Three of the five candidates who will be on Colorado’s ballot for U.S. Senate sparred during an at-times entertaining debate in Grand Junction Saturday night.
Democrat Michael Bennet, Republican Darryl Glenn, and Libertarian Lily Williams covered plenty of issues — including whether politicians in Washington should wear body cameras so the public knows what they’re up to.
Here are eight takeaways:
Club 20 let a Libertarian debate — and it was great
Saturday’s debate was sponsored by the Western Slope business group Club 20. For the first time in memory, the group allowed a third-party candidate to debate the two major party standard bearers. That’s because the Colorado Libertarians now have more than 1 percent of registered voters in the state, which satisfied Club 20’s bylaws.
Lily Tang Williams, a Chinese immigrant and real estate investor from Parker who is this year’s Libertarian nominee for U.S. Senate, brought levity and excitement to the debate with her passionate delivery. She drew laughs from a mostly older crowd of about 500, who occupied about half the seats available.
“I actually would like to challenge you, Senator Bennet, to debate me since Darryl Glenn will not participate in a debate sponsored by Denver Post and Channel 7. What would you say about that?” she said at one point in broken English. “We’ll have fun to debate each other. I’m having lots of fun tonight, and this I have never done debate before. And I even speak English with accent as Chinese immigrant.”
Williams told her personal story of living under communist rule in China and her journey to freedom in America, spinning most of her answers into cheerleading for abstract ideas like personal liberty, individual freedom and free markets.
“Do you still trust your government to take care of you from birth to death?” she asked at one point, blasting a “failed two-party system.” She urged the crowd to consider a third option on their ballots in November, promising she will always tell voters the truth.
Bennet was recently briefed on details of the Iran nuclear deal. What did he learn?
During a testy exchange, Glenn asked Bennet if he thought the U.S. paid a ransom to release prisoners from Iran as part of President Barack Obama’s Iran nuclear deal.
“I was briefed on that last week in a classified setting and my answer is that you do not know the answer to that,” Bennet said.
This was interesting because weeks ago Bennet had said in an interview with a newspaper that he had questions about the U.S. delaying a $400 million payment to Iran until hostages were released, and that he’d look into it. “As soon as I get back in September, I want to get briefed on that. And then I’d be happy to answer the question,” he told the paper.
So, what did he learn that he didn’t say during the debate?
“Bennet supports longstanding policy that we shouldn’t pay ransom for hostages and based on what he’s heard, he has no reason to believe that the US has violated that policy,” says his campaign spokeswoman Alyssa Roberts.
Oh yeah, and Bennet still supports the Iran nuclear deal
“Based on the information that’s out there right now with regard to the Iran nuclear deal, would you continue to support that?” Glenn asked Bennet at one point.
“Yes,” Bennet replied.
Glenn didn’t want to clarify his past comments slamming bipartisanship
At one point, Bennet asked Glenn about statements he has made, such as how he doesn’t know any elected Democrats he gets along with, and how he’s “running against Democrats … running against evil,” and is tired of hearing about Republicans reaching across the aisle.
“Your policies and views … are far to the right of many Colorado Republicans,” Bennet said. “How exactly would you get anything done and live up to your own standards?”
Glenn didn’t answer, and instead turned it into an attack on Bennet’s support for the Iran nuclear deal and Obamacare.
“I love Michael for asking this question because it again takes it to the absolute extreme of everything, of what he is trying to say,” Glenn said.
Bennet responded to a question about his Wall Street donors by calling for campaign finance reform
When Williams asked the Democratic incumbent what his top donors — Wall Street bankers, lobbyists and law firms — get in return for their contributions, Bennet used it to say he wants to reform Wall Street.
“There’s one person on this stage that supports the reform of Wall Street and that’s me,” he said. “There are two people who said they would repeal it and that’s them. So that’s what I say about the donors, and while we’re at it, we ought to reform the campaign finance system in this country.”
Asked what specifically Bennet meant by campaign finance reform, his campaign said he supports overturning the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling and banning members of Congress from becoming lobbyists.
Glenn really, really, really wants a town hall-style forum with Bennet. And maybe Williams.
Multiple times throughout the debate, Glenn said he wanted to hold a town hall-style debate where members of the audience would ask questions. He said he’d like two podiums. Williams said it should be three. Glenn conceded. “Fooouuur,” came the loud voice of Green Party U.S. Senate candidate Arn Menconi from somewhere in the audience. (Menconi will be on the ballot, but the Green Party doesn’t have enough registered voters for him to have been included in Saturday’s debate.)
Bennet is still undecided on the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Yes, still.
Prior to the debate, we reported how Bennet was still undecided about the TPP, while the four other candidates on Colorado’s U.S. Senate ballot had all taken a stance on the global trade agreement — one of them over a year ago.
The question came up during the debate, and Bennet again said he is still deciding whether he will support or reject the agreement, which is backed by President Barack Obama and includes 11 Pacific Rim nations.
Williams called the TPP “government-managed secret trade.” Glenn said he worries about the United States being subservient to other governments, saying “I am not in a position to support this.”
Bennet said he voted to fast-track legislation that would grease the wheels for the agreement because he wanted to give the Obama administration as much leverage as possible in their negotiations, and, he said, because exports like wheat, dairy and other agricultural products are important to Colorado.
The Libertarian wants politicians to wear body cameras
“I will not become paid corporate special interest,” Williams promised in her closing remarks. “I’m sick of those politicians doing that all the time … And I suggest all politicians wear body cameras so we know what they’re doing behind our backs.”