GOP Senate candidates debate in Springs

By Leslie Jorgensen
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

COLORADO SPRINGS – Former Colorado Lt. Gov. Jane Norton and Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck, both vying for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate, fielded numerous questions — including several which tested their knowledge of the United States Constitution — in a two-hour debate this week. The candidates’ positions were nearly identical, but there was considerable difference in their speaking styles.

Gentleman’s Quarterly just got a new model — Republican U.S. Senate candidate Ken Buck.
Photo by Tatianna Gruen/The Colorado Statesman

GOP frontrunner Norton, who has amassed a respectable campaign war chest, described her positions on issues in a straightforward, but modulated style. Buck, who said his campaign fundraising was dismal in the last quarter, has evolved from a lackluster speaker to an engaging conversationalist, weaving personal and humorous antidotes into somber positions on issues.

More than 75 folks attended the candidates’ forum on Tuesday sponsored by the Colorado Springs Republican Women’s Club at the El Paso County GOP headquarters. Among party regulars were numerous new faces such as activists in the Tea Party and 9-11 movements.

The audience, however, wasn’t afforded the opportunity to also hear the views of Republican Senate candidates Tom Wiens, a former state senator from Castle Rock, and Denver businessman Cleve Tidwell.

Wiens and Tidwell were not invited to participate in the debate, said Amy Mitchell, first vice president of the Colorado Springs Republican Women’s Club.

“It was because of limited time and space constraints,” said Mitchell, who explained that both candidates were asked to send literature for distribution. Tidwell’s supporters in El Paso County put up a campaign sign and provided the candidate’s literature. The Wiens campaign was missing in action.

Mitchell, who served as the debate moderator, asked questions which had been e-mailed or written on note cards by club members prior to the debate. Later, Mitchell opened the floor to take questions from the audience.

The questions ranged from the candidates’ understanding of constitutional issues to abortion rights to federal funding of military troops abroad.

Asked their positions on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Norton and Buck said that they favor free trade if the conditions are fair for the United States. Yet, both Republican candidates voiced skepticism of the North American Union, which some politicos predict will be the forerunner of a shared currency as the EURO dollar.

Asked how they will fend off the temptation to be corrupted by Potomac fever, Norton said that her friends have warned, “Jane, don’t drink the water.” Both candidates vowed to represent Coloradans’ interests and not be swayed by power, lobbyists and politics — even if that means bucking the National Republican Party’s influence.

Both candidates called for single-issue bills in Congress without earmarks.

Buck and Norton differed slightly on funding for military troops around the world.

The national debt, which is being carried by China and other countries, Buck said, has put the United States “at risk in a national security sense.” He said it’s time that Americans realize that it’s neither obligated nor can afford to be the “world’s policeman… We need limited entanglements in the world.”

Norton said that she supports the military and believes in “peace through strength.” She said that the United States must have a strong military presence around the world to deter terrorism, and guard against Iran, which has been developing nuclear weapons. Norton warned of some people in the world who would like to wipe the United States off the face of the earth – and “jihad terrorists want to do just that.”

Both candidates said they are pro-life. Buck said he opposes abortion except when a mother’s life is endangered.

Jane Norton shrieks with joy upon hearing that Scott Brown has won Ted Kennedy’s senate seat in Massachusetts.
Photo by Tatianna Gruen/The Colorado Statesman

After the debate, a couple of supporters had switched their support from one candidate to another, new supporters enlisted as volunteers for each candidate, old supporters remained loyal and others, like prominent Republican Ted Andrews, remained undecided.

Leah Hotchkiss said she had participated in the April 2009 Tea Party in Acacia Park, but has decided to become more politically involved than in previous years.

“I’m going for Ken Buck,” said Hotchkiss, who signed up on a volunteer list to campaign for the Republican.

“After listening to the debate, half way through I still hadn’t made a decision between him and Jane Norton. But, his statements about upholding the 9th and 10th Amendments to the United States Constitution changed my mind,” she said.

The 10th Amendment affirms the sovereignty of the states and the 9th Amendment further protects the rights of individuals from both infringement by the states or federal government. Both candidates called for upholding these rights to protect the states, local communities and citizens from federal government intrusion.

Most appealing to Hotchkiss was Buck’s statement that the Department of Education is unnecessary and most of its functions are better performed by states.

“We need to get the federal government out of education,” Buck declared.

Ironically, Norton has called for abolishing the Department of Education throughout her campaign. Her remarks have drawn relentless criticism from Democratic Party groups, including the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. The DSCC has hounded Norton by producing video clips and sound bytes of her speeches and issuing press releases — in protest, of course.

Norton reiterated her stance against the Department of Education as well as the proposed health care plan careening its way through Congress. Buck also criticized the government-run health care plan.

Board of Regents member Peggy Littleton, who is running for an El Paso County Commissioner seat, said that she intends to switch her support from Norton to Buck. Littleton said that she was impressed by Buck’s impassioned and personalized views.

Norton, who has a large contingency of support in El Paso County, picked up more fans including Fountain Mayor Jeri Howells and long time activist Cheri Ofner, who also organizes “tea party” rallies in the Pikes Peak Region.

“I was a Ken Buck supporter, but I changed my mind and am now solidly behind Jane Norton,” said Ofner. “I’ve known her for 12 years.”

Ofner said that she is comfortable with Norton’s positions on the issues, her experience and standards. In particular, Ofner cites Norton’s record as a member of Gov. Bill Owens’ cabinet, when as head of the state Health Department she led the movement to remove funding from Planned Parenthood.

Ofner said that earlier in the election cycle she had leaned toward Buck, but opposed the Weld County District Attorney’s handling of a case in which law enforcement raided an office to obtain financial and income tax records of people, primarily minorities and immigrant workers, who were suspected of stealing identities.

Buck said that it was a case to protect citizens from being victimized by identity thefts — including names, Social Security numbers and financial records. However, the raid was legally challenged. The District Attorney defended the raid, but lost every round, from the lower courts to Colorado Supreme Court.

“The Democrats will have a field day with that,” said Ofner. “And if we chose him as our nominee, the Republicans would lose.”

Ken Buck’s wife, Perry Buck, was offended by Ofner’s remarks.

“She has said terrible things about my husband and this case,” said Buck, 1st vice president of the Colorado Federation of Republican Women and former vice chair of the state Republican Party.

“It’s unfair and it’s not true,” said Buck. “Ken did the right thing in trying to protect the citizens.”

There wasn’t an overwhelming winner in this debate — but the biggest applause was for a Republican candidate in Massachusetts.

Buck’s campaign political strategist Walt Klein announced that Republican Scott Brown had defeated Democrat Martha Coakley in the contest to replace Democratic U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy. The seat has been held by Democrats since 1972.

Hearing the news, Republicans erupted in shouts, whistles and applause. For them, it was a sign of successes to come — particularly in their goal to unseat Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet.

Leslie@coloradostatesman.com