Congressional candidates square off |

Congressional candidates square off

Harriet Hamilton
Summit County Correspondent
Vail, CO Colorado
Mark Fox/Summit Daily NewsCongressional candidates Joan Fitz-Gerald, back, Will Shafroth and Jared Polis appeared together for the last time before the Aug. 12 primary.

SUMMIT COUNTY, Colorado ” Differences in personal style, rather than dramatic political disagreements, marked the presentations of Democratic congressional hopefuls Joan Fitz-Gerald, Jared Polis and Will Shafroth in Summit County.

The crowd of more than 70 listened intently to the three candidates, as they answered questions submitted by the audience and made prepared statements about their platforms and their fitness for office.

Thursday’s forum ” sponsored by the Summit County Democrats ” was the final such event in a race which will end with the Aug. 12 primary election, and each candidate focused on why local voters should choose them instead of their opponents.

In the predominantly Democratic 2nd Congressional District ” which includes Summit, Eagle, and Grand counties, as well as the city of Boulder ” the winner of the primary will be the presumptive successor to U.S. Rep. Mark Udall, who is running to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Wayne Allard.

Former state Senate President Fitz-Gerald, with a mildly hoarse voice indicative of intense campaigning, emphasized her experience in the statehouse, as well as her ties to the high country.

Citing numerous examples of legislation she’d sponsored during her tenure as Summit’s representative in Denver, the Jefferson County resident suggested her track record could speak for itself.

“I’ve tried to be the best state senator you’ve ever had,” she said.

During the course of the evening, she asserted that her seven years in the Colorado Senate have helped her develop the ability to get things done and the courage to stand up for what she believes in.

“I’ve never warmed a seat, and I never will,” she said in her closing remarks.

Internet entrepreneur and former state Board of Education Chairman Polis focused on the critical necessity of political change, and how he’s the best situated among the three candidates to effect that change.

“What I stand for is changing the way Washington does business, even if I have to butt heads with members of my own party,” he said.

Citing his business success in the high-tech field, as well as his commitment to education, the Boulder resident alluded to recent public discussion critical of his multi-million-dollar personal contributions to his own campaign by explicitly stating his support for public campaign financing.

He expanded on the issue during his closing remarks.

“All three of us are millionaires,” Polis said. “Somebody who has to work for a living couldn’t afford to take a year off (to campaign). That’s why we have the Congress we have.”

Conservationist Shafroth, a former executive director of Great Outdoors Colorado, echoed Polis’ emphasis on the need for change and framed his lack of previous experience in elected office as a positive.

“The most important trait we need is the ability to work with different groups of people,” he said. “People are fed up with partisanship.”

If elected, he would be the first professional conservationist ever to serve in Congress, as well as one of the few representatives with children attending public schools, the Boulder resident told the crowd.

His political-outsider status would be an asset rather than a liability in Congress, he added.

“I think we have to have people who get along with other people,” he said in his closing statement. “It’s no coincidence that I’m sitting in the middle (of the forum table). I will go to Washington completely unencumbered.”

Issue: Iraq

In addition to several questions the candidates received in advance, audience members submitted questions on topics ranging from Iraq to national health care.

On Iraq and how to withdraw from the conflict:

Shafroth: “I’m for as expeditious a withdrawal as possible, as long as our troops are safe.” After avowing his opposition to the war from the beginning, Shafroth added he will withhold his vote for funding the war until there is a timetable for withdrawal, but remains concerned about the safety of American troops on the ground.

Polis: “I’ve been opposed to the war from the beginning.” Polis directed the audience to his ‘Responsible Plan to End the War in Iraq’ posted on his campaign website. While basically endorsing Barack Obama’s proposed 16-month withdrawal plan, he added that the opportunity exists to bring the troops home sooner than that.

Fitz-Gerald: “I do want an immediate withdrawal.” Fitz-Gerald expressed skepticism about any withdrawal timetable, saying that timelines can stretch out for years. Staying in Iraq, she added, is not making us safe.

Issue: Trade agreements

On free trade agreements (NAFTA and CAFTA) and the economic rise of India and China:

Polis: “I don’t think you unilaterally end treaties with other countries.” Modifying existing treaties would give the U.S. leverage over other countries to negotiate better environmental, labor and human rights agreements, he said.

Fitz-Gerald: “I would not reauthorize CAFTA or NAFTA.” The current regional free-trade agreements have contributed to major losses in the U.S. manufacturing base, she asserted. New trade agreements should be negotiated on a case-by-case basis.

Shafroth: “In terms of trade, I want to be relevant in this discussion.” A visit to Nicaragua in 2003 illustrated to him that trade agreements could have a positive influence on labor and environmental issues, and that the U.S. should take a leadership role.

Issue: Health care

On national health care:

Fitz-Gerald: “The current system is broken.” Expressing firm support for HR 676 ” a Medicare-like universal single-payer system, Fitz-Gerald said she doubted a dual system could work, because cherry-picking by the private sector would bankrupt the public system.

Shafroth: “I agree with Obama (who supports a dual system).” Shafroth emphasized the need to focus on preventative health care, and fully funding all children so that every child has an equal shot.

Polis: “We spend so much and we’re not any healthier.” Also voicing support for HR 676, Polis said the current system is broken and that single-payer health care is the best solution.

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