Bennet and O’Dea appear together at candidate forum

BY FREDA MIKLIN
STAFF WRITER

On October 19, the National Council of Jewish Women Colorado Section held a Candidates Forum 2022 at the BMH-BJ Synagogue in Denver. Candidates for state and national races were invited to participate. Although all candidates were able to have booths to speak to voters, only those running for statewide office or the U.S. Congress were invited to participate in a question-and- answer forum. Scott Levin, local head of the Anti-Defamation League, moderated. 

In a rare joint appearance, incumbent Democratic U.S. Senator Michael Bennet and Republican challenger Joe O’Dea appeared together to answer questions. 

From left to right, U.S. Senator Michael Bennet, ADL’s Scott Levin, GOP candidate Joe O’Dea

On the challenges of solving the immigration problem, Bennet pointed back to 2013 when, he said, “I was part of the Gang of Eight who wrote a bipartisan immigration bill that got 68 votes in the Senate, but unfortunately, never even got a vote in the House of Representatives.” He continued, “It would have passed because it had the elements that the American people want for a successful reform of our immigration system, including a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million people that are here that are undocumented, bringing people out of the shadows.” He went on to explain that many Republicans, including the late Senator John McCain, wanted very much to solve the immigration problem, but that, “After Donald Trump rolled down the escalator (in 2015) in Trump Tower calling Mexicans rapists as the kickoff to his campaign, then won the presidency, that created a very difficult situation for Washington Republicans (who wanted to solve immigration). I hope they will overcome it.” 

We caught up with State Treasurer candidate Lang Sias and Pam Anderson, running for Secretary of State

On the subject of immigration, O’Dea told the moderator, “I agree with Senator Bennet. I think there is a bipartisan solution out there. I hope to lead that solution when I’m elected in November… I think we do need to secure the border. There are a lot of pieces of that that have to do with our national security—fentanyl coming over in record levels, human trafficking, cartels up here in our cities taking over. When you talk to the police departments, they are screaming to get this border under control…a bipartisan effort…It has to do with making sure we give citizenship to DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) kids. They shouldn’t have to wonder about that… We’re the land of immigrants. We’re the land of opportunity. We need to make sure that opportunity is for everyone. If it’s me in the Senate, I’m going to lead that discussion.” He added that it is especially important to his family, including his wife, whose grandparents emigrated to the U.S. from Mexico.

Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser is running for re-election on November 8.

When the moderator turned to the subject of how to help the needy in our community, O’Dea said, “I believe in my heart and soul that we all have a duty to give back. I lead an effort to put together a homeless shelter in north Denver at 7th and Lipan…Haven of Hope Homeless Day Shelter. Myself and a bunch of contractors got together and we funded it. We got it off the ground. It currently serves about 700 meals a day to make sure that that community is taken care of. That’s a responsibility that I feel.”

He continued, “The other thing that I’m really encouraged about is the discussion around school choice. If we want to create this land of opportunity, we have to put kids in a situation where they can have the benefit of a great education. I’m a product of that. I was in public school, not doing so well as a kid. My parents made the decision to move me to a parochial school where I got a little bit of discipline and got refocused and a great education. They also gave me a dishwashing job. I never did see one of the paychecks. My dad kept them all to pay that tuition. I think if we want a monumental change in poverty, in opportunity here in the United States, we’ve got to get behind school choice and make sure that every parent has that choice for their child, regardless of their zip code. Let’s put those kids in a situation where they can be successful.”

Adam Frisch is challenging one-term incumbent Lauren Boebert in CD3 in western Colorado. Photos by Freda Miklin

In his response to the question of how best to help the needy, Senator Bennet talked about the importance of “economic opportunities,” saying, “I’m a huge believer that our democracy is incredibly fragile because people don’t see economic opportunity in this economy. For 50 years, we have had an economy that has only benefited the top 10% of Americans and not anybody else. That didn’t happen by accident. It started with Reagan’s supply-side trickle-down economics, (including) outsourcing. And it’s why we have the worst income inequality since the 1920s. We have the lowest economic mobility of any industrialized country in the world. It’s why I meet people every day in Colorado who are working incredibly hard, but no matter how hard they work, they can’t afford some combination of housing, healthcare, higher education, or early childhood education. The reason that that is so dangerous to a democracy is because, it’s in moments like that, that people stop seeing that sense of opportunity, and inevitably, in human history, somebody shows up and says, ‘I alone can fix it, as Trump said. You don’t need a democracy. You don’t need the rule of law. You should expect your public sector and your private sector to be hopelessly corrupt. That’s the dark vision that he ran on. That’s the dark vision that he won more votes the second time than the first time. To deal with that, we need to create an economy that, when it grows, it grows for everybody, not just the people at the very top. I think we have an incredible opportunity to do that.”

