CRIPPLE CREEK – Candidates for Congress debated in a casino here Friday, but no one hit the jackpot in the brief match that touched on familiar themes.
U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, touted his record of passing five bills through the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. Democratic challenger Sal Pace pointed to Congress’ dysfunction, but Tipton said he and colleagues have been effective in the House.
“I passed those five bills through the House of Representatives working with Republicans and Democrats,” Tipton said.
Pace, a state representative since 2008, said the 3rd Congressional District usually has representatives who think for themselves, but Tipton is interchangeable with many Republicans from other states.
“Congressman Tipton is a fine man. He’s a nice man. I like him. However, he has virtually a 100 percent voting record with his party leadership,” Pace said.
Meanwhile, unaffiliated candidate Tisha Casida of Pueblo County said the federal government should stop doing most of the things it does and turn the work over to states or local governments.
“Things like education policy, energy policy, agriculture policy – these are things the federal government is trying to dictate,” Casida said.
The three questions in the half-hour debate came from the audience. They addressed health care, the role of the Environmental Protection Agency, and automatic cuts in federal spending that will happen unless Democrats and Republicans reach a budget deal.
Tipton and Pace both said the EPA needs to be reined in by Congress because it is too strident in enforcing environmental laws. Casida said it’s unconstitutional for the federal government to be involved in environmental policy at all.
Pace said the looming cuts in federal spending are “an example of the embarrassment that Congress is to this country right now. We should all be ashamed and embarrassed at a Congress that can’t pass a budget.”
However, none of the candidates offered a solution to avoid the automatic cuts.
On health care, Tipton noted that he and Pace agree on several points, like banning insurance companies from denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions.
But he said insurance isn’t the biggest problem, and the Democrats’ health-care law should have curbed lawsuit abuse and allowed people to shop for insurance across state lines.
“We can insure everyone in the United States, but that doesn’t ensure they’re going to have access to doctors,” Tipton said.
Pace made reference to a controversy about his television ads, which show him at home with his wife and kids and doing chores at his father’s house. His father recently moved to Pueblo, but to a different house than the one used in the ad.
Pace did not deny that the second ad was not filmed at his father’s real house, but he said the first ad featured Pace’s own family’s true house.
“I used to tell people it’s a modest house. That’s not true – it’s a small house,” he said.
Congress should have more people like him, who know the struggles of working people, he said.
“Like so many other people, we know what people are going through with gas prices, with food, with utilities. At the end of each month, we struggle to put aside money for savings,” Pace said.
Tipton swiped at Pace for voting to end tax exemptions in the Legislature and said Congress needs to slash its debt.
“One of the best ways to make sure that we’re addressing that federal debt is to have responsible people, small businesspeople like me who have not been a career politician, but who have actually led the life that you have led,” Tipton said.
Fewer than 40 people watched the debate, which was sponsored by Action 22, an advocacy group for Southeast Colorado counties.