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Differences among candidates for federal and state offices emerge in Grand Junction debates

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Caroline Llanes
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Aspen Public Radio
Voters in Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley will vote for candidates in local, state, and federal office in November.

Pueden encontrar la versión en español aquí.

This past weekend, various candidates for elected office in Colorado were in Grand Junction to participate in debates hosted by Club 20, a right-leaning organization dedicated to promoting Western Slope interests.

Candidates participated in a steak dinner hosted by the group Friday, and debates started first thing Saturday morning, kicked off by the candidates for Colorado House District 57.

The day was capped off by the only scheduled debate for the candidates from Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District.

Colorado House District 57

elizabeth velasco on the left debates perry will on the right of a stage at club 20 in grand junction
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Democratic challenger Elizabeth Velasco of Glenwood Springs debates Perry Will, R-New Castle, in Grand Junction.

House District 57 was recently redrawn to include the Roaring Fork Valley in its entirety, as well as part of the Colorado River valley stretching to Parachute.

It’s currently represented by Perry Will, R-New Castle. Will is being challenged by Glenwood Springs resident and Democrat Elizabeth Velasco.

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The newly redrawn House District 57 stretches from the Utah border to portions of Eagle and Pitkin counties.

Will and Velasco were in agreement on many of the issues that came up during an initial question-and-answer period, including lowering the cost of living, protecting water rights and access to rural healthcare.

But differences between the two candidates were highlighted during the cross-examination portion of the debate.

Will asked Velasco whether she supported, among other things, green energy “to the detriment of rural economies and tax bases.”

“I don’t agree with how you’re framing that question, especially because I know we are a leader as a state in green energy, and I look forward to continuing that work, making sure that our skilled workers have the opportunities to get those really good-paying jobs,” she replied.

In return, Velasco asked Will why he voted against reproductive rights in the form of the Reproductive Health Equity Act. Will said he thought the bill went “way too far.”

“I don’t think the government has any business there," Will said. “The question you’re posing to me, I think, is between a family, significant others, your religious leaders, your doctors, to make that choice.”

Will added that he didn’t think the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade was terribly important, saying abortion rights weren’t going away — they would just be decided by states.

Velasco and Will each appealed to their community connections — Velasco as a wildland firefighter and Will with his career in wildlife management — to make their cases.

Leading up to the debate, Velasco outraised Will in August, reporting around $18,500 in contributions. Will raised nearly $12,000 that same month.

But he has about $13,000 more cash on hand heading into the final two months of this election. Will lists $32,000 compared with Velasco’s nearly $19,000 cash on hand.

Each candidates spent a little more than $8,000 in August.

Colorado's 3rd Congressional District

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U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., challenges moderator Edie Sonn on a two-year-old tweet, while Democrat Adam Frisch of Aspen waits for the debate to start.

The race for Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District is one that has garnered national attention, thanks to controversial statements by the incumbent U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo.

One of those statements came this summer, when she criticized the separation of church and state while speaking at Cornerstone Christian Church in Basalt in June.

“The church is supposed to direct the government, the government is not supposed to direct the church,” Boebert said. “That is not how our Founding Fathers directed it, and I’m tired of this separation-of-church-and-state junk.”

She is being challenged by former Democrat Adam Frisch of Aspen, who served two terms on the City Council and narrowly won his primary race in June.

In Grand Junction on Saturday, things got heated before the debate even began.

When moderator Edie Sonn asked the candidates if they would agree to the rules of the debate, Frisch agreed. Boebert, however, claimed the debate was partisan due to a 2020 tweet from Sonn supporting Boebert’s Democratic opponent, Diane Mitch Busch.

Sonn responded by saying the debate was not about her.

“This is about you and your opponent,” Sonn said. “I am here to be the traffic cop while these panelists ask questions. And I respectfully ask that you agree to the terms of this debate. If you will not do so, then we can close things down right now.”

Boebert did agree to the terms, and the event went on.

The panelists for the debate were Andrew Olson, Chevron’s Colorado operations superintendent; Tamra Ward, a public affairs consultant based in Denver; and Nathan Steele, an Xcel Energy community manager.

The panelists asked questions about their positions and policies on a variety of issues, but sparks flew between the two candidates during the cross-examination portion of the debate.

Frisch questioned Boebert on her congressional voting record, pointing out that she was 0 for 39 on getting her legislation out of committee. He also asked why she voted against a bill funding cancer research and another protecting seniors from emergency scams.

Boebert responded that those bills were “con games” by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

“It really makes me terribly sad when Nancy Pelosi uses the most vulnerable among us to force her agenda through congress, but that’s how she rolls,” Boebert said. “This was a blank check.”

Boebert repeatedly made reference to Pelosi, which prompted Frisch to repeatedly respond: “I’m Adam Frisch, not Nancy Pelosi.”

Boebert attacked Frisch’s record on the Aspen City Council, which included a resolution urging Congress to pass a carbon tax, as well as a focus on reducing cars in town. She called him a “Green New Deal extremist.”

Frisch replied that he supported an “all-of-the-above” approach to energy production in Colorado.

“Colorado produces the cleanest natural gas and oil, and we can do a lot better job on making sure we get out on wind, and hydropower, and solar as well,” he said. “And it’s imperative that we keep the jobs here, and the energy production here as well.”

Headed into the final two months of the election, Boebert reported more than $2.2 million cash on hand and Frisch reported just over $570,000.

But Frisch has been getting plenty of local support.

About 51% of itemized individual donations to Frisch’s campaign came from within the district, and 61% came from Colorado. About 45% of those donations came from Aspen ZIP codes.

Ann Mullins and Dwayne Romero, former colleagues of Frisch’s on the Aspen City Council, both contributed to his campaign. Several members of the Crown family of Chicago, which owns the Aspen Skiing Co., gave the maximum $2,900.

As for Boebert, nearly 79% of itemized individual donations came from outside of Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District, and about 44% came from Colorado.

Boebert and Frisch have until mid-October to submit the numbers for the fundraising period ending Sept. 30.

Saturday marked the only debate for Boebert and Frisch, but both will participate in a forum hosted by the Colorado League of Women Voters in October.

Caroline Llanes is a general assignment reporter at Aspen Public Radio, covering local news and City of Aspen-based issues. Previously, she was an associate producer for WBUR’s Morning Edition in Boston.