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Candidates vying for congressional seats spar at Jeffco debate

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By Sal Christ

A congressional debate hosted last Thursday by the Jeffco Liberty Coalition — a conglomerate of several Jeffco Tea Party chapters — pitted five candidates running for Colorado’s various congressional districts against one another.

The nearly two-hour debate saw them argue about everything from the role of government to gun violence, to Russian meddling in the 2016 election and even the declassification of the FBI’s UFO files.

Held at the Jefferson County courthouse, the debate featured a mish-mash of Republican, Libertarian and independent candidates, including Republicans Casper Stockham, who is challenging U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette in the 1st Congressional District, and Mark Barrington, who is challenging U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter in the 7th Congressional District; and three men vying to replace Congressman Jared Polis in the 2nd Congressional District — Republican Peter Yu, Libertarian Roger Barris, and Nick Thomas, an independent.

Noticeably absent, however, were their Democratic challengers, including DeGette, Perlmutter and CD 2 candidate Joe Neguse. Organizer Jimi McFarland told audience members “scheduling conflicts” prevented the Democrats from attending.

DeGette’s staff told the Courier she was traveling all week and therefore unavailable for the debate. Neguse had bigger priorities — he and his wife, Andrea, welcomed their first child Natalie earlier in the day.

Despite the absence of challengers, all five panelists swung at questions proffered by moderators Corey Hutchins of The Colorado Independent, Ernest Luning of ColoradoPolitics.com and Randy Corporon from radio station 710 KNUS.

Below are some of the highlights from the event.

A recent report from the Congressional Budget Office said the GOP’s tax overhaul earlier this year would add $1.9 trillion to the national debt. Would you have supported the tax overhaul, do you support it now and think economic activity will make up for the debt that’s going to be added?

Most of the candidates said they would have supported the tax cuts. While Yu leaned on the idea that economic growth and low unemployment rates will make up for the added debt, Barrington harped on the idea of trickle-down economics — insofar as he expects the tax cuts to lead to more economic spending.

Barris and Stockham, too, said they were supportive of the tax cuts, but with the caveat that they should’ve been paired with government spending cuts.

Thomas, by contrast, called the tax cuts fiscally irresponsible.

“We’re talking about debt — a $20.3 trillion debt and that isn’t even what it is sitting at, given that interest rates will rise,” he said. “... The economy looks great on the outside, but if unemployment is at its lowest and the economy is growing, why the heck aren’t we paying down that debt?”

What would you do at the federal level, as a member of Congress, to try to curb gun violence?

Both Barris and Yu called the idea that gun violence is out of control a false narrative — or “just not true” — and suggested that efforts to curb gun violence should be left to individual states and not the federal government.

While Barrington said he disagreed with Barris and Yu on whether gun violence was an issue, he echoed the belief that it should be addressed at a local level — particularly at schools. Barrington highlighted implementation of police substations at malls and watchdog platforms such as Safe2Tell.

By contrast, Stockham and Thomas focused on mental health supports as a solution to the rise in gun violence in the United States in recent years.

“When it comes to guns, guns are not out of control — people are out of control,” said Stockham. “It’s the human condition that is not being addressed. … Common sense gun regulations are fine — we have that right now. Background checks — we have that right now. Concealed carry permits — we have that right now. That’s not the issue. The issue is the human condition that we are not addressing.”

Thomas agreed with Stockham and said the answer was better access to and more mental health resources versus getting rid of access to assault rifles or offering “thoughts and prayers” every time a mass shooting occurs.

Lightning rounds

The debate also featured several lightning rounds during which candidates gave short answers to questions about a number of topics, including Russian election interference, the proposed border wall between the U.S. and Mexico, and whether they would vote to impeach President Donald Trump. Below are a sampling of the questions.

Would you vote to impeach Trump?

Yu, Barrington, Stockham, Barris: No

Thomas: Yes

Would you prefer to serve under President Trump or President Mike Pence?

Stockham and Yu: Trump

Barrington: Either one

Thomas: Pence

Barris: None of the above

Do you support building a border wall?

Stockham, Barris, Barrington and Yu: Yes

Thomas: No

Do you believe Russian meddling influenced the 2016 presidential election?

Stockham, Barris, Barrington, Yu: No

Thomas: Yes

Would you support the declassification of the UFO files?

Stockham, Barris, Barrington, Thomas: Yes

Yu: No

Contact reporter Sal Christ at sal@evergreenco.com or at 303-350-1035. Follow her on Twitter at @decriture.