A political pulse on CD 1 race

DeGette challenged by GOP doc

By Leslie Jorgensen
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

The 1st Congressional District candidates, Democratic incumbent U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette and Republican challenger Dr. Mike Fallon, might agree on their diagnoses of economic and health care ailments — but they each recommend very different cures.

DeGette, who is seeking an eighth term in the House of Representatives, has been on the forefront of fighting for the federal health care coverage reforms and ensuring government funding for embryonic stem cell research that promises remedies for diseases. The latter is the subject of DeGette’s first book, “Sex, Science, and Stem Cells” which was published in 2008.

Fallon, an ER physician and businessman, views the government health care package and embryonic stem cell research as the wrong prescriptions. He does not object to using existing human stem cells to explore medical cures.

CD 1 GOP candidate Dr. Mike Fallon pitches his “prescription for curing Congress” to Republicans at the Aug. 26 fundraiser hosted by Barbara Knight.
Photo by Leslie Jorgensen/The Colorado Statesman
District 1 Congresswoman Diana DeGette encourages women to work hard to elect Democrats in the final weeks before the election at the Colorado Democratic Women’s Summit on Sept. 2 in Denver.
Photo by Leslie Jorgensen/The Colorado Statesman
Republican CD 1 candidate Dr. Mike Fallon, standing with daughter Emma and Barbara Knight, receives a “good luck” shoulder squeeze from unaffiliated Denver Councilman Charlie Brown.
Photo by Leslie Jorgensen/The Colorado Statesman
Reps. Diana DeGette and Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, both House Majority Whips, field questions about policy and politics at the Colorado Democratic Women’s Summit.
Photo by Leslie Jorgensen/The Colorado Statesman
1st District Congresswoman Diana DeGette talks one-on-one with constituent Vicki Tosher, a consultant for an oncology health care advocacy group.
Photo by Leslie Jorgensen/The Colorado Statesman
It’s a family affair: Barbara Fallon, president of the Denver Republican Women’s Club, with her son Dr. Mike Fallon, who says nobody walks more precincts in his campaign than his mom.
Photo by Leslie Jorgensen/The Colorado Statesman

Both candidates have a pulse on the most pressing issue on the voters’ minds — becoming or staying employed. DeGette credits the passage of The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for saving jobs. Fallon sees it — and other deficit spending programs — as a jobs killer.

In the district that encompasses Denver County and parts of Arapahoe County, unemployment has hovered at roughly 8 percent, but it has remained lower than national unemployment that hit a double digit high and is currently at 9.6 percent with15 million Americans out of work. Unemployment and the sputtering economy are concerns in this pivotal political election year.

In contrast to the “tea party” rebellion sweeping the country, this district appears to be a demilitarized zone for the Democratic incumbent. The Colorado Secretary of State’s office reported Sept. 1 that there are 287,705 active voters in the district — 144,459 affiliated Democrats, 87,207 unaffiliated voters and 53,494 registered Republicans.

The last Republican elected from the district was former Congressman Mike McKevitt in 1970. At the end of his term, the Democrats seized the seat and have held it for 38 years — electing U.S. Reps. Pat Schroeder, who served for 12 terms, followed by DeGette, an attorney who previously served in the state Legislature.

In 2008, DeGette captured 72 percent of 267,841 votes cast — a whopping win though it didn’t beat her record re-election handshake from 79 percent of the voters in 2006. That year, DeGette had no Republican opponent.

Despite the odds, the National Republican Congressional Committee on Wednesday announced that Fallon is “on the radar” — the first level in the committee’s Young Guns program that identifies viable candidates. Republican congressional candidates Ryan Frazier in CD 7 and state Reps. Cory Gardner, CD 4 and Scott Tipton, CD 3, are “Top Guns.”

Pumping iron into the anemic economy
“The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act has saved hundreds of thousands of jobs across the country, and in the Denver area there have been almost 18,000 reported hires as a direct result,” said DeGette.

“As I speak with local families, I am working to help people better understand the steps the Democratic Congress has taken to lessen the impact of the recession, as well as help them access myriad resources available to them to weather the storm,” she said.

Fallon, who cites his business experience in having established and sold emergency clinics, argued that jobs are not being created because business owners are uncertain about the economy.

“As a successful small business owner, I understand how economic decisions made at the federal level affect spending decisions made on Main Street,” said Fallon. “Today, businesses are uncertain what it will cost to bring on a new employee.”

“One of my campaign volunteers has a one-person shop and would love to hire a second person, but the difference between her hiring an assistant and not is about $5,000,” said Fallon. “What’s her tax bill going to be after the first round of outsized tax hikes?”

Adding to the problem, Fallon said, is that consumers don’t feel confident in their personal finances — including employment security — and consequently people have scaled back on shopping, eating out, entertainment and other spending that drives the economy.

Who is responsible for the economic crisis, too few jobs and uncertainty in the marketplace?

