Alright, so it took us a little bit longer than we had anticipated to finish up our “Debate Diary” of the first Republican Senate candidate forum of 2016.
Last week we posted Part 1 of our “Debate Diary,” and you can now read Part 2 after the jump below. On Thursday (Feb. 11), the University of Denver (DU) College Republicans wrangled 7 of the GOP candidates for a “debate forum” that included some pretty ridiculous statements.
It looks like we’re finally ready for the second-half kickoff. The original 10-minute break turned into a full 20 minutes. Sparkman has apparently traded in his moderating job for “timekeeper,” so now we have to look up the proper spelling of some dude named Rioux Jordan, who introduces himself as the Chair of the Colorado Federation of College Republicans. “I also helped get the DU Law chapter started, so we’re making this happen,” he says with an enthusiastic half-yell. Polite applause follows.
[*SIDE NOTE: We’d never heard of the Colorado Federation of College Republicans, so we asked the Internet tubes for more information. Here’s the group’s short description on their Facebook page: “Find out how YOU can be a part of the BEST PARTY on campus!” Go ahead and insert your own joke here.]
It looks like our man Rioux is going to jump right into the questions. Perhaps we’ll find out later where these questions come from – prior to the break, Sparkman had indicated that questions would be coming from the audience at some point.
First question: “What role do you see the United States playing with respect to the International Relations, and how would you, as our next U.S. Senator from Colorado, advocate for this?” (that was the exact wording of the question – don’t shoot the transcriber here).
Ryan Frazier gets the first swing at this meatball. “I think that the United States must lead,” says Frazier, who then turns his attention to scaring everybody about the rise of China.
Frazier brings back the “beacon of light” line from his opening statement, and then launches into an enthusiastic – if a bit overdone – diatribe on respecting each other’s religious beliefs and values. Frazier demonstrates his public speaking ability once again here. He really is good on stage, but Frazier can’t fully take advantage of that skill because he his held down by his own vapid answers. All ham, no burger. I am talking very loud and aggressively jabbing my finger in the air!
Next up: Darryl Glenn. “It comes down to my tagline: I’m a Christian, Constitutional conservative…stop apologizing for American exceptionalism.” Glenn says that “we are not nation-builders.”
The lights suddenly go out in the auditorium, leaving the room pitch black. Glenn is quick on his feet with a joke. “You could probably see my shoes,” he says to loud applause. Glenn is wearing a pair of black-and-white “Saddle Oxfords,” which in fact you cannot see, but the joke was still good.
And…we’re back. Glenn encourages the crowd to take a look at his shoes now that the lights have returned, then cracks another joke. “Does that affect my time [for answering this question]?” This is a good moment for Glenn, who is genuinely funny and charismatic – a stark contrast to the largely dour appearance of the rest of the candidates.
“I think it’s important to lead on the principles of life,” says Glenn. “I am pro-life, and I’m not going to apologize for that. And I am somebody who is going to stand up and defend for the lives of the unborn.” Remember, the original question was about international relations. Glenn should have quit while he was ahead.
Peggy Littleton: “I will only support engagements when America’s vital interests are at stake.” She says that other countries were once in fear and awe of America, and that we need to get that back.
Then she drops this gem: “The United States has led the world in money, might, and manners.” Peggy Littleton for Senate: That’s Not the Salad Fork!
Littleton says that because of President Obama and Michael Bennet, America is now perceived as being “ill-equipped and weak.” She says “it may take a generation” to fix the foreign policy problems created by President Obama. Damn, if only Obama hadn’t invaded Iraq and Afghanistan!
It’s Jon Keyser’s turn to answer the one question that is supposed to be right in his wheelhouse.
“The United States is the greatest power for good that the world has ever known. That’s a fact.” No, that is an opinion – and a fine opinion to have — but it’s not a fact. Keyser seems to have a penchant for tossing around vague exclamations when he wants to make a point.
Keyser then goes all fire and brimstone on President Obama, Michael Bennet, Hillary Clinton, and even John Kerry. “We’ve had seven years of absolute disasters on all three fronts: Economically, diplomatically, and militarily.”
“We really need to focus on [unintelligible] our economic [unintelligible].” We went back and reviewed Keyser’s exact quote a dozen times, but we just can’t make it out. If we had to guess, it sounded like he said ‘we need to focus on protecting our economic lead.’
