The economy and energy dominated most of the hour-long debate in Parker Monday morning — the first of at least three.
Further adding to the divide was the seating arrangement of the politically charged event, which placed around 150 to 200 supporters of both candidates on different sides of the room. The result was loud and frequent interruptions from the audience.
Schaffer, whose campaign has long referred to Udall, who does not live in Boulder, as a “Boulder liberal,” continued his association game with an opening statement in which he referred to a Boulder Daily Camera story that cited a coffee shop owner who was taxed by the city for free cups of coffee given away as part of a customer reward program.
Schaffer’s references to Boulder continued throughout the debate, and at one point Udall supporters began heckling Schaffer for his stance on American energy policy.
Schaffer turned his sarcasm to the hecklers, asking them to “be polite, people from Boulder.”
Udall, who lives in Eldorado Springs, three miles south of Boulder, at one point disputed Schaffer’s negative comments toward the city, a place widely known for its liberal base and voters.
“When I serve in the United States Senate, I am not going to pick out one community and stereotype the people in that community,” Udall said to loud applause from his supporters. “I spend a lot of time in [conservative] Colorado Springs, and I think our troops [stationed there] are marvelous and deserve a round of applause. I am going to work to represent everyone in this state.”
Throughout the debate, moderated by Channel 9 News, both candidates swiped at the other’s voting record and policy standpoints, each blow enticing the politically charged crowd of supporters.
Once they got around to talking about policy, both candidates said they supported ending the moratorium on expanded drilling for natural gas and were in favor of a plan by Gov. Bill Ritter for a phased-in leasing approach on the Roan Plateau on the Western slope. However, they disagreed about which one came to the position first.
“I support (Ritter’s) plan, and I was glad Congressman Schaffer joined us to lease the Roan Plateau in a phased approach,” Udall said. “The plan to move forward makes sense and is what I will work for. The Roan Plateau is a Colorado treasure, and we need to make sure that leasing is phased in and that the revenues stay (here) because that area belongs to all of us.”
To which Schaffer quickly shot back: “I didn’t join anyone on my position on the Roan Plateau. I didn’t join you, Mark, (to) favor the moratorium to end exploration of drilling on the Roan Plateau. I was instead with the governor all along, and you joined us.”
Schaffer, who said the natural gas in the plateau is enough to heat all Colorado homes for 20 years, added an unlikely plug for Ritter, a Democrat.
“The Roan Plateau is a remarkable and tremendous asset for the state of Colorado," he said. "Thank goodness for Bill Ritter’s leadership, one of the few places where I compliment him, to permit the development of the Roan Plateau one step at time. I am glad all parties are on board now because it’s good for Colorado.”
When asked what can be done to improve the economy, Udall and Schaffer both said they understood the financial pain many Americans are facing in today’s slowed economy and closely tied high-energy prices to the economic downturn.
Udall was quick to point out Schaffer’s votes to extend tax benefits to oil and gas companies while he served in Congress.
“When you look at where the economy is today and you look at where gas prices are today, I don’t think that anyone thinks we need to be giving more tax breaks to oil companies,” Udall said, adding the country should be investing that money into renewable energy, reiterating the Democratic campaign line of creating a “Manhattan Project” for new energy.
Udall expressed a need to explore different areas of energy production including clean coal technology and the possibility of expanding nuclear power facilities in America.
Schaffer said today’s gas prices are “no accident,” the result of failed American policy and feet dragging in Congress to allow for proper domestic exploration and refining capacity. He said America benefits by tax cuts to economic producers,including oil and gas companies.
“When you cut tax rates on producers in America, you actually increase tax revenues rather dramatically,” Schaffer said. “We ought to send people to Washington who have an economic appreciation that high-tax policy suppresses the ingenuity of the American people. There is reason with a 35-percent corporate tax burden … that we are seeing jobs leaving the United States and going to places like Ireland where they have reduced their tax burden.”
Schaffer, a former executive for Aspect Energy, a Denver-based company, also defended his vote to offer tax cuts for oil and gas, saying they offset foreign taxation of overseas production and have the potential to increase domestic infrastructure and refining capability.