GRAND JUNCTION -- It was a sprawling candidate field for a sprawling Congressional district.
Ten candidates for the 3rd Congressional District introduced themselves and answered a handful of questions in what was billed as the first full candidate forum at Club 20's spring meeting on Saturday.
Yet the candidates were overshadowed by Rep. Scott McInnis, who is vacating the seat they want to fill, and Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell. The meeting began with a goodbye, as McInnis and Campbell delivered speeches reviewing their stints in Washington D.C. Both Colorado leaders have said they will not seek re-election when their terms of office end this year.
"Where did the television cameras go?" asked Rep. Gregg Rippy, R-Aspen, after McInnis and Campbell finished talking and the candidates took their places on stage. "We can see who's really important here."
Campbell reviewed wars that had been fought during his 22 years in office, including actions in Iraq, Somolia, and Bosnia, and the wars on drugs and terror.
He said removing Saddam Hussein and former Yugolslavian President Slobodan Milosevic from power had "rid the world of the most dangerous men."
McInnis focused on his fight to maintain multiple uses on public lands, the development of Colorado Canyons Conservation Area and the effort to make the Great Sand Dunes a national park.
Each congressional candidate had two minutes to speak. That gave them little time to do anything but introduce themselves and list some issues they felt were important.
Dan Corsentino, the Republican sheriff of Pueblo County said he wants to continue to develop America's intelligence network and provide Americans with better health care.
"Inmates in my detention facility have better health care than many Americans," Corsentino said.
Delina DiSanto, a real estate agent from Durango, said she would
take a proactive rather than a reactive approach to government. She said she'd like to tighten America's borders to keep terrorists out and would focus on health care and public lands.
Randy Fricke, an ethanol lobbyist from Basalt, said he's the strongest environmental candidate. He wants to develop alternative sources of energy, such as wind, solar power, ethanol and biodiesel. He said he would institute penalties for companies outsourcing jobs overseas and increase salaries for school teachers.
Anthony Martinez, an Air Force Academy graduate from the San Luis Valley, said his military background makes him the strongest candidate on national security
issues. A Democrat, he supports the war in Iraq and says we will need allies to win the war on terror. One of his goals is to develop rural health care subsidies that would allow Western Slope residents to pay the same health insurance bills as Front Range residents.
Gregg Rippy represented Moffat County in the statehouse until redistricting removed the county from his district. He said the government must be careful not to limit citizens' personal freedoms while battling terrorism.
Rep. John Salazar, D-Manassa, repeatedly said he will fight for "the forgotten middle class." He said one in five middle class families lack health insurance and he would work to make insurance available to them. He would seek a balance between foreign oil and renewable energy.
Doug Sitter, an attorney from Durango, said he has become a "frustrated Republican" as he's watched his party lose sight of the principles of limited government and local control. Sitter advocates a flat tax that would simplify the tax code and shrink the IRS.
State Rep. Matt Smith, R-Grand Junction, said he has three goals: to protect water, bring down health insurance costs, and fight terrorism overseas so it won't be fought on American streets. Like the other candidates, Smith supports local control of public lands. He said everyone should look to Moffat County as an example of a strong public lands partnership.
Jim Spehar, a Democrat and mayor of Grand Junction, complained the current education system isn't working and the No Child Left Behind Act could also be called "Whose Child Left Behind?" He said those who use the term "jobless recovery" should be ashamed of the phrase, because a jobless recovery isn't a real recovery.
Greg Walcher, a Republican and former director of the state Department of Natural Resources, said the federal system has "run off its rails." He said the government is too intrusive, taxes too much, and locks the public out of the governing process. He said he'd work to reform the Endangered Species Act, which he feels is used as a toll to stop human activity.
Club 20 did not allow Sen. Ken Chlouber, R-Leadville, to participate in the debate because he hadn't filed with the Federal Elections Committee.
Rob Gebhart can be reached at 824-7031 or at email@example.com.