Education and teacher pay, the intense cost of housing, and women’s reproductive rights were among the topics discussed by Democratic candidates and incumbents Saturday at the Powerhouse Science Center.
The Powerhouse was packed with over 80 people in attendance to hear from U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold, state House Rep. Barbara McLachlan, Colorado Lt. Gov. Dianne Primavera, Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser, state board of education candidate Kathy Plomer and Colorado Treasurer Dave Young.
Getting out the vote was a key message shared among candidates.
Bennet listed bipartisan successes in the U.S. Senate such as the infrastructure bill, a gun safety bill requiring stricter background checks for persons under the age of 21 – overcoming the National Rifle Association for the first time in decades, the senator said – a bill providing aid to veterans exposed to noxious burn pits, and the Democratic Party-driven Inflation Reduction Act.
“The Inflation Reduction Act caps drug prices for seniors at $2,000,” Bennet said. “It requires Medicare, for the first time in American history, to negotiate drug prices.
He said the pharmaceutical lobby in Washington, D.C., was finally beaten back by the Inflation Reduction Act, which includes insulin caps at $35 per month for seniors.
Bennet also touted his work in bringing Camp Amache, the site of the internment camp in Southeast Colorado that imprisoned 10,000 Japanese Americans behind barbed wire during World War II, into the National Park Service. And he celebrated the Biden Administration’s first national monument, Camp Hale in Eagle County. Biden visited Camp Hale on Oct. 12 for the occasion, Bennet said.
He said the nation owes its ski and outdoor recreation industry to the soldiers of Camp Hale, who trained there for the bitter European winters before taking on the Nazis in northern Italy, breaking through the Nazi’s lines and marking “the beginning of the end of World War II” before returning stateside to design the ski industry that thrives today.
“I deeply believe that the history of this country has been a struggle always between the highest ideals that have ever been committed on page by humans, the words of the Constitution of the United States, and the worst impulses in history,” he said. “In our case, human slavery. And you can draw a straight line from those days to today with the mass incarceration that we have, to the incredibly unjust education system that we have.”
He said the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling to allow states to limit abortion after 50 years of access to the procedure is proof that the country’s struggle between its best ideals and worst impulses lives on.
Weiser, the attorney general, spoke of his success versus Big Pharma. He said he recovered $430 million from major pharmaceutical companies following a string of settlements to be put to use in Colorado.
“As for companies ripping off Colorado, I took them on and brought back $230 million to consumers,” he said.
He said citizens working together is the key to healing the country.
“Whether it’s (to) address the opioid epidemic, managing our water, bringing broadband to Southwest Colorado, what ails our nation is too much demonization,” he said.
Griswold, the secretary of state, said the “Big Lie” – Democrats’ moniker for the groundless and debunked conspiracy theory peddled by former President Donald Trump that the 2020 presidential election was “stolen” from him – is a driving force for political extremism and election denial.
“I’m sure you guys know about Tina Peters, that rogue county clerk up in Grand Junction that compromised her own voting equipment,” she said. “That was because of the ‘Big Lie.’ The ‘Big Lie’ is why a Chaffee County clerk is working behind bulletproof glass. The ‘Big Lie’ is why election extremists are talking about firebombing drop boxes in the state of Colorado.”
She said election conspiracies have taken a “corrosive effect on our democracy.”
“If you can even imagine, we have over 60% of Americans with an election denier that would be on their ballot,” she said. “We can go down the path of extremism, we can go down the path of chaos, we can go down the path of stripping people of their fundamental rights. Or we can unite Republicans and Democrats as Americans against extremism.”
Griswold said 34 voter suppression bills were passed in 19 states in “one of the worst attacks on voting rights in recent times.”
But she celebrated her office’s work in increasing the number of drop boxes in Colorado by 65%, guaranteeing access to ballot boxes on all tribal lands and public universities and drawing an increase in tribal voting by 20%. And she said by passing automatic voter registration, 350,000 more Republican, Democratic and unaffiliated eligible voters were registered to vote.
After the candidates said their pieces, they surprised Rep. McLachlan, whose birthday was on Saturday, with a candlelit cake and the Powerhouse filled with happy birthday wishes as attendees sang “Happy Birthday.”