By Leslie Jorgensen
THE COLORADO STATESMAN
WOODLAND PARK – The Teller Tea Party’s U.S. Senate candidates’ forum last Saturday turned into a “boys gone wild” episode with smack-down talk and anti-GOP rhetoric — all in hopes of winning over the anti-establishment crowd.
GOP candidates former Lt. Gov. Jane Norton, Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck, former state Sen. Tom Wiens, businessman Cleve Tidwell and patent attorney Steve Barton participated in the forum at the Ute Pass Cultural Center in Woodland Park.
U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet and challenger Andrew Romanoff, a former House speaker — and both Democrats — were invited but declined to participate. Teller Tea Party activists placed an effigy of Bennet on the stage with the Republican candidates.
More than 350 folks attended the event — a Wonder Bread crowd dominated by men, some wearing American Revolution-styled tri-corner hats, cowboy hats and National Rifle Association caps.
As the frontrunner, Norton largely ignored the antics of her GOP challengers, Buck, Wiens, Tidwell and Barton, who each vowed to kick keisters and railed against the Republican Party.
Most of these folks love their guns and hate taxes. They also resent losing entitlements, such as Medicare, because of the proposed government health care plan. Teller Tea Party activists offered neon orange paper-wrapped blocks of wood to send to AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) in retaliation for having endorsed the government health care bill.
“Just take a prepaid postage, self addressed envelope from AARP and paste it on top of the block,” said Howard Steed. “They have to pay the postage!”
Beneath the wrapping was a message that read, “AARP’s cynical endorsement of a nationalized health care bill that will cut $400 billion in benefits from Medicare and destroy Medicare Advantage plans in order to increase sales of their own Medi-Gap insurance plans is shameful and disgusting.”
The scene and literature, from provocative bumper stickers, such as “HONK if you voted for Barack Obama, You Socialist Bastard” to handouts that said, “Don’t read newspapers and magazines,” were reminiscent of the patriot-militia and constitutionalist movement of the 1990s.
Most of the activists disbanded or went underground after the Oklahoma City bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building on April 19, 1995. Though only two men were charged and found guilty in the homegrown terrorist attack, it stemmed from the virulent anti-government movement that protested President Bill Clinton and his administration.
Then, conservative Republicans, including former Congressman Tom Tancredo and Congresswoman Marilyn Musgrave, pitched their campaigns to patriot, pro-gun and anti-government rallies. This particular Saturday forum was no different.
“We have sent Republicans back to change Congress and they have been changed by Washington, D.C.,” declared Buck, whose wife Perry Buck was vice chair of the state GOP.
“We cannot send people back there to vote to increase spending and increase taxes, Monday through Friday, and then, have them come back here and preach fiscal conservatism on Sunday,” Buck said.
If elected, Buck vowed, “I will not take an oath to the leadership of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. I will not take an oath to protect the lobbyists who are spending far too much money in trying to gain party influence in this election.
“When I put my hand on the Bible, I will raise my right hand and take an oath to the Constitution so help me God,” pledged Buck.
Buck elaborated that even though people blame Obama and Democrats for passing red-inked federal budgets and increasing the deficit, it has also been driven by Republicans.
Like Buck, most of his fraternal opponents in the race invoked the United States Constitution and acted as if they too were not running as Republicans.
“I’ve stood up against the insiders over and over. I’ve stood up against Democrats, I’ve stood up against Republicans because I truly believe this must be a government for the people, of the people and by the people,” declared Wiens.
Peppering his statements with “we the people,” Wiens implored, “We have to say, ‘Enough is enough!’”
“I’m going to govern from the Constitution, so help me God,” pledged Wiens.
Tidwell declared, “I’m a businessman — not a politician, not an attorney — something a little different from what you see in most elections.”
Reading between Tidwell’s lines, he said it’s time to send people who aren’t status quo Republicans or Democrats to Capitol Hill.
“We’re not gonna send these same kinds of people there,” he asserted. “We’re gonna go up there and kick some butt and get these Democrats on the right track and take back this country!”
All of the Republican male candidates seemed to have a fixation on butts, behinds and derrières throughout the forum.
“My goal is to see Michael Bennet tossed out on his derriere!” shouted Barton, who didn’t annihilate the GOP, but reportedly may switch to another political party.
Criticizing President George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq after the “9-11” attack, Buck said, “The President needs to walk his behind up to Congress. He needs to stand up in front of Congress, he needs to ask for a declaration of war… and Congress needs to declare war.”
The comment wasn’t in response to a direct question, but for the record, war declarations are made by the U.S. Senate, which is empowered by the U.S. Constitution.
Adding more to the posterior postulations, Wiens said that if global warming were caused by humans, it’s likely related to members of Congress.
“You know, not all human beings are causing global warming,” said Wiens. “There is this one building in Washington, D.C. — it’s white and has a dome on it. I think there’s a reason that there is a dome on it because I think something is rising up out of it.”
