State Senator Don Coram attempted to portray himself as a moderate and experienced alternative to incumbent U.S. Representative Lauren Boebert during the first candidate debate ahead of the Republican primary election.
“As George Washington said in his farewell address, our greatest threat to our young republic is excessive partisanship. We have a nation that is so divided that they can’t agree on buying ice cream, and that has to change,” Coram said during a Thursday morning debate at the Sky Ute Casino Resort in Ignacio. “I criticized the opponent’s record and would liken it to a new Denver football player, in that she throws a lot of passes but has zero successes. Who would be happy with that?
Boebert delved into the ideological differences between her and Coram, who has a history of bipartisanship during her time in the Colorado General Assembly.
“I ran as a Conservative and I won as a Conservative. I legislate as a Conservative because I am one,” she said in her opening statement. this primary because I’m the only conservative in this race.”
She called it a “bipartisan” debate, despite both being Republicans.
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The split was evident elsewhere: the roughly 300 attendees clearly split based on candidate preference, with one side of the event space pro-Coram and the other pro-Boebert.
The debate was the first face-to-face meeting between the two candidates in one of the state’s most anticipated primaries in Colorado’s 3rd congressional district. It was moderated by Dave Woodruff, president of the Durango Restaurant Association. Candidates had two minutes to answer the pre-written questions, and then had the opportunity to ask each other questions at the end.
Marina Zimmerman, who did not participate in the Republican ballot but who is running as a written candidate, did not participate.
Boebert was first elected in 2020 after defeating longtime Representative Scott Tipton. Coram, of Montrose, was first elected to the state House of Representatives in 2010 and to the state Senate in 2018.
Although Coram’s campaign claimed the candidates had agreed to a ‘paper and pencil’ policy – meaning they could have paper on stage to take notes in real time but could not bring prepared information – Boebert had pre-written notes that she frequently referenced throughout the debate.
“She’s already showing up with an answer book, and I’m up there with not even a piece of paper.” I thought that was a bit dishonest, but I also realize that’s her only agent, because she can’t think on her feet,” Coram told reporters afterwards.
Gun politics in the wake of Uvalde
The first question was about this week’s mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, where a gunman murdered 19 elementary school children and two teachers. The candidates were asked what the role of Congress was in reducing mass shootings and what reforms, if any, they would support.
Coram responded that he wanted to prioritize mental health support, a common Republican response to questions about gun reform.
“Republicans and Democrats, for years, have been talking about mental health. Mental health is the cause of a lot of the problems we have in these shootings. But we have not made the commitment to fund the necessary treatment and address these issues,” he said.
The Uvalde shooter had no known history of mental health issues, Texas Governor Greg Abbott said said wednesday.
Boebert, who is a strong gun rights advocate and owns a gun-themed restaurant, said additional laws would not solve the problem because criminals would simply ignore them.
“We cannot legislate to eliminate evil,” she said. “We have to be able to arm ourselves and protect ourselves. Moms need to have a tool – an equalizer – to protect their children. Our teachers must be well equipped, trained and certified to protect our children as well.
She said she wants the state to use surplus federal ARPA funds to “secure” schools, which would include increased police presence on campus.
Boebert “proud” to have voted against the results of the presidential election
Boebert used an election integrity question to spread baseless allegations of voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election. She pointed to debunked anecdotes of “hundreds of thousands of ballots” going out illegally and the presence of “illegal drop boxes”. Allegations of electoral fraud have been repeatedly refuted by experts, courts and election officials of both parties.
Boebert voted to reverse the results of the 2020 presidential election.
“I am proud that the first major action I took in the House of Representatives was to vote not to certify some of the electoral college results from the 2020 election,” she said.
She said she opposes any federal election legislation.
“We don’t need a DC takeover of any of our elections,” she said. “It should go to the States.”
Coram agreed that the elections were local and state issues, but said he had yet to see any evidence of fraud in the 2020 elections.
“I don’t deny that he could be there, but I want to see him in court. I look forward to 2022 and 2024, rather than a theory that could have happened in 2020,” he said.
Boebert said one of the “greatest experiences” she has as a representative is attending citizenship ceremonies with people who “did it the right way.” She reiterated her common talking point that “every state is a border state,” including Colorado.
She also attacked Coram’s 2021 vote to create the Colorado Office of New Americans, which is intended to be the point of contact for immigration issues in the state.
“My opponent voted yes for this illegal immigration department,” she said.
Coram defended the vote, saying it’s important for the state to know the number of immigrants, documented or not.
“I’m not in favor of illegal immigration either,” he said. “But they are here, and we have a responsibility – you, the citizens of Colorado. Their children can go to school. They have the right to medical care. They are human beings who deserve to be represented and the love of God.
His response was met with boos from Boebert supporters.
Coram said he would also support a system allowing nonresident workers to come to work in the United States, such as a “red card” program that grants employment permits without a promise of citizenship or residency.
Forest fires, water, natural resources
Boebert and Coram agreed that Colorado’s forests need to be better managed to prevent wildfires and that it should start locally.
“The people on the ground are great,” Coram said. “But bureaucrats in Washington, DC, have no idea what the forests of Colorado look like, how healthy they are. We allowed the US Forest Service for years and years to be totally mismanaged. He favored mechanical thinning and well-planned prescribed burns.
He said the government should enable innovation and technology to help predict and fight wildfires. And he linked wildfire mitigation to water issues.
“We are in a water crisis right now. I think it is important that we have someone who is experienced in water knowledge and issues. This is what I will bring to the United States Congress,” he said.
To underscore his understanding of water issues, he pointedly asked Boebert what she thought of the public’s trust in water, a technical doctrine that has to do with water rights. Boebert said she should “look into it.”
Boebert touted legislation she introduced last year aimed at mitigating wildfires that would fund the removal of trees killed by bark beetles among other prevention programs. She described it as the most comprehensive forestry bill in decades.
She criticized the US Forest Service’s decision to suspend prescribed burns amid increasing drought conditions to review protocol and decision-making processes.
“This decision will only lead to more catastrophic wildfires this summer and more fuel remaining on the ground. I called them out for putting bureaucratic politics before the people of Colorado. This is not a real solution,” she said.
Boebert primarily used the cross-examination portion of the debate to claim that Coram used his elected office for personal gain — allegations which Coram denied — while Coram accused Boebert of “demagogy.”
By the end, the audience’s decorum had diminished, and the candidates used their closing remarks to further emphasize their differences in policy-making ideology.
“I would say today proved in this bipartisan debate that the contrast couldn’t be greater than Don Coram and me,” Boebert said.
Coram said Boebert’s goal is to become a political celebrity.
“I’m just a legislator. I am not an instigator. I’m not looking for a reality TV show. I am looking to do a job,” he said. “I am here to work. I am a workaholic. I’m not a show horse and I’ll get the job done. I proved it for 12 years.
He also challenged Boebert to present concrete evidence of any corruption since his tenure.
For Coram, his success in the primary will come down to unaffiliated voters, who make up about 42% of voters in the constituency. Some attendees said Thursday they changed their affiliation from Democrat to unaffiliated in order to vote for Coram in the primary. In Colorado, unaffiliated voters can vote in party primaries. Whoever wins the Republican primary will have an advantage over the Democratic candidate in that district, who leans Republican by about 9 percentage points.
“The race is for the unaffiliated,” he said. “There are Democrats who are frustrated with their party. There are Republicans who are frustrated with theirs, and they are migrating to the new majority.
A second debate is in preparation and will probably take place in Pueblo. A virtual forum with Democratic and Republican candidates in the district will take place on June 8. The primary elections are on June 28.