Steamboat candidates for Colorado House District 26 debate in Grand Junction

Quotable

“I did what I usually do, which is tell the truth and speak to my record. The stark difference between us is that I have a record of making decisions in the public sector and as a private businesswoman. I had a hard time with his distorting my record. I would never do that to anybody. That’s not the way we get things done. We present our records and what we believe in. We don’t distort people’s records, and he did.”

Diane Mitsch Bush

— This weekend marked what one candidate called the first substantial debate of the campaign season.

On Saturday, Club 20 hosted a series of debates for Western Slope candidates vying for state and national offices at Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction.

Featured first on the card were Chuck McConnell, R-Steamboat Springs, and Democrat Diane Mitsch Bush, also of Steamboat Springs, who are running for Colorado House District 26.

HD26 encompasses Routt and Eagle counties.

During her opening comments, Mitsch Bush touched on some of the similarities between the two counties, including ski tourism, dependence on regional airports to attract visitors, and water issues.

“We also need to focus on transportation. It is one of the key, if not the key, pieces of our economic infrastructure,” she said. “As we heard before, our transportation infrastructure is crumbling. We need to cooperate and work together across the partisan divide, and Continental Divide, to get things done for you.”

McConnell focused his opening comments on the Constitution, particularly in regards to the Second Amendment, and said the primary issues facing the state pertain to job creation and fixing the economy.

“Several months ago I drove from one end of Steamboat Springs to the other and did the same in Hayden,” McConnell said. “I counted 41 empty offices and storefronts where entrepreneurial businesses would normally be housed.

“Partnering with government is fine, but we also need to stand up and fight unnecessary regulations that are hurting jobs.”

Although McConnell said there is an obvious difference of opinion in how he and Mitsch Bush approach policy, they found common ground on one issue.

“There is a thirst for water on the Front Range that is insatiable and they need to understand how important water is to us for things like agriculture,” McConnell said. “This is unusual because there is a huge bright line between (Mitsch Bush and me) in terms to our approach on policy, but clearly West Slope water is something we agree on.”

But their differences of opinion eventually came to the surface when the focus of the debate shifted to energy development.

During “cross examination” — when the candidates were allowed three minutes to ask their opponents questions of their choosing — McConnell criticized Mitsch Bush and the Routt County Board of Commissioners’ conditions for oil and natural gas drilling permits.

He asked Mitsch Bush to defend the lost revenue, jobs and funds that would go the county’s taxing districts, including the public school system.

“That is an inaccurate characterization. What we did was require water quality pre-testing and monitoring,” Mitsch Bush said. “What we’re doing in Routt County is balanced energy development while still protecting the public safety, health and welfare. We encourage oil and natural gas development.”

After the debate, Mitsch Bush said she took offense to McConnell’s accusations.

“I did what I usually do, which is tell the truth and speak to my record. The stark difference between us is that I have a record of making decisions in the public sector and as a private businesswoman,” she said. “I had a hard time with his distorting my record. I would never do that to anybody. That’s not the way we get things done. We present our records and what we believe in. We don’t distort people’s records, and he did.”

McConnell defended his comments by referencing recent quotes made by his opponent as reported by the Steamboat Today.

“I have copies of the Steamboat Pilot and I interpret some of her quotes as being against energy development,” he said. “My belief is that private enterprise creates jobs and the government is not there to supervise, but to make sure the regulations are fair so that people have a place to go to work.”

Joe Moylan can be reached at 875-1794 or jmoylan@craigdailypress.com.

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