Friday night's one and only debate between Republican U.S. Rep. Ken Buck of Windsor and his Democratic challenger, Ike McCorkle of Parker, was fast-paced, lively and at the end, chaotic.
Buck is seeking his fourth term representing the 4th Congressional District. McCorkle is a first-time candidate for elected office and a retired Marine.
The debate was held in the American Legion post in Elizabeth, in Elbert County. The public was not allowed to attend, although supporters for both candidates stood outside the building and cheered prior to the start.
The 4th CD covers one-third of the state's land mass, and that led to the first question of the night from moderator Brian Porter of the Fort Morgan Times: how to communicate the needs of both the urban and rural communities within the district, and what kinds of legislation would serve those needs.
McCorkle stated he believed a representative would need to work with people from every walk of life and make progress toward a common goal, although he didn't say what that goal was. He also took the first of many shots at Buck, stating Buck could not be trusted to vote for COVID-19 relief or put a stimulus check in the pockets of those who have been hurt by the pandemic.
Buck cited his long relationships in the district and his family history, which dates back to the 1930s in Greeley. "I don't lose touch with the district" when in Washington, he said. "The most important issues are pocketbook," he said, saying that tax relief and ensuring people have a chance to raise their families without government interference and with good schools.
McCorkle's rebuttal touched on the economic crisis, and he again pointed out that Buck had voted against COVID-19 relief. "I'm running because I'm genuinely terrified" by the legislative policies advanced by Buck, he said. Buck responded that wages in the 4th CD increased in the first three years of the Trump administration. But the best way to address the current economic crisis is not to create more debt, but to open the economy, he said.
Porter's next question was on McCorkle's support for the Green New Deal.
"It's a socialist disaster," Buck said, "one that I will fight with every ounce of my being" and that would put 200,000 Coloradans out of work, many who reside in the 4th CD. "It may be a good talking point but it's an economic disaster."
In response, McCorkle said "you don't get a return on an investment without investing" and the Green New Deal would be needed to prevent the continued poisoning of the air, land and water." He indicated he supported it because of what happened to the coal industry and jobs in Craig when the power plants began converting to natural gas and renewables. McCorkle advocated for a federal works program to install the renewable energy systems that would provide good-paying sustainable jobs, and for a federal jobs guarantee to ensure wages in the energy sector are protected.
The debate then turned to agriculture, and how to preserve that way of life.
McCorkle took another shot at Buck, stating the farming and ranching community has been "abandoned" by the policies put into law by Buck. "You can't trust Buck to support farming and ranching because he's a paid-for politician." He called for a wealth tax, with revenue reinvested in rural Colorado.
Buck responded that the best thing to do for agriculture is to make sure the economy is vibrant, which he said happened under the first three years of the Trump administration. He did acknowledge that the trade wars had hurt the ag sector, and that "the President did his best to offer relief, but it may not have been enough or been timely." Going forward, "we need to make sure to grow the economy," Buck added.
The debate also touched on current events in Colorado, including the wildfires and what each would do to address them.
Buck said the climate is warming but didn't address the cause. He stated the solutions include a return to logging timber instead of importing it from Canada, forest management with controlled burns and county authority to go on federal forest lands to clear the brush. "The argument over climate change is interesting and theoretical," Buck said. "It doesn't deal with the problem we have now."
That led McCorkle to some of his most heated responses. "Climate change is not theoretical," he thundered, and wildfires are not theoretical, blaming them on human activity and the 18-year drought that has devastating the farming and ranching industry. He offered no solutions.
McCorkle's support for Medicare for All started off the next back-and-forth.
McCorkle said he's spoken to people in all 22 counties in the district, and they can't afford $900 to $1,500 per month for healthcare. "We need single-payer Medicare for All that doesn't bankrupt citizens."
Buck said a government-run healthcare program will result in a diminution in quality and "real suffering." While the U.S. system of healthcare may not be the most efficient, it is the best. "Suggesting that we should let government take over healthcare is a dangerous idea. Government should not be in the healthcare business," adding that it's best left to the doctor and patient.