The audience exploded in laughter and applause.
Some scientists have stated that global warming has been caused by human activities such as carbon dioxide from fossil fuel burning and land clearing. Wiens, however, was referring to flatulence, a mixture of carbon dioxide, oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen, and sometimes methane.
Wiens, a rancher in Sedalia, added that his herd of 350 cattle might also be contributing to the problem of global warming.
An audience pleaser, Wiens — who was seated next to the effigy of Bennet — declared that the Democratic U.S. Senator had been walking in excrement.
“I’m sitting pretty close to Michael here and I’m able see right into his shoes and um… I noticed that he has the same thing inside of his shoes that when I’m working cattle on the ranch I keep on the outside of my boots,” asserted Wiens.
“When I get to Washington, D.C. and the U.S. Senate, I’m keeping it on the outside of my shoes,” declared Wiens.
The listeners erupted with whistles, whoops and applause.
So where was Norton in all of these exchanges? She answered questions, but stopped short of bashing the GOP and stooping to sophomoric jokes. This anti-establishment crowd wasn’t Norton’s support group.
“This is a softball question just for you, Jane,” said Teller Tea Party moderator Dave Doll, who asked the candidates’ opinions on what taxes they support or would reduce.
Did Doll think the question was a softball because Norton had laid out tax cuts earlier in the race — before her opponents? Or was it a sexist remark? Regardless, Norton stepped to the plate.
“Small business is the engine to our economy. We don’t stimulate the economy by a $787 billion stimulus package that promises to create jobs. It hasn’t,” declared Norton. “We need to get taxes and regulations off the backs of small businesses.”
Norton proposed repealing the estate tax, suspending the 7.5 percent payroll tax and adopting a flat and fair income tax code.
Barton questioned whether it was possible to have a flat tax that is fair.
Considering the flack over Tancredo’s call for a voter’s literacy test at the national convention of Tea Party folks in Nashville last weekend, the local group’s question about immigration was pertinent.
Tancredo told the national convention that the United States had “put a committed socialist ideologue in the White House … Barack Hussein Obama.” He reportedly said that some of these folks couldn’t spell the word “vote” and therefore a literacy test should be required.
Asked how they would solve the immigration crisis, the Republican candidates proposed differing views and solutions.
“We got a problem in this country about illegal immigration that is absolutely destroying our economy, destroying our schools, destroying our jobs, shutting down hospitals,” asserted Tidwell.
If elected, Tidwell vowed to “build a fence and stop it.”
“That’s right! That’s right!” yelled a woman in the audience.
Wiens smiled smugly and said, “Illegal immigration… hmm, I think it’s illegal.”
The room riveted with applause.
Wiens said the he would secure the borders but attract the best and the brightest workers to come here. A few folks muttered that that contributes to the problem of unemployed American engineers and college graduates who can’t compete with the imported workers.
Buck declared that, “Greeley is ground zero for illegal immigration… 95 percent of methamphetamines in our area, as in this area, comes across the southern border.”
“We’re not just talking about immigration problems, we’re talking about drug problems, terrorism problems and other issues,” said Buck, adding that the problem isn’t on the Canadian border.
He objected to Obama transferring 368 agents from the Mexican border to the Canadian border — yet, some commented that terrorists have slipped through the northern border.
Barton said that millions of people are here illegally and seek ways to stay here.
“A lot of these illegal immigrants, the first thing they try to do is have babies so that they have an anchor in the United States,” said Barton, who proposed ousting the families, but allowing the children to come back when they’re adults.
Norton considered the views of ranchers, farmers, hoteliers and other businesses that struggle with bureaucratic red tape to hire workers.
“We’re an immigrant community. We understand and appreciate and honor our immigrant contributions,” she said. “Almost all of us have come from immigrant families.”
Norton said businesses need an improved temporary worker program so that they can be assured of hiring individuals who are here legally and on a temporary basis. The system needs to be improved and more expedient. There is no national database at this time that can be used by employers to check guest worker status.
Norton also suggested that the pathway to citizenship be improved and less costly — an opinion shared by Buck and Wiens. Currently, an immigrant who wishes to become an American citizen must pay $5,000 and upward to process documents and establish residency.
All of the Republican candidates opposed amnesty and called for securing the borders.
Toward the end of the forum, Wiens rallied the tea partiers with a paraphrased line from Paddy Chayefsky’s screenplay Network, produced in 1976.
“We’re mad as hell and we’re not gonna take it anymore,” declared Wiens in the same tone of Network’s character Howard Beale.
When asked what government programs the candidates would cut because funding them violates the U.S. Constitution, most agreed to eliminate the Department of Education.
Buck said that the Department of Education and National Endowment of the Arts could be scratched pronto.
“We can immediately flip the switch and end them,” declared Buck. “There are other programs that are going to take some time, like student loans, to get rid of.”