“We need to get back to the concept that we tend not to fight people whom we trade with.” The Queen’s English this is not.
One of the first things we need to do is go to Israel,” says Keyser. He says we need a partnership with Israel because they don’t trust us.
“We need to elect a United States Senator who has been to war, and here’s why I can say that,” says Keyser. “Because people who have been to war know that war is the last resort. It’s ugly – it’s the last resort.” As soon as that leaves his lips, Keyser starts talking about how America needs to flex its military might; it’s kinda like what he just said before, only the exact opposite.
“But we face some challenges that have gotten so bad, under Barack Obama and Michael Bennet, that we have to…[use] our military power to project power overseas. We have to go to the Middle East, because they threaten our very existence.”
And with that, Keyser turns and walks back to his chair. That was…weird.
To recap: War is bad and we should go to war in the Middle East, unless we do any trading with any of those countries.
Tim Neville takes his turn. Whether it is intentional or not, he has a showman’s sense of how to appeal to his audience that differentiates himself from others on stage. Neville is slow and deliberate when he starts talking, demonstrating a more thoughtful approach compared to the jittery uncertainness of Keyser, the previous speaker.
“We use the term ‘war’ very loosely,” says Neville. He talks about his father, a WWII veteran, who died last year at the age of 97; Neville recounts that he rarely heard his father speak about the atrocities of war until he was much older. Neville then explains that he has two sons who are military veterans
“I take it very, very seriously this process – when we decide to take power and use that power overseas.” Neville talks about the Constitution, and the authority of Congress to declare war, and says that it is critical to use that process correctly to ensure that our military has full support from the American people.
This is a fascinating look into the strategy that Neville plans to use against Keyser, the top recruit of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC). Keyser’s campaign narrative begins and ends with his military experience, and if you take that away, he doesn’t have much else to discuss. The way Neville speaks about the military – using his father and his sons to personalize the issue – makes him appear much more thoughtful and contemplative about military action when compared with the more aggressive, get-tough youthfulness from Keyser. This is a great campaign strategy, and Neville plays it very well.
Neville wisely pivots to another foreign policy issue before his time is up: Immigration and border security. He talks about cutting federal funding for so-called “sanctuary cities,” yet another shout out to the far-right and Tea Party side of the Colorado GOP. Discussing “sanctuary cities” doesn’t really resonate with the majority of voters, but here again, Neville is tailoring his message for a Republican Primary; Neville knows exactly what his right-wing base wants to hear from him.
“We need to do things correctly…and Constitutionally.”
This debateforum took place two days before the surprise death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, which was swiftly followed by a warning from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that the Senate would refuse to confirm a new Supreme Court appointment made by President Obama. This is a direct violation of the Constitution, so Neville may have some explaining to do in subsequent debates.
Robert Blaha has apparently come prepared with a Thesaurus and a rhyming dictionary.
“I think everyone agreed that we’re not respected internationally,” says Blaha. “So I’ve got a vision that instead of being jeered, we’re feared, we’re revered, and we’re cheered.” Blaha stops rhyming for a moment to talk about how America is the greatest country that man has ever invented, etc., etc. Any attempt at conducting an actual foreign policy discussion, it would appear, has disappeared.
Blaha then quotes from a 2012 speech made by Bono (yes, that Bono) at Georgetown University:
From Bono, via Blaha: “The idea, the American idea, the idea is that you and me are equal. The idea that life is meant not to be endured, but enjoyed. The idea that we all have dignity if we have justice, then leave us, and we’ll do the rest. This country was the first to claw itself out of darkness and put those concepts down on paper. And God love you for doing it.”
“That’s America!” says Blaha. It’s not clear if that last line is Blaha’s line, or Bono’s words, but that concludes Blaha’s time on this question regardless.
Here comes Charlie Ehler. Will he break the cycle and actually talk about international relations? After all, he and his friends probably have more guns between them than many third-world countries.
Ehler opens with a joke. “I think President Obama must have been asleep in History class. I’m pretty sure Teddy Roosevelt didn’t say to ‘speak softly and carry a swizzle stick.” A few people in the audience laugh politely, if only to drown out the sound of crickets. “We have a weakling President, and he’s done a great deal of damage to our military.
“The President will be gone…but we have to rebuild. It’s the one thing that I think we need to spend money on.” Ehler butchers a phrase we’ve all heard a thousand times. “We need to keep our friends close, and then watch our enemies…instead of keeping our enemies close and buddying up to them, and acting like our friends are our enemies. I think that’s a bunch of horseshit, personally.”