In his rebuttal, McCorkle said healthcare is essential and a human right. "It's not socialized medicine. It's the morally right thing to do."
Buck's rebuttal noted that all of McCorkle's ideas require government programs. "The cost for these programs is astronomical," he said.
The COVID-19 pandemic was next on the agenda. Buck complimented Gov. Jared Polis for his handling of the pandemic and blamed China and the World Health Organization for covering it up. However, Colorado has done a good job, Buck said, especially in keeping the infection and death rates down in rural areas.
McCorkle said the pandemic response has been botched, and that Buck is trying to blame it on foreign countries by labeling it as a China virus. Buck replied that he'd bring McCorkle's concerns to Polis on how the governor had botched the response, although McCorkle later said he was referring to the Trump administration, not state government.
Next: how each candidate would support active duty and military veterans. McCorkle said he would form a coalition to research and then return every veteran deported by the Trump administration, noting that he had asked Buck about this two years ago and never got an answer. McCorkle then launched into accusations that the problem with government is rampant corruption and financial corruption, and implied Buck was complicit.
McCorkle got so heated in his response that Buck asked for a "kumbaya" moment, bowed his head and then asked McCorkle to calm down. "This is my country, my children's future," McCorkle said loudly.
Buck said those who were deported had committed felonies, including child abuse, murder and assault. "I stand with the President on deporting those folks."
In a discussion of oil and gas, Buck said he continues to favor drilling, and opposes the 2,000-foot setbacks recently proposed by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, which he said will devastate the industry at a time when it's already hurting from the pandemic. "I hope the governor sees the wisdom of putting off those setbacks for a while." Buck called himself an "all of the above" energy guy, supporting wind, solar and every type of energy possible in the district. "Let the market decide," Buck said.
"I'm definitely in favor of ensuring expanded opportunities in energy production," replied McCorkle, criticizing Buck for his strategy that he said continues to rely on finite resources such as oil and gas.
Next on the agenda: how each candidate views the 2nd Amendment and guns. McCorkle said 90% of Americans want universal background checks and most want safe storage of guns. He added he is a firearms owner and a strong supporter of the 2nd Amendment.
Buck said the issue of guns is best left to the state, not the federal government, noting that Colorado's General Assembly has passed laws limiting the size of ammunition magazines and requiring background checks. There isn't a "constitutionally-sanctioned role" for the federal government on this issue, Buck said.
Both candidates said they support term limits for Congress, although Buck then launched into a criticism of Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden, stating that Biden has been in government for 47 years and "it isn't a good idea to send him back for four more."
It was in the closing remarks where things kind of went off the rails.
"The way we restore people's trust in government is by removing corruption," McCorkle said in his remarks. "We have a system that has been set up to profit a minute fraction of the population, and part of that minute fraction is the paid-for political operatives who sit in the United States House" and Senate, who care more about serving the interest of shareholders and corrupt lobbyists than taking care of citizens.
Buck addressed McCorkle directly in his closing remarks. "I've seen the tweets you've made about my motivations and positions. We've had a chance today" to address some of that. But then Buck pointed out that McCorkle had held a fundraiser in September with a Weld County Democrat who was the target of a recent Project Veritas report that claims he talked about a violent response to Nazis and Trump supporters.
The state Democratic Party has refused to comment on the video, and Project Veritas has a track record of false claims.
Buck told McCorkle he should return any money raised in that fundraiser, adding it was "disgraceful that the Democratic Party and a candidate running for office ...." At that point, McCorkle interrupted, asking for an opportunity to rebut Buck's statements and shouting back at Buck when he was told that closing remarks were not rebuttable.
McCorkle continued to yell at Buck for several minutes after that, pointing out that Buck had worn a "kill them all" shirt at an event recently and demanding he denounce white supremacists. Buck walked away.