Candidates level political punches

CD 3’s Scott Tipton, Sal Pace and Tisha Casida
The Colorado Statesman

GRAND JUNCTION — The gloves came off on the evening of Sept. 8 at Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction when the major party candidates for the 3rd Congressional District threw around allegations of fiscal irresponsibility, tax-dodging and partisan gamesmanship.

State Rep. Sal Pace, D-Pueblo, and incumbent U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, leveled most of the political punches. But they were joined on stage by unaffiliated candidate Tisha Casida, who participated in her first formal debate in CD 3 after the Western Slope interest group Club 20 invited her to its annual fall meeting and candidate debates.

Casida held her own, pushing her message of limited intrusion by the federal government. But for the most part, she was the buffer, literally in between Pace and Tipton who got down and dirty as they jabbed one another.

Pace himself acknowledged Casida’s neutral presence, stating in his opening remarks, “Tisha, the rose between two thorns.”

It wasn’t long, however, before the pleasantries ended. Pace held up a March Denver Post headline that read, “Tipton violates House rules.” The story called Tipton out for using taxpayer resources following redistricting to promote a campaign event in his newly drawn district in Avon.

Tipton’s staffers had promoted the event on his official congressional website, and a media advisory was released by House-paid staff members. That was a violation of House rules because it is illegal to use taxpayer dollars for campaign purposes.

Pace seized the opportunity to attack his opponent, raising his voice to tell the relatively small Club 20 audience, “My promise is you’ll never get a headline like this out of me when I’m your congressman.”

Pace went on to criticize Tipton for his fiscal priorities, including military spending; allowing people a tax write-off for a second home that is really a yacht or a boat; and having the highest-paid staff of any freshman representative in the first quarter of 2011.

Pace also alluded to an ethics controversy when last year Tipton apologized to the House ethics committee after learning that his daughter was using her father’s name recognition while working with clients on Capitol Hill for Broadnet, a company run by Tipton’s nephew.

In highlighting what Pace considers to be a shaky record on tax policy, he said of Tipton, “Congressman Tipton raised taxes on every single one of you who makes less than $200,000 per year. At the end of the day, it’s about not abusing the taxpayers trust.”

Pace also accused Tipton of avoiding taxes, worker’s compensation and Social Security payments on his campaign staff by classifying them as contractors instead of employees.

“You’ve been running for Congress six out of the last eight years, during that time every single person who work-ed on your campaign has been classified as a contract employee …” said Pace. “In six years of the last eight years, raising and spending millions of dollars, you don’t think that you’re responsible for any of those same taxes?”

Tipton responded, “When you hire somebody to work for you for a few months, that’s contract.”

Tipton lets the insults fly

Tipton was also bold in his attacks on Pace, getting personal at times, especially when he questioned Pace about his professional career.

“What was the last full-time job that you had in the private sector?” Tipton, a businessman, asked Pace during a cross-examination portion of the debate in which the candidates themselves were allowed to ask questions of one another.

“I’m a teacher at a university,” answered Pace.

He was quickly interrupted by Tipton, who asked if the job were full time. Pace conceded that it was not a full time job, but he went on to turn the tide on Tipton’s line of questioning.

“Congressman Tipton, Wayne Aspinall was a teacher before he ran for Congress, and he did a fine job as a congressman,” Pace said to applause, referring to the former Colorado congressman who served the 4th Congressional District from 1949-1973.

“I’ve been a waiter; I’ve been a dishwasher… and the rest of us deserve a voice in Congress too,” added Pace, once again to an eruption of applause.

But for the most part, Pace was standing in a room of Tipton supporters, who also cheered for their candidate as he continued to bash Pace’s public policy record.

Tipton turned one of Pace’s own arguments against him concerning partisan gamesmanship. Pace has repeatedly been stating that Washington, D.C. is broken because of political gridlock and partisanship, but Tipton said Pace is just as guilty.

“Mr. Pace likes to talk that he wants to be bipartisan…” said Tipton. “You’re all about partisanship.”

He also attacked Pace on tax policy, pointing out that in 2010, Pace voted for a package of bills pushed by Democrats in the Colorado Statehouse that suspended tax breaks, including an exemption for napkins, paper bags and plasticware at restaurants.

“This is a man who voted to actually increase taxes on small restaurants, down to the straws, the napkins and little packets of sugar,” said Tipton.

He also pressed Pace on whether he plans to vote for President Barack Obama this November. Pace proved reluctant to answer the question, never quite acknowledging that he was voting for the Democratic incumbent.
“I don’t think it’s any secret who either one of us is voting for,” said Pace. “I think it’s pretty obvious who we’re both voting for — you’re voting for the Republican, I’m voting for the Democrat.”

Tipton, meanwhile, was direct in stating that he is voting for Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

Casida has her say

While the majority of the assaults came from Pace and Tipton, Casida stuck mostly to policy issues.

As a supporter of former Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul — known for his limited government platform — Casida told the audience that she does not believe the federal government should be interfering with how states operate.

“I don’t think we should have to ask permission from the federal government to do things for our public interest,” she said to cheers from the audience.

Casida believes that voters have become disenfranchised by the two-party system, which is why she is running as an unaffiliated candidate. She petitioned onto the ballot by gathering more than the 800 valid signatures needed to qualify.

Casida said during the debate that she believes she will influence voters who have become frustrated by politics-as-usual.

“Party loyalty and party allegiance has done absolutely nothing to foster cooperation and sound decision-making for the American people and for Colorado,” she said. “I want real solutions…”

—Peter@coloradostatesman.com