Barb Kirkmeyer is hoping to be elected as the first Member of Congress from Colorado’s new CD8.

He continued, “In the meantime… If we care to, we can cut childhood poverty in this country almost in half. Last year, because we put my bill, The American Family Act, into the American Rescue Plan, we cut childhood poverty in America almost in half. We cut hunger in the United States by one-fourth… One of the reasons I want to go back (to the U.S. Senate) is that I think we should make that permanent. We are the richest country in the world and we have the third-highest childhood poverty rate in the industrialized world. Kids in Colorado are suffering from that needlessly.”

On the subject of school choice, Bennett said, “When I was the superintendent of schools, I think our district (Denver) probably led the country in terms of urban districts with school choice.” He continued, “I believe we have to revolutionize our education system. I don’t think choice is nearly enough to do it. I think Betsy DeVos demonstrated that in Michigan. If you have no accountability, it’s an incredibly destructive force for children. We need to realize that, as a nation, our education system, from a lack of preschool and a lack of quality in K-12 and the expense of higher education, is reinforcing the income inequality that I just spoke about. It’s not liberating kids from their circumstances. One of the things we could do is guarantee that every single kid that graduates from high school in this country has the skills to earn a living wage, not just the minimum wage. That would transform the lives of millions of Americans and it would transform the American economy.”

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Levin asked O’Dea about his motivation to say publicly that he plans to “actively campaign against Donald Trump” if the former president tries to run again in 2024, resulting in Trump issuing a statement saying, “MAGA doesn’t vote for stupid people with big mouths.” O’Dea said, “I’m a contractor. I’m not a politician. I got into this race because I genuinely care about the direction that this country is headed and I’m worried about the policies that we have. I said what I said. I meant it. I don’t think he (Trump) should run. I don’t think Joe Biden should run. I think people in America deserve a different decision to be made in 2024. There’s a lot of talent on the Republican bench—Ron DeSantis, Pompeo, Haley. I really like Tim Scott when he’s talking about education. I think there’s an opportunity to take the country forward. We can’t afford to go backwards… Let’s get focused on the things that matter to working Americans– runaway inflation, the price of gas, getting our energy system back in place, making sure that the land of opportunity is here for all working Americans.”

Asked how he could bring the GOP and all Americans together, O’Dea said, “Elections have consequences. I believe (ours is a) great election system. I’ll take the results. I’ll challenge Sen. Bennet, loser buys the beer, mine is going to have ice in it. We’ll sit down and will move the country forward… We need to have a lot of faith in our system. It’s the best in the world. Let’s rely on it and let’s move the country forward. That’s why I got in this race.”

Levin asked Bennet, “After serving for a couple of terms, what do you think makes a good Senator, a good leader for Colorado?” Bennet responded, “I think what makes a good leader for Colorado is writing bills in Colorado, not writing bills in Washington.” If you look at the work I did on the infrastructure package– the $60 billion that we passed for broadband– I literally wrote that bill on the western slope of Colorado” with help from experts in broadband… The billions of dollars we got for forestry…because of their importance…And $4 billion to address the terrible drought that we have in the Colorado River basin. We need real leadership on that question because we are going to be in negotiation between the upper basin and the lower basin states. I feel like I’m in a good position to lead that conversation. I’ve disagreed with the President on college debt policy, on what they tried to do to our solar industry, which we saved by pushing back on the administration. We do not need somebody in Washington who is coming to repeat what they’ve heard on cable TV, whether it’s the talking points of Fox or MSNBC, that is not the leadership that this country needs. I have not contributed to the chaos that’s back there (in Washington I have not contributed to the partisanship that’s back there.

Greeting voters was HD37 GOP candidate Paul Archer and his campaign manager, Centennial City Council Member Robyn Carnes. Photos by Freda Miklin

In closing, O’Dea said, “Look at where we are today. We have record inflation, record gas prices, record grocery prices. We’ve got record crime here in Colorado… We’ve got fentanyl coming across the border in wheelbarrows, killing Americans. We lost 107,000 Americans last year, almost 1,900 here in Colorado to (all) overdoses. It’s tragic. Is that the America that we want?  Is that what we expect for our kids? It’s time for a change. It’s time for new leadership. That’s why I got into this race.”

