Statewide candidates participate in short debates at Action 22 meeting

By Leslie Jorgensen
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

COLORADO SPRINGS — Early bird politicos at Action 22’s meeting in Colorado Springs on Saturday were treated to 15-minute lightening round debates between candidates running for statewide offices. They included Republican Attorney General John Suthers and Democratic candidate Boulder County District Attorney Stan Garnett; Democratic Treasurer Cary Kennedy and Republican contender Walker Stapleton; and Democratic Secretary of State Bernie Buescher and Republican challenger Scott Gessler.

The snippet time frames prevented in-depth answers, but did give the coffee crowd a glimpse into the candidates’ style, experience and Achilles heel issues in each race.

Attorney General race
Both Suthers and Garnett touted their legal experience, but differed sharply over the role of the state’s Attorney General.

Garnett accused Suthers of using the AG’s office to join lawsuits outside of Colorado “when it fits his conservative views.”

At the top of the Democrat’s list is Colorado joining more than 20 states fighting the federal government’s health care reform.

Suthers said that he has an obligation to join the lawsuit because the “rights of Colorado citizens are being undermined.”

The federal government health care reform, Suthers said, usurps the rights of citizens and the state because it demands a health coverage plan be purchased and financially penalizes individuals and businesses that fail to comply.

The candidates found more agreement on the possibility of Colorado adopting an immigration law that is a clone of Arizona’s law. Suthers said that the Arizona law intrudes on the constitutional powers of the federal government to enforce legal actions and will likely lead to a U.S. Supreme Court case. Garnett said that he personally opposes Arizona’s law. Both candidates said that if Colorado adopted such a law, they would uphold their responsibility to defend the state.

As The Colorado Statesman recently reported, the two differ over the Colorado Attorney General’s record on responding to consumer complaints.

“We have a consumer protection crisis,” asserted Garnett, who cited statistics that show Colorado in the top two states in the nation of receiving consumer complaints.

“I’m very proud of my consumer protection division,” declared Suthers. “We’ve been extremely aggressive in protecting victims of security fraud.”

Suthers said that the AG’s office has achieved $52 million in restitution in that particular area.

Garnett countered that just filing a consumer complaint is difficult because those who call the hotline are asked to leave a message in order to get a complaint form to fill out and send in.

“It’s kind of like calling United Airlines,” said Garnett, who said the AG’s office is understaffed.

Suthers said that isn’t true.

Treasurer race
State Treasurer Kennedy touted her conservative and cautious approach in moving Colorado’s investments to safer havens to ensure continued growth during the economic downturn. She said that the state’s investment fund grew $130 million last year.

She also cited her work in upgrading the Treasurer’s website to make transparent the state’s investments, annual state budget expenditures as well as the ability for any individual to track how their tax dollars are spent from the local school district to the state level.

Stapleton said the website is not transparent because it does not indicate all of the information to assess the investment of state money — particularly information to measure the profitability of investments. For example, the Republican candidate said, the information about investments does not show when a bond was invested, the rate of return, the time of maturity, etc.

“That is not transparency on the website,” declared Stapleton.

Kennedy shot back, “All of that information is there.”

Stapleton attacked Kennedy for being too close to Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter and pushing his agenda, especially promoting the passage of Amendment 23 that requires the state legislature to designate funds to bolster public education in grades K-12. Stapleton said that the amendment has impeded the state from funding infrastructure and higher education. The amendment cannot be repealed without voter approval.

“Over the past three years, it’s hard to tell where the Governor’s office stops and the Treasurer’s office begins,” asserted Walker.

He vowed to keep the office independent of the governor — whether the elected state leader is Republican, Democratic or of any other party — to ensure the Treasurer represents the best interests of taxpayers and not politicians.

Throughout the debate, Walker hammered home his financial education and private sector experience versus Kennedy, an attorney in public office.

Kennedy stood firmly on her record of not having made risky investments despite pressure from major Wall Street bankers and ensuring that Coloradans did not suffer losses through the economic rollercoaster ride since September 2008.

The Democrat noted that she has overseen and protected the state’s investments during the economic crisis and said that investments have grown, the records are open to the public on the Treasurer’s office website and that her support for Amendment 23 has especially helped the state’s rural school districts.

Secretary of State
Republican Gessler said he opposes mandated mail-in ballots for elections. Democratic incumbent Secretary of State Buescher noted the successful high return of mail-in ballots in the 44 counties that utilized them in the August primary.

Buescher said that he likes to call them “mail-out ballots” because the voters have the option to either mail them or deliver them to county ballot return sites. And, he said, it’s more cost effective than paying individuals to man precincts.

Gessler said current policies for voter registration have led to fraud and cited a case in El Paso County where a Woodmen Hills recall election was decided on six votes. The Republican said that 16 votes were cast illegally by people living outside of that district.

Buescher said that the state has not encountered a similar problem and that the office deals strictly with general elections — not special districts.

Asked if he wanted to rebut Buescher’s statement, Gessler said, “I don’t think I have a rebuttal” and asked for a glass of water. Gessler then asked and was allowed to rebut the Democratic incumbent’s statement. The Republican talked about the importance of honest and secure elections.

Gessler scored more points when he pointed out that the Secretary of State’s website has allowed corporate identity theft because there are no protections, such as a password, for security.

Buescher did not mention it during the debate on Saturday, but has said he’s taking measures to protect businesses by instituting new online security measures.

Leslie@coloradostatesman.com