On Saturday at a South Denver Tea Party-hosted candidate forum, Republican candidates looking to reverse sweeping losses over the past series of elections took turns railing against government and business as usual in Washington and in Denver. Reflecting GOP campaigns across the country, they proposed sweeping cuts to programs, warned of the rise of socialism and ruminated on the greatest threats to national security. U.S. Senate candidate Ken Buck and gubernatorial candidate Dan Maes won in straw polling over respective frontrunners Jane Norton and Scott McInnis.
The straw poll results were likely not a surprise to attendees, including the candidates. Buck and Maes have been favorites with Tea Partiers, who have generally resented the government-insider candidacies of longtime government employee and lobbyist Norton and six-term Congressman McInnis.
In any case, the positions put forward by the candidates varied little.
Norton took the opportunity to reiterate her proposal to eliminate the federal Department of Education. The long-shot proposal drew applause for the way it generally seemed to target intrusive government. She didn’t elaborate specifically on how the proposal might effect schools in Colorado. The comments came in response to a question on the size of the federal government put by host Mike Boyle, a conservative restaurant critic and radio talk show host.
“What do you think about the number of federal employees. Do you think that that there are too many?” Boyle asked, making his position on the matter clear.
“The only sector that is growing in our economy is the federal government,” Norton responded, an assertion no one at the event questioned. “Let me give you one example: the Department of Education. I have been the first one of the candidates to say let’s get rid of the Department of Education.
“Anybody know there are 5,000 employees at the Department of Education? Education is not mentioned one time in the United States Constitution. The Department of Education could go. We could block-grant the money to the states. We could let parents and local school boards have choice and competition and improve education.”
Federal Department of Education programs largely go to shore up low-income and special-needs education in the state. On Thursday, Colorado was one of 15 states announced as a finalist in the federal Race To The Top education competition, where $4.35 billion will be shared out to the winners. Colorado was the only western state declared a first-round finalist.
Norton repeated her assertion that government should be scaled back and proposed cuts that would trim thousands of jobs.
“I am calling for a 20 percent across the board cut in discretionary spending. We want to get to a balanced budget. The federal government is out of control.”
That message was repeated throughout the event by all of the candidates.
Senate candidate Ken Buck, who topped Norton in the day’s polling, said he would not have supported the federal stimulus package.
“We don’t need the federal government stimulating the economy,” he said. The answer is to encourage businesses with tax cuts.
A third GOP Senate primary candidate Tom Wiens likewise drew on themes familiar as Tea Party rallying cries, echoing dramatic and dark opinions expressed throughout the event that the elections this year amounted to a fight to “take back” the country in order to save it from socialism.
“This next election is really about what it is going to be like to live in this country for a long, long time. Together we will take back Colorado and we will take back the Republican Party.”
Republican candidates assured attendees that they they would stand up to the Republican Party when it veered into “business as usual” in Washington, catering to special interests and recklessly spending taxes and raising the federal deficit.
“It is time for you and I to send people across this nation who understand the bold, the beautiful, the complex flavor of tea, ” Jimmy Lakey, a past talk show host and long-shot Congressional candidate for District 7, said.
“This is such a unique situation in our country’s history,” said U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman. “There is so much at stake right now. People are upset across the country in a way that they have never been in my lifetime. On election night, when the American people across this country have risen up to stop this march to socialism– have risen up to stop this relentless drive to bury this country in debt– I want president Barack Obama to say ‘where did all these people come from?'”
Also dark were the national security and foreign policy prescriptions on offer.
Cleve Tidwell, a Republican also running in the U.S. Senate primary, called out Pakistan, a U.S. ally, as posing one of the greatest threats to national security.
“[The greatest threat] I would say that it could be any one of three countries that are developing nuclear weapons, whether that be Iran, North Korea, or Pakistan. So those would be my three or four choices right there.”
Evergreen businessman Dan Maes topped GOP frontrunner Scott McInnis in the straw poll for Governor.