name their favorite amendment.
“I should say the Fifth Amendment,” declared Wiens. “And if we were all truthful in this room, we’d all say that!”
Wiens, however, chose the Tenth Amendment that established state sovereignty. Barton, Norton and Tidwell chose the First Amendment that protects free speech and assembly.
The candidates generally agreed that, if elected, their first priority would be economic recovery.
Norton said that small businesses, which have generated the most jobs over the past years, have been hurt by taxes and regulations. She called for a 3-year moratorium on payroll taxes to help small businesses recover and grow.
The four Republican candidates also agreed that the federal bailout and stimulus packages have been detrimental to the economy — and will cause future generations to be burdened with taxes to pay off the massive debt.
“It was a big government move. It was a socialistic move!” declared Tidwell, who warned that the agenda shared by President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress is “leading to a Communist manifesto.”
Tidwell said that Congress has wasted a year on creating a government health care program instead of seeking solutions to stimulate jobs. Barton called for job creation in the energy sector, particularly oil, coal and nuclear power. Wiens said the solution is restoring the free enterprise system.
The candidates were asked how they would “walk the talk of fiscal conservatives” and avoid passing red-inked federal budgets.
“I’m notoriously cheap!” declared Barton, who said he lives in a two-bedroom, one-bath home in Penrose.
Barton called for a 20 percent budget cut across the board — including every federal department.
Wiens said that he has “walked the talk” as a state legislator.
“I never voted to increase taxes,” said Wiens, who added that he’s the only Republican candidate who can offer a voting record to prove his fiscal conservatism.
The Republican candidates differed on how to cure the ailing economy.
Norton said that she’d fight to defeat “Obamacare” and “Cap-and-Trade” as well as eliminate the estate tax on businesses and lift unnecessary regulations. Tidwell said he’d like to sit on a Senate committee that deals with the economy and entrepreneurship.
“Slash spending! Slash spending! Slashing spending!” demanded Barton, who added that “committees never solve anything.”
Asked what is the most critical issue facing the nation, the candidates differed widely.
“Protect our borders,” said Tidwell.
“Energy independence,” declared Barton.
“Out of control spending,” asserted Norton.
“Changing the way Washington does business. The system is broken,” said Wiens, who called for term limits and a balanced budget amendment.
The only necessary federal department and budget expenditure is for defense, agreed the candidates, who each cited the U.S. Constitution.
When asked to discuss an issue that had not been raised by the posed questions, Tidwell and Barton each said that immigrants have contributed to the economic crisis.
Barton said that legal immigrants with work visas are part of the reason that 10 percent of Americans are unemployed. After finishing medical school last year, Barton said he was unable to find a job as an intern at a hospital.
Each candidate was asked to talk about their best moment on the campaign trail. Norton said it was seeing old friends and family in her hometown Grand Junction last week when state Sen. Josh Penry endorsed her candidacy.
Wiens said it was seeing so many voters showing up at events and bringing pocket-sized constitutions. Tidwell said his favorite moment was helping to deliver a calf on a farm outside of Lamar.
“Pushing a wheelbarrow full of horse manure while I’m talking about fiscal responsibility in Washington with my neighbor,” said Barton.