Colorado Tea Party candidate forums stoke GOP anti-government rhetoric

Republican candidates for Colorado’s top offices have been spurred at Tea Party primary-election events to take strong anti-government positions that have alarmed moderate and liberal voters and that in the YouTube era might compromise their standing with general election voters in the summer and fall.

Tea soaked: McInnis and Norton
Tea soaked: McInnis and Norton

U.S. Senate candidate Jane Norton reportedly told a crowd of more than a thousand people at a Tea Party-hosted candidate forum in Colorado Springs Tuesday night that the Social Security system was an untrustworthy “ponzi scheme.”

Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott McInnis, in a YouTube from a recent candidate forum (see below), told a questioner he would consider eliminating the Colorado Department of Education. McInnis seemed to be going one better than Norton, who in December told a small Tea Party gathering in Alamosa she would eliminate the federal Department of Education.

Norton’s anti-Department of Ed comment spun around the web as notably strong anti-government medicine coming from a mainstream candidate. Norton had never previously expressed the position to the press nor had she posted it on her campaign website. She has failed to elaborate since December on how specifically the plan would work to save money and help schools on the ground in Colorado. She has also never attempted to explain why this policy position– of all the positions she could have adopted so early in her campaign and in such pressing economic and transitional times– might find real support on Capitol Hill. Those failings have led many observers to suggest Norton was simply pandering to the anti-government sentiments of her Tea Party audience.

That McInnis, running for governor of a state that is already slashing half a billion dollars from its education budget, would without elaboration suggest he would seek to eliminate the department that runs the public schools here similarly sounds alarms. On one hand, if he believes that casual fairly radical remarks in campaigning for the top spot in the state will not be seized upon for analysis and criticism, he is an unserious candidate. On the other hand, if he is really committed as governor to considering eliminating the state’s Department of Education, few moderate voters, parents of public school children and many others could seriously consider voting for him.

Speaking briefly to reporters on a conference call this afternoon, Pat Waak, head of the Colorado Democratic Party, came back twice to Norton’s description of the nation’s social security program as a ponzi scheme.

“What did Jane Norton mean when she said that? Coloradans have paid into the program for years and many Coloradans who have paid in are now receiving their benefits. What do the beneficiaries think of Norton’s remarks? Is she going to tell us what she meant by that? I would like to know.”

Waak ran down the list of Norton’s Tea Party travails so far: Norton sat by while Tea Partiers complained that President Obama was Muslim. Norton told another set of Tea Partiers she would lift the schools by eliminating the Department of Education. Norton told another set the president cares more about protecting the rights of terrorists than protecting the American people.

One reporter on the call asked Waak why the Democrats were targeting Norton, given that the Republican primary isn’t even over yet.

She’s the frontrunner, said Waak. Norton’s got a lot of money from Washington. And the primary is many months away.

“Norton has to be held accountable for the things she’s saying now,” said Waak, incredulous.

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