Asked why people should re-elect him, Bennet said, “I think I should be reelected because the stakes are incredibly high. Our democracy is at real risk, this is not a joke. The first trip that I’ve taken since Covid, I went to the Middle East and to Europe. Every democracy that I visited, people are talking about the rise of political extremism. People are talking about the rise of anti-Semitism. People are talking about how social media is dividing citizens from one another, making it impossible for democracies to make decisions. My constituents here in Colorado, whether Democrats or Republicans or members of neither party, came to worry during the Trump administration that chaos was all we could expect out of our democracy, that we couldn’t do better than that. They’ve seen that in the last 14 months, we demonstrated that we can do better. We can legislate to pass a bipartisan infrastructure bill, a bipartisan postal reform bill, a bipartisan veterans’ bill, the CHIPS Act (Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors), and one bill that wasn’t bipartisan, the incredibly significant climate bill that Colorado’s fingerprints are all over because of the work that I’ve been doing for 10 years there. So, I think that the stakes are enormously high. In my view, whether you’re a senator or a schoolteacher or a contractor or whatever, you owe it to the next generation of Americans to make sure that we are transferring a democracy that you can be proud of and an economy that you can be proud of and that we reestablish America’s role in the world.”

Pam Anderson, GOP candidate for Colorado Secretary of State (SOS), told us she believed she was endorsed in her race for SOS by the Denver Post because of her record as Jefferson County Clerk. JeffCo, she said, “Is incredibly politically diverse, and my endorsements came from a wide variety of people; I don’t see the job as a political stepping stone. It’s really my life’s work. I don’t want to go to Washington, D.C.” 

She went on to describe what she believes has been a lack of stability in the office of the current SOS, Democrat Jena Griswold, explaining, “There’s been at least three deputy secretaries, we are on our fifth chief of staff, there’s been more than three communications directors and legislative liaisons.” She attributed the high turnover of top staff to a “lack of leadership,” adding, “In my experience, people join these types of jobs as a mission for public service for Colorado, not a mission for a politician and their future.” She added that “the instability and lack of focus has resulted in mistakes being made” in that office. 

Griswold did not attend the forum.

Phil Weiser, incumbent Colorado Attorney General who is facing 18th Judicial District DA John Kellner in the November election, said that the Dobbs decision overturning Roe vs. Wade was “one of the worst decisions that the U.S. Supreme Court ever made,” and that his opponent in this election “believes in that decision,” which he cited as an example of the differences between he and Kellner. He added that, “The implications of the Dobbs decision on people’s lives are only beginning to be experienced,” and that, “Every single decision where a doctor and a pregnant woman look at this question is a hard conversation, it’s a personal conversation, it’s a health care conversation,” on which the government should not dictate what should happen. 

He also talked about the rise in hate crimes, often egged on by social media, and the importance of remaining wary of their impact.

In closing, he said that it matters who the Attorney General is in the areas of gun safety, reproductive rights, water, and consumer rights. He pointed to endorsements he has received from several major publications, who have said that, “Colorado’s water and our future depend on an Attorney General who can lead on water,” and, “Our rights as consumers are protected by the Attorney General.”

Kellner did not attend the forum.

Adam Frisch, former Aspen City Council member who describes himself as a moderate Democrat, is a candidate for Colorado Congressional District three on the western slope. He told The Villager that he decided to challenge one-term incumbent Republican Lauren Boebert because she won in 2020 “with only 51% of the vote, and she didn’t even win her home county (because) those who know her don’t like her.” 

He continued, “I think 40% of Republicans want their party back…Rational Republicans are furious about what’s going on.” He pointed to having received endorsements from Russell George, former GOP Speaker of the Colorado House of Representatives and GOP State Senator Don Coram. Frisch said he wanted to “focus on the job,” unlike Boebert, who he said is in the “angertainment” industry that is causing a lot of the problems in our country.” He continued, “I’m pro-domestic energy production. That’s really important, especially in Colorado. I don’t like it when any President has to show up in Saudi Arabia or Venezuela or Iran and ask for help when we produce clean energy, clean coal here…We’re doing a great job with solar and wind. We need to do more of that, but there’s also some traditional energy production we should be working on.”

Boebert did not attend the forum.

Barb Kirkmeyer, GOP candidate for Colorado’s new Congressional District Eight, facing Democrat Dr. Yadira Caraveo, a pediatrician, said, “We are in troubled times,” pointing to inflation and the “need to get our federal government under control and stop the relentless spending.” 

When Levin asked her what areas of government she would cut back, Kirkmeyer said, “I think we need to look at pretty much everything.” Moving on to another subject, Kirkmeyer said that welfare used to be funded as a block grant to states, who could decide how it should be distributed and under what conditions and restrictions. “I think we need to get back to that,” she said, adding, “The Temporary Aid to Needy Families program used to include, “work participation rates, a five-year clock that folks could be on that program…I think some of those things need to come back.” She also pointed to “individual responsibility contracts” that were part of the program “so that people understood that they were responsible for what they were doing in their own lives…to get education…to help them get off of welfare.” Kirkmeyer closed by saying that her six grandchildren “deserve to grow up in the type of America in which I grew up…that valued and rewarded hard work and gave everyone a fair shot at success and an opportunity to prosper. My grandkids don’t have that. Neither do yours…That’s why I’m running for office.”

Caraveo did not attend the forum.

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