Last night, we traveled back up to Colorado Springs once again – this time to attend the only Fifth Congressional District debate of the election season where Congressman Doug Lamborn would be present. Mind you, there have been several other opportunities to debate over the past few months; however, Doug Lamborn has always been too busy until now to show up and talk about the issues with the Democratic nominee, Hal Bidlack.
Indeed, Lamborn indicated to Bidlack earlier this month that he would only be willing to do one debate – on the eve of the election, after over half of the voters had already voted. Oh, yes, and that debate had to be sponsored by the “Republican Club of Falcon.” For the uninitiated, the Republican Club of Falcon is informally known as the “Lamborn wing” of the El Paso County Republicans.
But Hal Bidlack is a good sport, and he’s serious when he says he’ll debate Doug Lamborn any place, any time. So he jumped on the offer.
Last night, though, the Republican Club of Falcon looked a lot more like a Democratic hangout.
At Sand Creek High School – in the northeast portion of Colorado Springs (the “conservative” part of El Paso County) – a casual observer might have mistaken Hal Bidlack as being the “home team” at this Republican Club of Falcon debate. By the end of the debate, it was clear that at least 75% – a count I heard from several people – of the crowd was cheering for Hal Bidlack, not Doug Lamborn.
Congressman Lamborn looked a lot like Sarah Palin up there – almost entirely reading from prepared notes, and nervously hoping just to not screw up. His debate performances in 2006 became legendary, even to the point where a widely-circulated video of him telling an audience member to “Shut Up” was featured in Jay Fawcett’s television ads. Indeed, discussing the issues has never been a strong suit for Lamborn, and it wasn’t last night either.
The first five questions were scripted. All three candidates (Constitution Party candidate Brian Scott was also present) were given the questions beforehand by the Republican Club of Falcon. What was interesting was that apparently Marilyn Musgrave would also fit right into the GOP Club of Falcon. Of the five issues that were thought to be the most important – so important that they required pre-written questions – two of those five most important issues were abortion and gay marriage. Left off the list of the five most important issues to Republicans in Falcon? Education. Health care. Social Security. The Environment.
Even though I had a lovely Lamborn supporter over my left shoulder who insisted on muttering comments to every single thing Hal Bidlack said, he shined. And Lamborn? Eh, not so much. For instance, he may be the only person left in America who thinks we can drill ourselves out of the energy crisis: “I strongly disagree with those who say we cannot drill our way out of this problem.” Really? Really?
Lamborn’s only saving grace is that he wasn’t necessarily the strangest duck on the stage. No, Constitution Party candidate Brian Scott strove for that honor. He indicated that he would set up a Congressional office in Baghdad to work on ending the war in Iraq single-handedly. And he was clear: “I won’t vote on legislation; I won’t sponsor legislation; I won’t caucus. I’ll be camped out in Baghdad. I recognize this is an abdication of many of the core responsibilities as a congressman.” And before you get too comfortable with the fact that he’s got an anti-Iraq War position, remember that he also made it clear that he supports outlawing abortion, even in cases of rape and incest.
But Scott was a sideshow to the main event. Lamborn versus Bidlack. And Lamborn continued to show the pettiness that makes him one of the least-liked Republican leaders in Colorado. Lt. Col. Hal Bidlack has proven himself as a servant of his country. He has served as an ICBM launch officer; he’s worked in the State Department; he was literally in the Pentagon on 9/11 when the airplane crashed into the building. And he’s taught Constitutional law at the Air Force Academy. How did Congressman Lamborn address Lt. Col. Bidlack? Every time his name was mentioned, Lamborn – with a sneer – referred to him as “Professor” Bidlack. It amazes me that someone with such disrespect for the military service of an opponent represents such a heavily military-based district.
The zingers of the evening, though, were exclusively Bidlack’s. He received huge cheers when, in response to a question about gay marriage, he said, “I’m troubled by this notion of the right wing Republicans that we want as limited a government as possible, except for reading your e-mail and except for in your bedroom!” After Congressman Lamborn spent a great deal of time talking about his work to bring a veterans cemetary to the region, Bidlack calmly praised that work, but then said that he felt we needed to focus more on supporting veterans while they are alive, too. Another resounding round of applause.
One of the strangest moments was when an audience question about torture and Guantanamo Bay arose. In a scene eerily familiar of the Bob Schaffer playbook, Lamborn stated, “I did tour Guantanamo Bay and I did not see any evidence of torture.” He then went further and argued that terrorists “do not follow the Geneva Convention. Should we be required to grant them the protections of the same Geneva Convention?” When the crowd erupted with an impromptu simultaneous shout of “Yes,” Congressman Lamborn had that familiar deer-in-the-headlights look about him. Apparently, he doesn’t quite understand the Geneva Convention’s requirements of participants in the treaty.
In the end, though, the audience questions, submitted on index cards before the beginning of the debate were pretty good questions, dealing with issues such as Pinon Canyon, the Patriot Act, energy sources and economics. On Pinon Canyon, Congressman Lamborn insisted that the purchase could be made without any use of eminent domain – stating that all of the sellers in the controversial expansion were “willing sellers.” I’ve spent more than a little bit of time down in southeast Colorado, and his description simply does not match up with what I know to be true. He seems to be living in quite a fantasy land when it comes to Pinon Canyon.
In the end, it was another wonderful example of why Hal Bidlack would be leading this race by 20-30 points in any other congressional district. And it’s another example of why this race, like the one with Hank Eng in the 6th CD, could be out-of-nowhere surprises on Tuesday night.
Of course, don’t take my word for it; feel free to watch the debate online at: