Incumbent Republican J. Paul Brown and Democratic challenger Mike McLachlan emphasized their differences on issues at the heart of Colorado’s 59th District House of Representatives race in a cordial but pointed forum hosted by the Durango Chamber of Commerce and the La Plata Forum on Tuesday.
Brown, one of the most conservative House members, touted his assignments to “four important House committees” – agriculture and livestock, health and environment, transportation and capital development. He also pointed to his bipartisan success in criminalizing bath salts, an addictive drug, and changing the name of Western State College. He told the audience, “you know I am a rancher and a businessman. You know I was a county commissioner and that I served on the school board of Ignacio for 12 years. I am not an attorney, and we do have a lot of attorneys in Denver, and very few ranchers,” he said during the forum at the DoubleTree.
McLachlan, a Durango-based attorney, often reminded the audience that he is a veteran, and said he was a Democrat, “but a centrist Democrat. I want to act in a bipartisan manner, end the bickering and fighting that seems to be going on. Brown has failed to do that, whereas as La Plata County prosecutor and Colorado’s solicitor general, I’ve demonstrated I can work with Republicans.”
McLachlan said Brown “says he cares about our children, but his record doesn’t look like that. He was the only person to vote against background checks on teachers” and “was the only one in the state Legislature to vote against youth homelessness. It shows he has not learned anything, and he defends every one of those votes.”
Brown said he had voted against powerful GOP committee chairmen, and McLachlan said he did not share most Democrats’ “basic prejudice” against extractive industries like mining and drilling.
Both men agreed the single biggest issue facing Colorado was the national economy, but disagreed about the best means of fixing it. Brown advocated less regulation and reducing taxes, saying business owners he spoke with told him “they would like to expand, hire more people, but the problem is that they have regulations, for instance EPA regulations. They don’t know what the future is going to be, and they’re not about to invest lots of money in starting a new business or hiring new people until they know what’s on the horizon,” Brown said.
McLachlan said while improving the economy was imperative, he didn’t think eliminating environmental regulations was wise.
McLachlan said he’d encourage Colorado to acquire a natural-gas fleet. “Natural gas is cleaner than gasoline and petrol, and currently a lot cheaper.”
Brown said he, too, would “certainly encourage fleets of natural-gas vehicles with the caveat that it makes financial sense.”
The candidates’ most passionate responses came after one woman asked the candidates to clarify their stances on abortion.
Brown said he opposed tax dollars financing women’s abortions. As far as recriminalizing abortion, he said that “as a state legislator, we can have an opinion, but we’re not going to have a whole lot to say about it.”
McLachlan said whenever abortion came up on the campaign trail, he was “constantly reminded” that Brown, “has four strong, handsome, wonderful sons, whereas I have a daughter. Because I have a daughter, I have a different perspective on birth control, abortion and personhood, and what I feel is the unconstitutional attempt to unduly restrict a woman’s freedom to make reproductive decisions over her own body. I think it is a liberty guaranteed by the same Constitution that guarantees the right to bear arms.”
McLachlan said he proudly supported Planned Parenthood.
Both candidates agreed it was too easy to amend Colorado’s Constitution, that protecting the Western Slope’s water rights was critical, and declared the vast streams of outside money pouring into the race unfortunate but beyond their control.
Though last week, questions arose about the legality of two anti-McLachlan mailers, Colorado Secretary of State spokesman Rich Coolidge said no complaints had been made against either of the two organizations responsible for them. Brown had nothing to do with either suspect mailer, and so far, most independent expenditures have heavily favored McLachlan.