Rep. Lauren Boebert and Adam Frisch spent their first – and most likely only – live debate for Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District seat criticizing each other’s records, unleashing opposition research and appealing to voters as to why they should represent the state’s geographically largest and one of its most diverse constituencies.
The debate was the final agenda item of a two-day event hosted by the Western Slope advocacy group Club 20 that saw a full day of forums on Saturday with state and federal candidates. It was also one of the only high-profile debates that had participation from both candidates: Democrats Jena Griswold, the incumbent secretary of state; Jared Polis, the incumbent governor; and Michael Bennet, the incumbent U.S. senator did not attend the event and gave their Republican opponents an opportunity to answer questions without rebuttal.
The contest between Boebert, a controversial first-term Republican from Silt who has earned a national profile as a far-right conservative, and Frisch, a former Aspen City Council member, is among the most anticipated in Colorado this election cycle.
The debate was moderated by Club 20 executive committee member Edie Sonn and featured questions asked by a panel made up of Chevron operations superintendent Andrew Olson, consultant Tamra Ward and Xcel Energy high country area manager Nathan Steele. It was held at Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction.
There was tension from the start when Boebert accused Sonn of partisanship, bringing up a tweet Sonn allegedly made that expressed support for Boebert’s 2020 opponent. Sonn dismissed the claim, and after a brief verbal altercation, Boebert accepted the terms of the debate and the event moved forward.
Both candidates referenced U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in nearly every response they gave. Boebert repeatedly spoke about her refusal to participate in Pelosi’s “con game” of how bills get passed in Washington, D.C., and Frisch responded by saying that he is not Pelosi and added that he would not support her for speaker if he’s elected and Democrats retain the House majority.
Frisch was largely critical of Boebert’s track record in Congress, repeatedly mentioning that none of her introduced legislation has passed and pointing out times she voted against legislation that would have funded projects in the district.
“Right now, rural Colorado interests are getting steamrolled in Washington, D.C., and that is because of you, congresswoman. You have failed us. You are not doing the work,” Frisch said in his opening statement. “You have consistently voted against the interests of our farmers, our ranchers, our small-business owners, our veterans, our teachers and our health care workers.”
One of the times she voted against the district’s interests, he said, was with her opposition to the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. Boebert responded by saying she took issue with the short timeline to review the lengthy bill that contained projects she did not consider infrastructure-related.
“The infrastructure bill that was passed was one of these con games. It has a great title, but it was over $1 trillion and only 9% went to anything infrastructure related,” Boebert said. In her opposition to the legislation, Boebert focused on a definition of infrastructure that only included traditional features such as roads and bridges.
The debate topics focused on state and local issues such as water and forest management, rural infrastructure and energy production, rather than national issues like inflation, gun reform and reproductive rights. While the candidates took highly antagonistic tones with each other, they agreed on broad policy matters like increasing water storage to address the Colorado River drought, re-examining forest management and deadwood removal for wildfire prevention, and supporting Colorado energy production. Neither offered any detailed policy proposals.
In a question on whether they support President Joe Biden’s goal to reach 100% renewable energy by 2035, the candidates spoke about their desire to increase domestic energy production.
Frisch said he supports an “all of the above” approach to energy production and supports an increase in renewable energy. He said he thinks natural gas will be the “bedrock” of energy as the country increases its capability in wind, water and solar power.
“I’m not sure how the math works out to get to 100% renewable by 2035. I would love for it to happen,” he said. “The Holy Grail is 100% renewable energy produced in your own ZIP code. But it’s going to be a long, long time before that. In the meantime, we need to make sure we stop disrespecting the men and women who are putting food on the plate for themselves, making sure the country has energy.”
Boebert said that the country should have energy independence as a goal and explore other energy sources such as nuclear power.
“We need to start exploring nuclear. I think it’s very disingenuous when the Democrats talk about green policies when really they are sacrificing the American family at the altar of climate change,” she said.
Frisch responded by saying he has “no problem” with including nuclear power in the energy conversation.
Boebert used much of her five-minute cross-examination time to present findings from Frisch’s past. She asked him about a 1992 voter registration in New York that shows Frisch registering as a Democrat, despite him claiming on the campaign trail that he was unaffiliated until last December. Frisch responded by saying he did not remember registering that way 30 years ago.
She also asked him about a request he made with the city of Aspen to delay affordable housing fees on a home renovation. He responded by saying he paid off those fees earlier this year.
In his cross-examination time, Frisch asked Boebert why she did not attend the Club 20 steak fry on Friday night. Instead, she spoke at a far-right Christian conference outside the district. Boebert said that “dinners aren’t really (her) priority.”
Frisch also pressed Boebert on why she has yet to hold an in-person town hall since taking office. She responded by talking about the telephone town halls, round tables and mobile office hours she has held.
Frisch asked Boebert about votes she made in opposition to a bill that would fund cancer research and another that aimed to protect elderly citizens from scams.
“It makes me terribly sad when Nancy Pelosi uses the most vulnerable among us to force her agenda through Congress,” she responded, essentially arguing that neither bill would have had much effect.
Boebert currently has a significant fundraising advantage on Frisch, with about $2.3 million in cash at the end of June compared to Frisch’s approximately $571,000, according to campaign finance reports.
Boebert and Frisch are scheduled to appear in a virtual forum hosted by the Colorado League of Women Voters on Oct. 15.