The two candidates vying to represent South Jeffco in Congress met at a nonpartisan candidate forum sponsored by the National Council of Jewish Women on Oct. 9.
Incumbent Diana DeGette was first elected in the heavily Democratic 1st District in 1996 and has won re-election every other year since. But with congressional redistricting last year, DeGette’s territory now includes the decidedly less liberal areas of South Jeffco.
Political newcomer Dan Stroud is the challenger. He is a Republican businessman and entrepreneur who formerly served as chair of the Denver Republican Party.
A crowd of about 350 packed the large auditorium at Temple Sinai in Denver for the forum, which featured candidates from four congressional districts and was preceded by an open house featuring 37 candidates for state legislative positions.
Former state senator Andrew Romanoff served as a stand-in for President Barack Obama, and Joshua Scharf spoke on behalf of Mitt Romney.
Questions for Stroud and DeGette concerned same-sex marriage, Iran’s efforts to acquire nuclear weapons and the future of the prison at Guantanamo Bay.
DeGette said she favors repealing the federal 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as the legal union of one man and one woman for state purposes. No U.S. state is required to recognize a same-sex marriage from another state.
“Any relationship between any two Americans who love each other should have the same rights as heterosexual couples,” DeGette said. “Gay, lesbian and bisexual rights are the civil rights of our era.”
DeGette said she would work to help win approval of the Colorado Civil Union Act, which passed the state Senate in April 2012 but was killed by a House committee on May 15.
Stroud said same-sex marriage is a matter that should be left up to voters in individual states.
“The question is, who is the arbiter of who should be married? It’s not the federal government. That responsibility belongs to the state. I’m neither for or against same-sex marriage. It depends on what the community wants.”
Stroud framed his position in terms of states’ rights and acceptance of different preferences. “This is a republic where people can live and move where they want. Establishing a single moral standard for everyone represents a loss of freedom and is wrong,” Stroud said.
Iranand nuclear weapons
Both candidates took a dim view of Iran’s nuclear ambitions and said the United States should take steps to prevent Iran from making progress in this area.
“It’s a serious concern for the U.S. and its allies, in particular Israel,” DeGette said.
DeGette supports a number of bills designed to beef up sanctions against Iran and to require nuclear inspections as part of an international effort among several countries.
“We have to assume the worst,” DeGette said. But she opposes any pre-emptive military action “without absolute proof.”
Stroud noted that he graduated from West Point with a degree in Middle Eastern studies. He said it’s doubtful the U.S. will have much to say about Iran’s push for nuclear weapons and the U.S. needs to make the consequences clear.
“It’s a mistake to presume we have any say-so,” Stroud said. “They can get the weapons whether we like it or not. Iran is not afraid of us. We don’t know what they will do. We need to set out what the repercussions would be and make it clear that Israel has to preserve itself. The main thing is, appeasement doesn’t work,” Stroud said.
The detention center at Guantanamo
On the third and last question — whether to support closing the detention center for suspected terrorists at Guantanamo, Cuba — both candidates were in favor of giving the prisoners due process and trying their cases.
“Either it should be phased out or the prisoners tried and sentenced,” DeGette said. “As a civil libertarian, it’s against our policy to hold people indefinitely. We have a lot of excellent courts in this country. We should try them under international law.”
Stroud agreed it’s wrong to hold suspects there indefinitely. He opposes moving them to U.S. prisons, saying the detainees have more in common with prisoners of war than with common criminals.
In her closing statement, DeGette stressed her 16-year tenure but said she isn’t taking her position for granted. “I believe in making my case to be re-hired every two years,” she said.
She said she is a bipartisan lawmaker with a solid record of achievement and is eager to work on the national budget and to put Americans back to work.
DeGette highlighted her role as a senior member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and her recent legislative successes, including drug-shortage and orphan-drug bills, as well as health insurance for firefighters and a bill encouraging hydroelectric power for small producers.
Stroud stressed his desire to implement a “less is more” philosophy about government, patriotism and the importance of self-reliance.
“I’m incredibly proud to be an American. I’m a product of the American dream. My family was poor, although we didn’t know it. But I took advantage of what was available to me,” said Stroud, an Army veteran. “America is about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Stroud decried the encroachment of the federal government on the authority of the states.
“We need less government, not more. … I think DeGette is wrong about the purpose of government,” he said. “We need economic freedom and energy independence. The federal government needs to get off our backs so my children can stand on my shoulders and achieve more than I did.”
One event organizer described the forum as an educational experience, rather than a debate. Applause was discouraged, but the lively crowd clapped politely at every opportunity. Questions were selected at random from audience submissions.
Contact Vicky Gits at email@example.com or 303-933-2233, ext. 22, or follow her at Twitter.com/newsbyvicky.