Thu September 13, 2012

How the West Was Won: Region's Role in Election Debated

  • Kirk Siegler reporting for All Things Considered

The University of Denver will host the first presidential debate on October third where the focus will be on domestic issues.

The choice of Colorado signals the state’s importance in deciding the upcoming election.

So just what are the issues that will swing Colorado in one direction or another?

That question was put to a panel of academics and former politicians at a DU/Denver Post debate this morning…and even though many westerners and no doubt some of the panelists would like to see issues like water or mining or farming play a bigger role in the election, you guessed it, the consensus, was on the economy.

But former Colorado Governor Dick Lamm, a Democrat, had his doubts that either party can break the gridlock and find solutions.

"We have Republican taxing policies and Democratic spending policies and nobody wants to change either of them," Lamm said. "All we are is heading toward bankruptcy."

Lamm, now director of DU’s Institute for Public Policy Studies, is known for his clever zingers, and for bucking much of his own party on illegal immigration.

"We should cut down legal immigration in benefit of our own unemployed and our own citizens," he said. 

By administrative order, President Obama recently eased deportation restrictions on children of illegal immigrants, a move that could help his re-election among Hispanic voters in states like Colorado. About one in five Coloradans is Latino, and both sides are targeting them with their message on economic issues.

"We have to, as a party, appeal to Hispanic voters," said Josh Penry, a former state senate Republican leader.

Penry said that is critical to the long term success - and survival - of his party. 

Perhaps more so than immigration, Penry said oil and gas development will play in his party’s favor in Colorado come November.  He hails from the western slope, where unemployment has skyrocketed as the recent natural gas drilling boom has slowed.

"Energy policy has realigned the bookends in this state in favor of the Republican Party," Penry said. 

But in northeastern Colorado, where it’s predominately oil and not natural gas, development is surging, mostly on private land. 

Susan Daggett, former Earth Justice attorney and wife of Colorado Senator Michael Bennet, said domestic production – overall - has been up under the Obama Administration.

"What’s stood in the way of oil and gas development in recent years is the fact that we have a glut of natural gas," Daggett said.  

Thursday's debate is one of several open to the public leading up to the October 3rd presidential debate at DU.  Next week, former Obama Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel’s brother, Zeke Emmanuel, will appear in a debate over the health care law.