A bunch of horseshit, indeed.
Ehler says that we need to make sure not to get involved in foreign treaties that cause us harm and takes our national sovereignty away. “The Trans-Pacific Partnership was an example of that, and I want to get rid of it.” Holy Crapamole! Somebody finally almost answered a question about international relations!
Ehler then concludes his diatribe by saying it is important to elect a new President, and that a new Republican President would probably take care of these things.
We are finally finished with the first question of the second half, and it only took about 13 minutes. What we gained in time was lost in substance, however; most of the candidates completely ignored the question in favor of an endless stream of platitudes.
The original question was about the United States’ role in International Relations. Let’s recap the answers:
Frazier: America is a beacon of light, etc., etc.
Glenn: “I’m a Christian, Constitutional conservative…stop apologizing for American exceptionalism.”
Littleton: “The United States has led the world in money, might, and manners.”
Keyser: America should expand its military presence in the Middle East.
Neville: “I take it very, very seriously…when we decide to take power and use that power overseas.”
Blaha: America is the best country ever – ask Bono!
Ehler: Electing a Republican President will take care of our international relations problems.
Is it any wonder, really, that we live in the era of the least productive Congress in modern history? We just listened to 7 candidates for U.S. Senate who couldn’t come anywhere close to answering one softball question on international relations. Here was a non-specific question that didn’t require a specific answer, but there wasn’t a memorable response from anyone on stage.
This exchange should be particularly troubling to Jon Keyser supporters. His entire campaign is built around foreign policy, so he should have owned this question. Instead, Keyser stumbled through his two-minute answer, and he sat down after suggesting that the United States should go to war in the Middle East.
Next question: As Senator, how do you plan to steer policy with regards to the growing legal cannabis industry, both in Colorado and across the country?
The DU College Republicans deserve kudos for putting this event together, however muddled it may have turned out, but these questions are absolutely terrible. You can’t expect to hear interesting responses to stupendously-vague queries that do little to steer the conversation in any particular direction. Anyway, here we go…
Darryl Glenn: “If we are going to allow states to exercise their right to participate in this industry, then we need to let them do that, and the federal government needs to get out of the business of artificially enforcing these rules and regulations…the federal government needs to pick a side and stick with it.” Glenn says that he is personally opposed to legalized marijuana.
This is a solid answer from Glenn. Framing this as a state’s rights issue makes a lot more sense than railing against a policy that has been overwhelmingly approved by Colorado voters.
Next up is Peggy Littleton. She says she agrees with Glenn’s comments on state’s rights vs. the federal government, but she quickly shifts to the “unexpected consequences” of legal marijuana. Littleton says she is working with state legislators and sheriffs on a bill intended to address “destroying evidence.”
Littleton says that El Paso County, where she serves as a County Commissioner, is responsible for keeping marijuana plants alive after they have been seized from unlicensed growing operations (until a verdict or plea agreement involving the suspects). This is a mildly-interesting side note about unintended consequences from legalizing marijuana, but it sounds like the legislature is addressing the issue. What does this have to do with Littleton and the U.S. Senate? Not much.
Jon Keyser takes the stage, and immediately says, “I did not vote for Amendment 64…but every demographic in our state supports legalization by pretty wide margins.” Why would you say this out loud?
“I think that states do need to be able to make decisions to be laboratories for other states and for the rest of the country.” So…Colorado is merely a testing ground for weed?
Keyser goes on to say that he believes marijuana should be kept out of our schools, just in case you might have thought that Keyser was an advocate for giving drugs to students.
“The other thing I think we need to focus on is the banking industry,” says Keyser. He still doesn’t know what to do with his hands while he talks; it almost looks like an invisible puppeteer is moving his arms independently.
“The banking industry is pretty hypocritical if you think about it….We’ve got to bring this industry out of the shadows, so let’s make sure we address the banking issues.” Why is he blaming the banks for not working with the marijuana industry when the disconnect is with the federal government?
“And the last thing that I’ll say is that it is important that we make sure we have facts when we talk about what is going on with marijuana. I think something that is pretty shocking to me is that in Colorado, we don’t really know how marijuana is affecting public safety, because we don’t keep track of how many DUIs are a result of marijuana specifically.” Keyser really does talk like this. Maybe English is his second language.
