Spanning much of western Colorado from Wyoming to New Mexico and from Utah to I-25 and beyond, the 3rd Congressional District is far from homogenous – in its geography and in its population. The communities that make up the district are diverse in their identities and issues of concern and those vying to represent the district should be compelled to discuss and debate those issues in key locations. As the third-largest population center in the district, Southwest Colorado is among those and should be a debate site between Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, his Democratic challenger Sal Pace, and all other candidates on the ballot for the seat.
Fort Lewis College has offered to host such a debate, and that is an appropriate venue for a number of reasons, not least among which is the fact that Tipton and Pace graduated from the college. More importantly, though, it would offer the candidates an opportunity to address for local voters the issues that are particularly relevant to this corner of the 3rd Congressional District.
The mileage required to represent the district – or seek to – is paralleled by a far-reaching diversity of interests and concerns. Voters in Pueblo are not likely to be concerned about where Tipton and Pace stand on proposed legislation to make additions to wilderness areas in the San Juan Mountains, or to develop a national conservation area around the Dolores River, or to provide federal reimbursement to Colorado for the money it spends on out-of-state Native American students at FLC. These are important issues to Southwest Coloradans, though, and hearing the candidates address and debate them is critical to informed decision-making come Election Day.
Because of scheduling challenges, there is not yet a date set for an FLC debate between Tipton, Pace and others. Pace has agreed to attend a debate, but Tipton is apparently having difficulty finding time between meetings with constituents. As he told The Durango Herald’s editorial board this week, “I’ve still got a congressional job. A lot of this falls under the purview of the job. I have to be able to listen to these folks.” That is fair enough, but, to voters across the district, debating relevant issues is part of Tipton’s job as well. And given the range covered by those issues, it is critical that he and anyone seeking to hold an office charged with tackling those issues state their positions clearly. Debates provide the best venue for that and are an invaluable voter-education tool.
Debates, or more specifically, their number, structure and location, are also a classic point of contention during any election season. Challengers typically want many opportunities to spar with the incumbent; those holding office typically prefer a lighter debate schedule. Finding middle ground is an exercise in politicking and negotiating. Thus far in the race, there have been two debates: in Alamosa and in Grand Junction. A third will be held Oct. 10 in Pueblo. These are all distinct communities, with some commonalities, but much more that distinguishes them from one another and from Southwest Colorado. As such, voters here ought to have an opportunity to hear candidates address those unique issues and concerns that are critical to the region. The 3rd Congressional District candidates should debate here – and soon.