Colorado U.S. Senate candidates talk climate change, health care, gun control at Silverthorne forum
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct that the Democratic Party will caucus March 7 to determine which candidates will be on the primary ballot.
SILVERTHORNE — Six Democratic candidates for the 2020 U.S. Senate election braved a snowstorm and participated in a forum Wednesday evening at the Silverthorne Performing Arts Center in Silverthorne, taking aim at the Senate seat held by Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Yuma.
Candidates at the forum included psychologist and climate activist Dr. Diana Bray, nonprofit director and community organizer Lorena Garcia, former state house speaker Andrew Romanoff, professor and pastor Stephany Rose Spaulding, state Sen. Angela Williams and nonprofit leader Michelle Ferrigno Warren.
Notably not present was former Gov. John Hickenlooper, considered a frontrunner in the race after announcing his Senate bid in August after ending his run for the presidency. Scientist Trish Zornio was scheduled to attend but was not present.
Summit County state house Rep. Julie McCluskie, D-Dillon, moderated the forum, which involved the candidates taking turns answering questions presented on issues including climate change, health care, America’s global reputation, public lands legislation and gun control.
There seemed to be very little disagreement among the candidates on the issues, and they found themselves repeatedly agreeing with one another’s points. However, each candidate tried to distinguish themselves with their backgrounds and priorities.
Bray, who has owned a home in Copper Mountain for 15 years, made herself out to be the most aggressive on climate issues, calling for a ban on fracking and divestment from fossil fuels in all parts of civil infrastructure. Bray also advanced a health care agenda she said was most similar to presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, vowing to push for “Medicare for All.”
“I think it’s a huge advantage not having been in politics before,” Bray said. “I knew I would be on the far left with regard to health care because our system is broken when people and their families lose health insurance when they leave their jobs. I’m proposing a different system, like Bernie’s system.”
Garcia, executive director of the Colorado Statewide Parent Coalition, spoke most to issues concerning economic and social justice, making the alleviation of American poverty her top priority while speaking to the concerns of fellow disenfranchised millennials.
“I 100% support achieving a livable wage, but livable wage isn’t enough,” Garcia said. “It’s also about how much you pay in rent, how much you pay for health care, for your student loans. I’m a millennial. People in my position are riddled in debt. Even if the livable wage is $20, which comes out to about $42,000 a year, that’s not going to let me pay my rent, car payments and student loans back.”
Romanoff touted his accomplishments as state house speaker, including helping bring the first Democratic majority to the Colorado House in more than 30 years as well as his coalition building prowess and progressive views on education, environment and health. But his biggest applause line of the night came when he indirectly attacked Hickenlooper and the Democratic establishment, which he said was choosing its preferred candidate over the voice of voters.
“If you want a candidate who will stand up to party bosses, that’s what we’re doing right here, despite the wishes of Chuck Schumer and Washington, D.C.,” Romanoff said. “It is patronizing to say that we in Colorado shouldn’t be bothered having these forums, that Washington has it all figured out. The national parties should stand down and allow you to pick your own candidate to replace Gardner.”
Spaulding, a professor of women’s and ethnic studies at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs campus, used her pastor’s oratory strength to emphasize that she intended to be the hardest worker of the bunch and the need for people aside from career politicians to take the reins in Washington.
“This needs to be a movement of people willing to do the work,” Spaulding said in her closing remarks. “The biggest fear isn’t about not being able to take out Gardner; it’s about us not being courageous enough to turn the tide. If you want Colorado to lead, we have to have the courage to elect someone who will change the structure and system.”
Warren, advocacy and strategic engagement director for the Christian Community Development Association and a former teacher, was most ardent on fixing America’s immigration system, having been an advocate for migrants’ rights in Denver. She said she was spurred to run for the senate seeing what the Trump administration was doing at the border.
“I believe people are not defined by political parties but that we unite around issues, such as immigration reform, criminal justice reform and educational equality,” Warren said. “I never thought I’d want to be a career politician. I found myself in this role because I desperately care about my neighbors.”
Williams, whose Senate district encompasses most of northeast Denver, touted her nine years in the state Legislature, three as state senator, and her ability to build coalitions and use the legislative process for positive change. In her closing remarks, she joined the other candidates in calling for complete forgiveness of the $1.5 trillion in student loans burdening young people.
“We waste a lot of money in this country, and if we’re not investing in education, we have our priorities wrong,” Williams said, adding the need for more skilled worker programs in lieu of traditional four-year college. “Student loan debt is a ball and chain on young people’s lives. We have an entire generation of people not buying homes because they’re too afraid of being able to pay their student loans. That would be moving money back into the economy.”
The forum was sponsored by the Summit County Democrats. The Democratic Party caucus March 7 will determine which candidates will be on the primary ballot for the election June 30.
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