Keyser closes by saying that he thinks Colorado needs to make changes to regulations dealing with Amendment 64. In other words, if elected to the U.S. Senate, Keyser will punt on this issue.
Take it away, Tim Neville…
Neville says that Amendment 64 passed in his home county of Jefferson with 55-56% of the vote. “I’m a firm believer in trust in two things: Trust in God, and I trust in the voters, even when I may not fully agree with them.” This is the same guy who continues to push for a “Personhood” measure in the state legislature, even after Colorado voters have rejected similar ballot measures by wide majorities.
“[Amendment 64] was a horribly written bill. It created a tremendous amount of problems. I personally inherited a bunch of those problems when last year I was chosen to be the head of the [Senate] Finance Committee.” Oh, you poor thing!
And then Neville says this: “Barack Obama and Michael Bennet have created an issue because they have not taken a look at the idea of, basically, changing this from a ‘Schedule 1’ substance. That could take care of quite a bit of the issues.” Right. It’s Obama’s fault.
“Colorado needs to control this experiment.” Neville and Keyser have both referred to legal marijuana as an experiment, as though we might someday decide to re-criminalize weed in Colorado. This isn’t a science project – it’s the law.
“Let’s trust our legislators and make sure they do what is necessary.” This is a great argument…for getting rid of TABOR.
“Then when I get to the United States Senate, I can guarantee you that I’ll make sure that we put pressure on the United States Senate so that Colorado can actually succeed and be a model…for the rest of the country.”
Robert Blaha says that the 10th Amendment is pretty clear about separation of powers, although he believes that the decision to legalize marijuana was “a little misguided.”
Blaha then says that he thinks all states should have the ability to make this decision on a statewide level. That’s not really in question, but, whatever.
“At the end of the day, it’s a 10th Amendment issue and a state’s rights issue.” Good answer – clear, concise, and well-reasoned.
Charlie Ehler, come on down! Ehler takes his slow, meandering walk across the stage and tries to speak, but his microphone is cutting out. After about 10 seconds of messing with his lapel mic, Ehler declares his microphone to be dead and accepts a handheld microphone from someone off-stage.
Ehler says that he agrees “with Bob,” and with everyone else on stage. Great, then sit down.
“The real issue is, why is the federal government messing with it? That’s the real issue. I don’t think anything about drugs is found in the constitution.” Um, okay. Should we name all of the things that are not specifically listed in the Constitution?
It looks like we’re going off the rails now…
“Hey, federal government, sod off,” says Ehler. We can’t help but give him a point for using ‘sod off’ in a sentence. “Go away. We don’t want you here. And if you try to enforce your laws, we’ll throw you in jail. How about that idea? I hope you do, too. Thank you.” Ehler returns his microphone and takes his seat to a smattering of politely-frightened applause.
Ryan Frazier has abandoned his lapel microphone as well, accepting a microphone from someone off-stage.
“I think I would be echoing pretty much everything you’ve heard today. The people have spoken.” Frazier says that he would fight to make sure that Colorado businesses are protected. He adds that the federal government needs to change its tax codes for legal marijuana.
Frazier then pivots to criminal justice reform, arguing that we have too many people going to jail for minor drug offenses. “I think we can do better.” Well played by Frazier in bringing up a different, albeit related, topic to make his answer sound fresh.
The moderator returns and announces that this will be the last question before closing statements. Hooray for the last question, but why are we doing closing statements? The candidates only received five questions – two of which were basically the same question — and the opening statements lasted 45 minutes.
Anyway, the final question: “How do you plan to win the General Election, assuming you win this Primary?”
Peggy Littleton: “I am so glad you asked that question, because I think I answered it earlier.”
“I’m the only candidate up here who has sparred with Michael Bennet before, when he was the Superintendent of Denver Public Schools.” Littleton doesn’t explain what she means by this. She then talks about how you can measure the morals of a country by how it educates its children, or something.
“I have sparred against him, and I will spar against him again.” Right. You already said that.
“…and I will spend time here. Michael Bennet never seems to be here.” That is literally the last thing Littleton says before she returns to her seat. In short, Littleton will win the General Election by sparring with Michael Bennet in Colorado. Got it?
Jon Keyser hops up. “Michael Bennet is a third-generation Washington politician.”
“I think elections are about contrast, and I provide a lot of contrast. Michael Bennet’s failed leadership, his dangerous votes, and the fact that he’s a third-generation Washington bureaucrat.”