“Diana DeGette has offered little guidance around these important issues,” asserted Fallon, who added that President Barack Obama’s “administration’s inaction and reckless fiscal policy has left the nation’s economy in critical condition.”

“It’s time to take action and save the patient!” declared the doctor, whose campaign signs feature a graphic design of an electrocardiogram (EKG) monitor printout.

To spur job growth and economic revitalization, he said, “government must stop choosing economic winners and losers and end its policy of selective bailouts for large corporations. We must encourage corporate innovation and investment.”

Fallon criticized his Democratic opponent and her peers in Congress for continuing to pile onto the nearly $13 trillion national deficit — financial burdens that will be born by taxpayers for generations and impede job creation and economic recovery.

DeGette countered that the economic problems evolved over years — long before Obama took office in January 2009. The bills passed aim to revive the economy, transition to energy independence and provide health care to Americans, many of whom had been rejected by insurers for pre-existing health conditions or acquiring serious illnesses.

“If my opponent wants to argue to the families in the First District that children with pre-existing conditions should be denied health insurance or that the economy should been left to crumble without government intervention, he’s certainly free to do so because that’s our democracy,” said DeGette.

“People tend to forget that the first economic assistance packages actually happened under — and were spearheaded — by the (President George W.) Bush administration. The Recovery Act, TARP and auto industry bills were extraordinary measures at a time in our nation’s history that called for nothing less. They were expensive, but necessary steps,” said DeGette.

Fallon agreed to somewhat disagree.

“Both parties are to blame. Democrats started it and Republicans perfected it. The Democrats like to blame President Bush, but it seems like they forget that they have been in power since 2006,” declared Fallon. “Pointing fingers doesn’t help solve the problem. We just need to move forward and find solutions to this mess.”

From DeGette’s perspective, the economic tide is already turning.

She cited two sources. A report issued by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office concluded that unemployment would have been 2 percent higher now without the economic stimulus packages. Moody’s chief economist Mark Zandi, a former advisor to Republican Arizona Senator John McCain, recently declared that without the stimulus, there would be three million fewer jobs.

The National Bureau of Economic Research, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, reported Monday that the nation began recovering from the so-called “Great Recession” in June 2009. The bureau said recovery is happening slowly and it may take years to return to the previous economic vitality.
“Thanks to the stimulus and other congressional actions, our economy has stabilized in preparation for a more lasting recovery,” said DeGette.

Curing budget deficits
“Our government has become addicted to unchecked spending without regard to future consequences. It has to stop,” declared Fallon.

DeGette said she too is concerned about red-inked federal budgets and voted for Congressional PAYGO legislation that mandates Congress pay for programs it funds with cuts made elsewhere in the budget.

“The federal budget was last balanced under a Democratic President, Bill Clinton, and it was the failed economic policies of the second Bush administration that are behind the current budget deficit,” she said.

Both DeGette and Fallon prefer a legislative measure rather than a constitutional amendment to require a balanced federal budget.

“A balanced budget requirement correctly identifies an illness, but overreaches in trying to prescribe the cure,” said DeGette, who believes a legislative measure would allow Congress more flexibility to respond to crises.

“I would prefer to pass legislation,” said Fallon. “But, if the two parties cannot agree on such legislation, I would support a constitutional amendment.”

Reading health care reform temperature
DeGette and Fallon have polarized views of the government health care reform bill passed in March.

According to a report by the Kaiser Family Foundation in March, the cost of health care in the United States exceeded $2.8 trillion in 2008 — and cost each citizen an average of $7,681 per year.

The government health care plan, which goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2014, is estimated to cost more than $940 billion over 10 years. Some say that medical cost savings, fees and payments will lower not the only the system’s cost — but also the federal budget deficit.

A Kaiser poll in late July reported 50 percent viewed government health care reform favorably, 35 percent unfavorably and 14 percent had no opinion. If the poll holds water, it’s quite a shift in sentiment compared to a Rasmussen poll conducted in mid-March that indicated 43 percent of the respondents had favorable views of the reform, 53 percent unfavorable and 4 percent undecided.

“All the Colorado residents that I speak with understand that our health care system in this country is horribly broken,” said DeGette. “For many families, health care related costs represented a fifth or more of total expenditures.”

The Congresswoman said she has met with constituents and held small business forums to explain the benefits of government health care reform.

“Families are pleased to learn that access to affordable health care is finally available,” said DeGette. “Patients with pre-existing conditions can’t be denied insurance; adult children are able to stay on their parents’ insurance until age 26; and seniors can finally close the donut hole on their prescription drug plans.”

Unlike a lot of Republicans running for election or re-election to Congress, Fallon hasn’t vowed to surgically remove government health care reform. The doctor does, however, want to perform nip-and-tuck procedures to refresh health care in the free marketplace and prevent the wrinkles of a government monopolized health care system.

“The proponents of this legislation had noble goals — improve access to heath care,” said Fallon. “We should all have access to quality health care. But, they did nothing to address the rising cost of care delivery — a primary barrier to access for many individuals and family.”

