Tipton, Pace, Casida debate merits for 3rd Congressional District seat

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“Congressman Tipton’s campaign can say Sal didn’t provide specific answers, but there were a lot of questions he didn’t fully address either. He didn’t answer whether or not he agrees with Gary Boyce that rural Colorado water should be sold to Denver, we didn’t get an answer about using taxpayer dollars for his campaign, and he misclassified his workers as seasonal employees.”

Chad Obermiller, Sal Pace’s campaign manager, about issues Congressman Scott Tipton sidestepped Saturday during the Club 20 debate at Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction.

— The atmosphere at Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction turned electric Saturday night during Club 20’s featured candidate debate for Colorado's 3rd Congressional District.

Congressman Scott Tipton, R-Cortez; Sal Pace, D-Pueblo; and Tisha Casida, U-Pueblo, fielded questions on topics ranging from job growth to the economy and the national debt to Medicare to the U.S. Forest Service’s wildfire management policy.

Casida, who was absent from the first CD3 debate at Adams State University in Alamosa, took advantage of her first major public appearance to champion her limited government and state’s rights platform.

“Running for a federal seat, I don’t think the federal government has any role in dictating energy policy to the American people, Northwestern Coloradans and the people of this district,” Casida said when asked about her position of developing natural resources on public lands. “It’s really important to find ways to stop the federal government from stopping us from developing our natural resources.”

But Casida found herself serving in a spectator role when the debate shifted to cross-examination as Tipton and Pace launched attacks on one another about health care, partisanship, water rights and alleged misuse of taxpayer dollars for campaign funding.

The cross-examination portion of the debate took a particularly interesting turn when Tipton asked Pace who he planned to endorse for president, Barack Obama or Mitt Romney.

“Congressman Tipton, I don’t think it’s any secret who either one of us is voting for,” Pace said. “I think it’s pretty obvious that you’re going to be voting for the Republican and I’m going to be voting for the Democrat.”

The Tipton camp has long been critical of Pace for what it says is his sidestepping of questions about the issues.

On Sunday, Michael Fortney, Tipton’s campaign manager, explained why the congressman was so interested in who Pace would vote for president.

“We asked that question because he (Pace) won’t talk about big issues, so we wanted to give him a question that would be simple to answer and he couldn’t even do that,” Fortney said. “He hasn’t given a straight answer this entire campaign. I have no clue how he expects voters to trust him on the big issues when he’s not giving them a straight answer on the little things.”

But Chad Obermiller, Pace’s campaign manager, said his candidate answered the question appropriately.

“Sal is focused on his race. He and Congressman Tipton are running for Congress here in the 3rd Congressional District of Colorado,” Obermiller said. “This is a congressional race and they can do whatever they want to distract from that. We’re focused on hard-working families and giving them a voice in Congress.”

Obermiller went on to address the accusations that Pace has been dodging the issues, saying there were plenty of questions posed to Tipton that weren’t answered fully.

“Congressman Tipton’s campaign can say Sal didn’t provide specific answers, but there were a lot of questions he didn’t fully address either,” Obermiller said. “He didn’t answer whether or not he agrees with Gary Boyce that rural Colorado water should be sold to Denver, we didn’t get an answer about using taxpayer dollars for his campaign and he misclassified his workers as seasonal employees, and I think the Colorado Department of Labor agrees with me on that.”

Fortney rebutted Obermiller’s comments, saying at the end of the night that CD3 voters still don’t know where Pace stands on the issues.

“The big takeaway on our end, again, is it’s tough to have a debate with somebody who doesn’t bring any ideas to the table,” Fortney said. “Sal likes to talk about bipartisanship, but that’s not an idea. That’s not an idea to get our $16 trillion debt under control or make health care more accessible and affordable for everybody. It’s tough to have a debate with somebody like that.”

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

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