Bipartisanship, protecting local environments and, above all, unseating Rep. Lauren Boebert was top-of-mind among the eight Democratic candidates who met during a virtual forum Tuesday to discuss their policies.
Candidates for the 3rd Congressional District were asked to present opening and closing remarks in favor of their campaign and to answer questions about how they would tackle local and national problems. The event, organized by the La Plata County Democratic Party, attracted over 80 people and lasted for two hours.
“Look, all of us up here are great candidates and any one of us would be better than Lauren Boebert, so the question is who can connect with those voters who are disillusioned with her? Who can create a coalition of rural and working-class Democrats, Republicans and even independents who have decided they’re fed up with her antics?” said Debby Burnett, a candidate from Gunnison in her opening statement.
Nine Democrats have entered the race to unseat Boebert. It is a district Democrats haven’t won in more than a decade. Crested Butte resident Kellie Rhodes, who announced her candidacy in October, was the only candidate absent from the forum and did not respond to a request for comment. The forum comes days before Democratic caucuses are to be held, in which the party will begin its nomination process.
Candidates broadly agreed about how they could tackle issues including partisanship, the Russian attack on Ukraine, engaging working-class voters, climate change, watershed protections, Social Security, abortion and gun violence. Scott Yates, a Pueblo man who entered the race in January, sought to differentiate himself by making the end of daylight saving time his primary policy focus. Meanwhile, Root Routledge of Durango spent his opening statement endorsing his opponent, Burnett.
“I'm going to vote for the one candidate who hands down is the best able to reclaim western Colorado for Democrats in the general election, and that is Debby Burnett,” Routledge said. “Debby is not a politician, but can be Western Colorado’s leader in Congress.”
Pueblo resident Sol Sandoval, the top Democratic fundraiser, said her experience as a member of the working class will inform her approach to engaging urban voters in areas like Pueblo.
Avon resident Alex Walker, who entered the race last week with a viral ad featuring flying feces, said in response to a question about political polarization that compromise is a lost art.
“Polarization has been a part of politics since the country’s inception, it’s not new,” Walker said. “What’s new is our inability to compromise instead of creating stalemates. I grew up in a loving Republican home, and today I’m a queer, moderate Democrat. I was raised on compromise. I will urge bipartisan solutions like reforestation instead of the Green New Deal, which most moderates disagree with.”
Several candidates raised frustrations throughout the forum with Boebert’s divisive rhetoric, which they consider polarizing and counterproductive.
Those present also proposed solutions to protecting the waters of the Western Slope: funding water conservation, renegotiating Colorado’s water laws and improving the efficiency of irrigation systems were among the fixes they mentioned.
“I’m going to work with Sen. (Michael) Bennett and (Sen. John) Hickenlooper to prevent the stealing of our water,” Sandoval said. “It’s time to put Colorado first and not allow Denver or any other state like California to come here, and you know, give us again lip service. ... Every other year, someone else is in town wanting to steal our water.”
Other candidates who participated included Adam Frisch, state Rep. Donald Valdez and Colin Wilhelm. The full forum can be viewed online at the La Plata County Democrats’ YouTube channel.
Skye Witley, a senior at American University in Washington, D.C., is an intern for The Durango Herald and The Journal in Cortez. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Debby Burnett’s first name. Also, Burnett is from Gunnison, not Walden as previously reported.