Congressional candidates square off over economy

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By Ben Wiebesiek

THORNTON — The economy took center stage Monday in the debates between the candidates for three different U.S. congressional districts.
    While the focus on the sluggish recovery during the candidate forum was no surprise, all six of the candidates at the Adams 12 administrative building highlighted another often-forgotten topic: bipartisanship.
    “When you grow up around here, you learn that if you listen, are accessible and work together with others, you can get a lot of things done,” said Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D CO-7). He said the successful effort to expand the National Renewable Energy Lab required the efforts of both of the major political parties. “You couldn’t do that with just listening and being accessible, but working with Democrats and Republicans alike. That’s why the Denver Post called me the most bipartisan member of the Colorado delegation, working with guys like Cory Gardner and Mike Coffman.”
    Both Republicans were present, but Rep. Coffman (R CO-6) didn’t take the stage because his opponent, State Rep. Joe Miklosi, didn’t attend the debate due to a scheduling conflict.
    Gardner (R CO-4) struck an optimistic tone in his speech about the economy while acknowledging that the country was still going through a “rough patch right now.”
    “But I believe that our nation’s better days are always ahead of us,” Gardner said. “But I also believe that the government doesn’t create jobs; the private sector does. And we need to get government out of the way to let America work. It’s the men and women who represent Colorado’s small businesses that made this state so strong.”
    Gardner’s challenger, Brandon Shaffer, president of the Colorado Senate, presented a differing view for government’s role in the economy.
    “We can start by putting our government in a position where it can be an effective partner with the private sector, and there’s a number of ways to do that,” Shaffer said. “I think education is a top priority: make sure that we have a trained workforce that’s ready to take those 21st century jobs as they come online.”
    The disagreements between the candidates were mostly civil, and moderator Shaun Boyd of CBS Channel 4 rarely had to intervene.
    But Joe Coors expressed his frustration at an accusation by Perlmutter that his family’s company had outsourced American jobs.
    “It kind of irritates me when I’m accused of outsourcing,” Coors said. “He’s talking about global presence. Coors Tech. has global presence. We did not outsource any American jobs. I don’t know where it comes from. I guess he thinks McDonalds outsources because McDonalds is in France.”
    Each candidate was allowed a one-minute rebuttal, and both Perlmutter and Coors stuck to their guns.
    “Now Joe said they don’t outsource. All I can say is his own investor relations – communications with their investors – talk about outsourcing jobs to low-cost countries like South Korea and Mexico,” Perlmutter said. “And so, if I’m reelected, one of the things that I will sponsor and try to stop is giving tax incentives that outsource jobs.”
    Coors said that the U.S. had the highest corporate tax rate in the free world.
    “And it disincentives companies from bringing back the success of their business to the United States,” Coors said. “Over a trillion dollars sitting in banks, if companies bring it back to the United States, it’s going to be taxed at some horrible rate of taxes just to bring it back to the country. So no wonder it is that businesses prefer to make investments off-shore, taking jobs away from the United States and putting them in foreign countries because that’s where their money is.”
    The crowd also heard from Rep. Jared Polis and challenger State Sen. Kevin Lundberg, who both emphasized the importance of education in improving economic prospects for citizens.
    “First of all, we need to get accountability right. No Child Left Behind is a step forward to establish a national matrix for accountability,” Polis said, but he added that No Child Left Behind didn’t finish the job of improving schools. “Colorado has already taken the first step with longitudinal growth models … we need to expand and replicate what works in public education.”
    Lundberg said that the federal government tries too often to “run the show.”
    “We do need, specifically, a reasonable tax structure  – and some of the panelists have already spoken of – and a regulatory environment that does not reduce the competitive nature of the businesses in our country,” Lundberg said. “We need policies that don’t continually drive the cost of energy to the breaking point. We need a secure defense. This is an issue we have to pay attention to. In this country, we are living in a perilously dangerous world.”
    The debate, sponsored by the Metro North Chamber of Commerce, Suncor Energy and Denver Regional Council of Governments, was unscripted, and Boyd told the audience that none of the candidates received the questions before the debate.

Contact Ben Wiebesiek at 303-659-2522, ext. 205, or email bwiebesiek@metrowestnewspapers.com.