Perlmutter, GOP challenger Coors square off in first debate

The Colorado Statesman

Beverages took center stage at the first debate between three-term Democratic U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter and his Republican challenger Joe Coors on Thursday in Arvada.

Saying he wants to go to Congress as “a problem-solver, not a problem-creator,” Coors said that his experience as CEO of Golden-based CoorsTek, an advanced materials manufacturer, means he’s used to working things out.

“I’d like to think that I can sit across the aisle, sit across the table from anybody and talk about stuff and maybe finish the day off with a cold Coors beer,” said the candidate, who blitzed the airwaves over the summer with a TV ad proclaiming, “I’m not a beer.”

Democratic U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter makes a point during a debate against Joe Coors, his Republican challenger, on Sept. 27 at the Arvada Center.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

A few minutes later, Perlmutter echoed a theme he had repeated throughout the debate, that he cultivates a reputation for rolling up his sleeves and working toward solutions.

“If we were to go have a Coors beer, that would be great, because MillerCoors supports me in this race, because I’ve worked with them a long time,” Perlmutter said, referring to a political action committee associated with the Golden brewery’s parent company.

But it was a reference to another cold drink that raised the temperature in an otherwise mostly cordial debate that saw the candidates agreeing on more than a few topics.

“Now, Colorado voters are going to have a clear choice, you all are going to have a clear choice — career politician in Congressman Perlmutter, and I hope you’ll forgive me, but I don’t think he could manage a lemonade stand without a federal grant and some subsidies,” Coors said in his closing remarks.

“Excuse me for that dig,” he added after his supporters finished voicing their approval, “but your claim about me outsourcing jobs at CoorsTek is absolutely false.”

Perlmutter — whose campaign has been running a TV ad this week blasting Coors for shipping jobs overseas, a charge the Coors campaign disputes — said he had to smile when his opponent called him a “career politician,” because he practiced law for 25 years before being elected to Congress and, during that time, grew his firm from 11 to 77 employees.

“And I’m proud that I hired one of his daughters to come to work at my law firm,” Perlmutter said, drawing a similar round of cheers from his supporters. “So, he knows that I’ve done a lot of things.”

Aside from those zingers, the debate, sponsored by the Arvada Chamber of Commerce, the West Chamber, the Golden Chamber and Jefferson County Economic Development Corp., stuck mostly to well-worn topics, including taxes, energy, infrastructure and the rigidly partisan atmosphere prevailing in Washington, D.C.

Asked about the looming “fiscal cliff” — when Bush-era tax cuts are set to expire and draconian spending cuts could kick into effect unless Congress acts before the end of the year — Coors said he favors giving business owners “certainty” in order to encourage economic recovery. “That’s best done by extending current tax rates out indefinitely,” he said. “Then we can come back and look at what we need to reform.”

Noting that he was one of a few dozen lawmakers to vote for a bipartisan deficit-reduction plan, Perlmutter instead called for moderation. “The economy is still fragile enough that if we have those two big things happen at the end of the year, it could stall it again, and we don’t want that.”

Perlmutter said he backs letting the Bush tax cuts expire on income above $250,000, but added that he wasn’t “wed to the number of $250,000,” and that he would be willing to compromise on the income threshold. “If that number were to move up, I would listen to it… I’m open to whether it’s $250,000, $500,000 or maybe even a million.”

Coors replied that what Perlmutter was proposing didn’t sound like much of a compromise to him.

“A good compromise would be to just extend them. Let’s bring some certainty to the marketplace and help unleash the small businesses we have in this country,” he said. Coors maintained that he didn’t want Congress to negotiate tax rates.

“Holding up, because somebody’s saying we’re not paying our ‘fair share’ is a ridiculous notion. Do you really want the government to tell you what’s fair? I don’t, and I hope — I think most of you people out there don’t think it’s fair.”

The two found more to agree about when it came to federal spending on infrastructure.

“Without solid infrastructure, whether it’s in education, highways, roads, bridges, transit, ports, airports, we won’t be able to compete,” Perlmutter said. “And I look at it as an investment as opposed to an operating expense, because it is a long-term approach that we’re taking so that we can get goods and services from one place to another.”

“This is an issue that my opponent and I actually agree on,” Coors said. “I really think that a wise use of tax revenues going towards infrastructure for roads, bridges and the like is very necessary and very important.”

Noting that he was “a rookie at this thing” — it was the first time he had ever debated — Coors said that he intended to bring his “great successful business experience and the mindset that a CEO has when it comes to solving problems, working on budgets, making profits, hiring, creating job opportunities for people — we’ve done that in my family since the late 1860s.”

Perlmutter countered that voters in the district would face a real choice between competing visions. The real debate, he said, is “whether we concentrate wealth at the top, or whether we grow out the middle, and that makes this country stronger, healthier and more prosperous. That is what the real debate is in this country today, and I want to build the middle class.”

Democrats have a slight edge in the district, accounting for 34.7 percent of active registered voters, ahead of the GOP’s 31.7 percent and the 32.7 percent who are unaffiliated, according to the Colorado Secretary of State’s office. At the same point two years ago under the old district boundaries, Democrats had a greater lead among active registered voters with 37.6 percent, compared with 30 percent Republican and 31.7 percent unaffiliated. Perlmutter won that race by 11 points.

The candidates are scheduled to debate on Oct. 1 in Thornton in front of the Metro North Chamber of Commerce and Denver Regional Council of Governments and are taping two debates for public television stations during the following week.

Ernest@coloradostatesman.com