At last week’s 4th congressional district candidate forum in Loveland, theoretical anti-tax anti-government consensus broke down briefly during discussion of Referendum C, Colorado’s 2005 voter-supported “TABOR timeout,” which has become a litmus-test topic for state Republican candidates this year.
What seemed like roughly half way into the hour-long debate, moderator and talk-radio host Amy Oliver lowered the boom: “What was your stance on Referendum C and why did you choose that [stance]?” For the next four minutes, ideologically rich talking points gave way to discussion; talk of mere politics turned into talk about government. The difference was that three of the four candidates have had skin in the game when it comes to Ref C and so found themselves addressing their own record instead of the record of Pres. Obama or Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi or 4th District Democratic Rep. Betsy Markey.
CU Regent Tom Lucero went first. Just minutes before he had been extolling the power of the free market, calling for the “elimination” of the federal Department of Energy, the IRS and the 16th Amendment, which grants the government the power to levy income taxes.
Now suddenly Lucero was saying that he had voted for Ref C because otherwise universities would be forced to privatize and tuition would skyrocket. The heretofore voluble audience was silent. People weren’t sure whether free-market champ Lucero was saying that privatizing the universities was a good thing or a bad thing. He meant it was a bad thing and he elaborated later to the Colorado Independent. He said that the universities would already be privatized had Ref C not passed and that this year tuition would more than double if the state keeps slashing the budget for higher education.
Lucero grew up a working-class son of a single mom. As a regent he has been a force in attempting to move CU curricula to the right. But he sees affordable access to university education as a necessity for Colorado residents and essential for the future of Colorado businesses and he doesn’t seem to believe the market alone can deliver that kind of opportunity. He stands by his vote on Ref C.
Look at the whole record, he asked the crowd, not just one vote.
As a Fort Collins City Council member, National Guard Major Diggs Brown also endorsed Ref C. Brown is not a politician and he promotes himself mostly as an unwavering ideological soldier for the right. He’ll go to Washington and kick down doors the same way he did in Afghanistan, he said. One of his campaign promises has been that, as a first-term representative of this rural district, he will “take back the country” for his constituents. “I haven’t ever failed my country and I won’t fail her if you send me to Washington.”
His answer on Ref C, however, suggested exactly how his lack of government experience would work as a liability. He said that “the politicians in Denver” had made promises they didn’t keep on Ref C, that he had been fooled and that he wouldn’t vote for Ref C now if he could do it all over again.
State Rep. Cory Gardner said he strongly opposed Ref C and that he opposed party leaders who had supported it. He’s in favor of spending limits and he is committed to sticking to them. “Ref C wasn’t a TABOR time out; it was a TABOR blow out,” he said.
Tea Party regular guy Dean Madere had no skin in the game on Ref C and played it for all it was worth.
“Referendum C was wrong. OK. And here’s the bottom line, Tom,” he said to Lucero. “You got to find that money elsewhere. We waste so much money in government right now. The answer isn’t raising taxes. The answer is to find that money somewhere else.
“I have a home budget. I deal with it. When I want money for something, we save. We make decisions. We don’t buy other things so we can get it. You don’t do what Ref C did and get rid of TABOR. TABOR is an awesome, awesome thing… I think we need a national TABOR… Get the money elsewhere. It’s just ridiculous.”
Loveland resident and “heating and air conditioning” worker Madere was on friendly turf. Indeed, he was part of the Tea Party crowd here until he jumped into the campaign last fall. Madere lawn signs dotted the high school grounds and Medere pins dangled from the chests of what seemed a majority of forum attendees.
At least in Loveland, Madere’s candidacy seemed also perhaps to be altering the Tea Party activist demographic. Although the gray-haired crowd was out in force Thursday, there were a lot of twenty-somethings out too, which may have been the most significant political message of the night.
Medere’s impassioned closing comments drew a waves of emotional applause.
“My campaign is about passion. It’s about emotion… This is my mission. I care about what’s happening in this country…. It’s got to be about the people…. I’m here because this country needs me to run for office… Our founding fathers wanted me to do this.”
And the end of the event, Gardner asked everyone who considered themselves a member of the Tea Party movement to stand up. Almost everyone in the crowd rose to their feet. So too did all four candidates on the stage. They rose in unison, smiling and clapping.
YouTubes by Taran Volckhausen.