GOP family feud in CD 6 heats up

By John Schroyer
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

The jokes were friendly but the rhetoric was serious during a debate Friday, July 18, among the quartet of Republicans vying for the GOP nomination in the solid-red 6th Congressional District. The winner will almost certainly succeed outgoing Republican Congressman Tom Tancredo.

The infighting included state Sen. Steve Ward, R-Littleton, calling businessman Wil Armstrong’s foreign policy beliefs “naïve” and numerous shots at Mike Coffman for being willing to abandon his hard-fought position as Colorado’s secretary of state in order to make a run at Congress.

The four competitors sparred on issues ranging from the federal bailout of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae to whether military experience should be a political prerequisite for serving in Congress.

The variety in policy positions among four people from the same party was truly astonishing.

One of the most obvious disagreements began immediately after host Aaron Harber turned the questioning over to News 4’s Jim Benemann.

Benemann led off by asking whether Coffman and Ward, who both have served in the Marine Corps in Iraq, have “a leg up” on their two non-veteran rivals, Armstrong and state Sen. Ted Harvey, R-Highlands Ranch.

Predictably, the two veterans said “yes,” while Armstrong and Harvey took the “no” side.

“It clearly does give you an insider’s perspective,” argued Ward, pointing out that he has worked directly with Gen. David Petraeus, the top military commander in Iraq, during multiple stints in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Ward is a colonel in the Marines.

“The troops in Iraq are doing a great job of putting a jigsaw puzzle together, but they need the picture on the box,” he said.

Both Harvey and Armstrong, meanwhile, countered that they bring alternative and business-oriented perspectives to Congress, and Armstrong reiterated one of his more common talking points.

“Ultimately, you have others in Congress who are veterans, and we need some new people for the Republican Party… that have real-world experience,” Armstrong said.

Shortly afterwards, Ward jumped on Armstrong for asserting that more oil revenue should be distributed throughout the Iraqi populace in order to fuel the nation’s economy. He completely dismissed Armstrong’s argument.

“It’s naïve to say, ‘We just need to let the money go down,’” Ward said. “They don’t have the political process to adopt things like a national oil law, like a national hydrocarbon law.”

Coffman agreed with Ward, and chided Armstrong, “That’s the problem. We’ve made them too dependent on the oil revenue, and we haven’t done enough to restructure their economy.”

Harvey also gave Coffman an opening while discussing Iraq when he said the central government needs to develop “a civil government with laws that protect individual freedoms.”

Coffman interjected derisively, “That’s the problem with American foreign policy. We tend to think that everybody in the world is just like us and wants exactly what we want, and having worked with the Iraqi people… they are not like us and they don’t want what we want.”

He emphasized that, in contrast to American mores, Iraqi society is built around interdependence and cohesion, valuing the group over the individual.

A few minutes later, Armstrong and Harvey got their chance to return fire when Benemann asked whether Coffman was doing the Republican Party a disservice by running for Congress. If he wins, Benemann noted, Gov. Bill Ritter would almost certainly appoint a Democrat to replace him as secretary of state. Coffman was elected by only a two-point margin in 2006, defeating Senate Majority Leader Ken Gordon, D-Denver.

“The fact that Mike is the only person who can hold that Republican seat for the Republican Party is very important to us,” Harvey said, adding that not one elected Republican official has endorsed Coffman.

Ward also jumped on that bandwagon, and for a moment he, Harvey and Armstrong were united in their attempt to undercut Coffman, the perceived front-runner. Ward pushed Harvey’s point about Ritter even further, saying that although Ritter had run for office as a centrist, he has governed “from the far left.”

Armstong hammered the point home, even joking that he’s the chair of Coffman’s re-election campaign.

“We (the Republican Party) worked hard for this … and to just hand that over to Gov. Ritter to appoint (Democratic House Speaker) Andrew Romanoff or Ken Gordon is trouble for our state and our party,” he said.

Coffman staunchly defended his decision, however, saying that the secretary of state’s job is administrative and does not involve creating policy.

Following the debate, Coffman went so far as to say he doesn’t see how a Democrat could do anything differently in the office than he has during his short two-year tenure. He also said he’s not worried about such attacks or about losing the support of party leadership because such intra-party fallout is too esoteric to affect most primary voters.

“For the average Republican, it’s such inside baseball that it’s not resonating. It certainly resonates here because it’s the only issue they have against me,” Coffman said.

There was also surprising disagreement concerning the legacy of Tancredo, who made strong opposition to illegal immigration his hallmark.

Rocky Mountain News reporter Berny Morson, who was teamed with Benemann as co-moderator, asked whether the candidates thought Tancredo’s fiery rhetoric had hampered reform efforts by angering Hispanics. The answers were distinctively mixed.

Harvey, who answered first, insisted that immigration remains “one of the most important issues for this country,” and said that needed reforms have not been made. He also blamed the insertion of race into the debate on “pro-illegal-immigration advocates.”

“They made it a racial issue, not Tom Tancredo,” Harvey said.

Ward went straight to Morson’s question about progress, however, saying, “Yes, the rhetoric needs to be toned down.”

“We still don’t have secure borders, despite all the rhetoric. And you get a lot more done when you tone down some of the rhetoric sometimes,” he said.

Armstrong and Coffman skirted the question, though Armstrong said he’s in favor of teaching only English in public schools, and Coffman said care must be taken not to turn the immigration debate into a racial issue. All four candidates, however, said they would support a constitutional amendment to abolish birthright citizenship for children born in the United States to noncitizen parents.

Sparks flew again when Benemann asked what the candidates thought about the government bailouts of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, the federal mortgage institutions that are facing serious financial trouble because of the crisis in the home-mortgage market.

Coffman made something of a break with ideological ranks by saying he supports government aid for Mac and Mae because without it, the general economy would be forced downward.

Harvey, a professional mortgage broker, pounced.

“Mike’s never been in the mortgage industry and he doesn’t understand a darn thing,” Harvey said. “The problem with Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae was that the government got involved… and Congress forced them to make more questionable loans. So they did, and now we have this incredibly huge population of risky loans out there that the federal government mandated that they fund, and then they go into bankruptcy … and now we’re saying the government has to come back in and bail them out?”

Armstrong then summed up the Republican position.

“If Washington is the answer, it must have been a very silly question,” he quipped.

There was one issue on which the four seemed more or less agreed: climate change. Universally, the four rejected what they portrayed as “bad science” behind the theory of global warming. They also agreed that the U.S. needs a new energy policy based less on foreign oil and more on renewable energy and domestic fossil fuel production.