CD 1 debate lacks anger, but not commitment

By Chris Bragg

For all but six years since 1933, Democrats have controlled Denver’s 1st Congressional District. Republicans haven’t held the seat at all since 1973. And that long drought seems to have produced an unusual strain of Republicanism.

Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman

The three candidates for Congressional District 1 get ready to debate: Rep. Diana DeGette, the incumbent at left, Martin L. Buchanan, Libertarian, middle, and George C. Lilly, Republican, right.

After all, when was the last time you saw candidates from three different parties — including the Republican candidate — call for the United States to withdraw from Iraq?

That’s exactly what happened during a debate at Johnson and Wales University last Tuesday night, which included six-term incumbent Democratic Congresswoman Diana DeGette, CD 1 Republican nominee George Lilly, a businessman, and Libertarian candidate Martin Buchanan, a software developer.

“Every time I’ve run, it’s been against somebody with a ‘different’ view,” DeGette, 51, said afterwards. “Coloradans tend to really be a different lot, anyway.”

Though Lilly is running as a Republican, he adheres to the tenets of the American Constitution Party. That fact alone might get Lilly booted by the Republican establishment elsewhere. In CD 1, however, it was no problem. The Republican Party didn’t even field a candidate in 2006; DeGette’s only opponent was Green Party candidate Thomas Kelly, whom she beat handily.

Lilly, 60, also shares many Libertarian views, which are similar to those of the Constitution Party. That meant that on Tuesday night, Lilly and Buchanan often agreed.

“I want to strongly endorse what Mr. Lilly said,” said Buchanan, 55, in response to a question about federal land use — and not for the first time.

And both of them also sometimes agreed with DeGette.

Though Lilly and Buchanan were far to the right of DeGette on economic issues — Lilly called the Wall Street bailout that DeGette supports the “biggest robbery of the American people in one political move ever” — they were with her on certain social and foreign policy issues.

In fact, Lilly and Buchanan were sometimes to DeGette’s left. Both bemoaned the “War on Drugs.” And Lilly, the Republican, called the war in Afghanistan “unwinnable.”

That’s a more dovish stance than DeGette takes. She still supports the war in Afghanistan.

“I thought it was really interesting,” DeGette said. “It really brought out the differences between all the parties.”

Lilly and Buchanan themselves did disagree a few times, revealing a few subtle differences between the Libertarian and Constitution parties. Both parties are fiscally conservative, but the Constitution Party has a theocratic bent. Lilly, the former member of the Constitution Party, says while he believes in many of the tenets of the Libertarian Party, it is “too morally anarchistic.”

In practical terms, that put Lilly in a more socially conservative positions than Buchanan. Lilly, for instance, defines himself as pro-life; DeGette and Buchanan favor a woman’s right to choose.

Both Lilly and Buchanan agree wholeheartedly, however, that the current Republican Party has abandoned traditional Republican values. And ballooning deficits under the Bush administration had even DeGette calling herself a “budget hawk.”

“As a Democrat, I never thought I would be part of the party of fiscal responsibility,” she said.

Calls for fiscal responsibility — rather than differences over gay marriage, abortion or terrorism — tended to push the evening’s exchange toward the right. Well, as far to the right as it was apt to go with three sometimes left-leaning candidates.

That puts the CD 1 campaign in sharp relief to most Republican campaigns in recent years. With the economy being the biggest issue facing the nation for the foreseeable future, could the kind of vision espoused by Lilly and Buchanan gain stature in the GOP?

Maybe, but that’s not likely to make a difference anytime soon in CD 1. At the end of the debate, DeGette showed the sort of graciousness towards her opponents not often exhibited in partisan races.

“They put themselves out on the line to express their opinions and their views,” DeGette said in her closing statement. “I think that is the ultimate expression of their belief in their country and in American freedom.”

After so many years of bickering, it sometimes seems like Democrats and Republicans in Washington, D.C., have staked out opposing positions on virtually every issue — and can’t even be civil about it.

That wasn’t a problem, however, at the unusual debate last Tuesday.

“Republicans hate Democrats, and Democrats hate Republicans,” said Lilly. “I don’t like the Republican-Democrat dynamic, anyway.”