Fallon favors responsible medical tort reform, consumer-driven health plans and allow interstate competition for insurance.

“Without measures to contain cost, patients will have fewer and fewer options,” said Fallon. “…Experts predict that we will continue to lose access to providers and private insurance companies will go out of business, which will limit choice and increase cost. Ultimately, this will force patients into a government-run health care system, which the American people have rejected time and again.”

“A great example of how consumer-driven health care can reduce cost is the urgent care clinic I used to own. We served a lot of uninsured patients,” he said.

Fallon recalled a man who was uninsured but needed an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging). The doctor made several calls for price quotes. The first was $1000, the second was $700, and after a little negotiating, he sealed the deal at $250 — a price within the patient’s budget. For Fallon, it’s proof of the miracles in the free market.

DeGette also lauded a community health care center this week — the Denver Health Medical Center’s facility that benefits from government health care reform. She said the center is a valuable resource to prevent and treat illnesses for uninsured people. The medical facility is expected to receive more funding and add more community health care centers.

Fallon, who completed his residency at Denver Health Medical Center, did not share DeGette’s optimism.

Community health care centers, he said, are too small to provide medical services to all of the people with government-subsidized health care coverage. Fallon noted that the University of Colorado recently announced it would no longer accept Medicare and Medicaid at two of its clinics — and he predicted more facilities will follow.

Campaign checkups
Fallon has two campaign ads — both are on the website for now. The campaign reported raising more than $30,000 and has $15,000 cash on hand. His major contributors include former Senator Bill Armstrong and family members, including his Mom, Barbara Fallon, president of the Denver Republican Women’s Club.

The campaign’s higher expenditures were to Magellan Strategies for a benchmark poll in June and Big Papa’s BBQ for a campaign celebration in May after Fallon won the nomination at the Republican Party 1st Congressional District assembly.

“My team and I are out walking and talking to ordinary people almost every single day. We’ve knocked on over 25,000 doors in the district,” said Fallon, who has also hosted a series of town hall meetings throughout the district.

DeGette said she flies home every weekend when Congress is in session whether it’s a campaign season or not. She’s adding campaign events to her schedule that is heavily packed with congressional meetings with constituents and businesses.

The Congresswoman, who spoke at the Colorado Democratic Women’s Summit on Sept. 2, has probably devoted more time to helping other Democratic congressional campaigns than her own. For example, DeGette’s campaign committee has contributed $1,000 to Democratic 4th District Congresswoman Betsy Markey’s re-election bid, $35,000 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and $2,500 to Emily’s List that assists women candidates.

DeGette’s campaign has amassed more than $564,000 in contributions and reported nearly $110,500 cash on hand on July 21. Like most incumbents, the Congresswoman has received a large number of donations from political action committees — many of them related to the medical field. Among the top individual donors are former Colorado First Lady Dottie Lamm and Democratic political strategist Rick Ridder, who is also a consultant on DeGette’s campaign.

The campaign expenditures for dining and catering might make a gourmet guide. In Denver, the list includes Katie Mullins Irish Pub, Dixon’s Downtown Grill and Papou’s Pizzeria & Italia. In Washington, the preferences are Harris Teeter, The Liaison, Bistro Bis, Bistro Cacao, The Monocle on Capitol Hill, Central Michel Richard, White Tiger, Sonoma Restaurant, Art & Soul Restaurant and U.S. House Members Dining Room.

“I do not anticipate purchasing any TV ads,” said DeGette. “After 14 years, I have come to realize that the good people of the 1st District care a lot more about legislative accomplishments than they do about politically motivated advertisements.”

Family Practice
Dr. Fallon knows when you’re “on call,” you drop everything — even a child’s birthday party. DeGette said that being a member of Congress is not much different.

“Representing our constituents, we work long hours, and literally are on-duty 24 hours a day,” she said. “But, you need to take a break and make time for you families.”

During the Colorado Democratic Women’s Summit, U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Florida, said she would forever be grateful to that advice dished by DeGette, who talks to freshman members of Congress at the start of the sessions about balancing work with family time.

“What I tell each of them, and told Debbie, is you try to figure out a way to put your family first,” said DeGette. “…I learned quickly that you had to make time to be a mother and a representative.”

She and her husband Lino Lipinsky de Orlov, an attorney with McKenna Long & Aldridge law firm in Denver, have two daughters, Raphaela and Francesca, who are both in college.

Fallon said it’s a challenge to juggle the campaign, working part-time in emergency rooms in Denver, Steamboat Springs and Rock Springs, Wyoming, and spending time with his wife Sandy and two children, Emma and Sam.

“It’s very difficult,” said Fallon. “I have two small children and a family that I miss. My wife is very understanding and I’ve scaled back my shifts at work significantly.”

“My campaign staff and I sleep very little!” he said.

As DeGette tells Congress members, “Put your family first.”

Leslie@coloradostatesman.com