The race for the 59th District seat in the Colorado House of Representatives got more interesting Wednesday night as incumbent Rep. J. Paul Brown and Democratic challenger Mike McLachlan answered questions about wildfires and emergency communications at Camp Kivu in Bayfield.
It was the first time Brown and McLachlan have publically engaged with each other about policy.
Last year, the 59th District was redrawn in a bitterly contested redistricting process, making the seat more competitive for Democrats.
In all, the candidates answered 10 questions, which were determined by a panel from Upper Pine River Fire Protection District and the Pine River Times. There were no rebuttals.
Though the format discouraged political argumentation, the candidates took a remarkably polite tone throughout and the policies they advocated were largely similar, the forum nonetheless pointed out the candidates’ ideological differences when it comes to the proper role of government.
The panelists’ first question was: “This year, several fires remained uncontained due to a lack of certain air resources, mainly large air tankers. Do you think the state of Colorado should further develop and fund a state air tanker fleet or continue to rely on federal assets and why?”
Brown criticized the federal government’s handling of the Waldo Canyon Fire in Colorado Springs but concluded that “there’s no way any state, including Colorado, can afford to have those kind of resources. But we can demand that the federal government be more efficient.”
McLachlan, a lawyer based in Durango, responded that he, too, thought Colorado funding its own air tanker fleet was not feasible financially, but he said that the issue should prove challenging to “those who are interested in reducing size of the federal government, when the question becomes, ‘How are we going to provide basic services, including firefighting?’”
McLachlan also said that a pressing problem in the state and district is that there is inadequate cellular and Internet service, which “makes it unsafe for first responders and is an economic impediment.” He said solar power, in some situations, would offer a “good solution” for road signs and communications in wildfires and other emergencies.
Brown responded that solar power had been used in some wildfire areas but proved inadequate.
While the crowd was small and mostly sat in courteous silence throughout the forum, occasional patterings of applause suggested it favored Brown.
Brown also elicited the loudest laughs from the audience when he said, “If Democrats spend all your money for 10 years, then there are a lot of things you can’t do until Republicans take over.”
The candidates will debate each other Sept. 8 at Club 20 in Grand Junction.