Keyser quickly runs through his background, then says that he knows “first-hand” how dangerous Bennet can be because of his vote to support President Obama’s foreign policy deal with Iran.
“When I stand on the stage next to Michael Bennet, I’ll look him in the eye, and I’ll ask him, how is he going to justify the fact that he gave $100 billion to people who killed my friends.”
“Iran has killed about a thousand men and women in uniform, and many more Americans all around the world.” One thousand? Where does that number come from?
“We need to hold him accountable for that, and I certainly will be able to do that,” says Keyser as he sits back down. I will win the General Election because I will win the General Election!
Tim Neville says he entered politics in 2011 after working in small business and big business.
Neville says that he will win the General Election because he defeated Jeanne Nicholson for a state senate seat by more than 3,000 votes. “That’s how you get it done,” says Neville. That’s how you get what done?
Robert Blaha stands up and says this: “You have probably noticed by now that I’m the one person up here that hasn’t mentioned Michael Bennet. I don’t have to mention Michael Bennet. Everybody is going to mention Michael Bennet a lot between the Primary and the General.”
Blaha says he has “spent the majority of my life working for a number of different organizations.” Blaha talks about raising 7 children who attended public schools in Colorado, and then mentions something about starting his own charter school.
“If we stay on message, if we’re calm, if we’re adults, and if we have a message that resonates with people, we will win.” Apparently Blaha does not yet have a message that resonates with people, but he will!
Charlie Ehler is still looking for a microphone.
“You know, there’s only one way to win a race. It starts with name recognition, but that’s only a little bit of it.”
“Once you get out there, you have to demonstrate leadership. You have to lead. I do that every time we go out.” Go out…where? What?
Ryan Frazier takes his turn. “I just believe we can do so much better in America.” Frazier says he is going to unify all factions of the Republican Party, as well as Unaffiliated voters and “soft Democrats.” Is that all?
Darryl Glenn: “We need to first believe that we can win this election.” How inspiring.
Glenn says that this is a three-front battle between the political front, the education front, and the entertainment front. He doesn’t elaborate, and we’re fine with that.
“I look forward to him and the Democrats trying to label us as racist, sexist homophobes. They’re going to have a hard time with that.” If you say so.
The moderator gets back on stage and thanks the audience for submitting the last two questions. After some discussion with a few people in the audience, it is determined that they only have four minutes left for closing statements. If only that were true.
Keyser starts off by thanking the DU Republicans.
“We are going to take the hard work that we put in all summer long, and all through, uh, all through the fall, and we’re going to put together an army that is going to march all the way from Colorado to Washington D.C., because Michael Bennet – his days are numbered. He’s going home.”
Tim Neville says he is the person who runs right-wing bills and religious bills. “I take on those kind of fights.”
“Liberty wins. But you’ve got to speak to liberty, and you can’t be afraid of it.” Ugh.
Blaha thanks everyone for coming out to the debate, then he repeats the quote about the definition of insanity that hangs on a poster in every office building in America.
“We find ourselves at the fulcrum of insanity.”
Blaha says that he has written a lot of Op-Eds in recent years.
Charlie Ehler says that the federal government has turned into a dragon and threatens all of us.
“We have to get our prosperity back. I’m going to beat on that one until everybody gets it, and especially the ones that don’t.”
Ehler then says that things have gotten so bad that he doesn’t even know if it is possible to change the direction of our country.
“I will win…I will take care of it…or, they’re all going to come home in a casket.” WTF???
Vote for Charlie or I’ll fucking kill you!
Frazier takes the stage and talks again about the greatness of America for 30 seconds.
Darryl Glenn says he is proud of everyone in the room and considers everyone to be family members. Then his cell phone rings.
Glenn says the race is going to be tough, then he gets all mixed up in his metaphors. “If you can’t run, crawl. If you can’t crawl, walk. But if you can’t get to the top of that mountain, I’ll put you on my back and take you there.”
Peggy Littleton closes things out with a bat-shit crazy statement. “There is a reason why Arnold Schwarzenegger won as Governor of Colorado. Name ID matters. I don’t know of any Coloradoan, either Democrat, Independent, or Republican, who hasn’t heard the Littleton name.”
The moderator takes the stage, asks the audience for another round of applause for the candidates, and then the video feed cuts off. Hallelujah!