Eight of the GOP candidates for U.S. Senate made their pitch to conservative El Paso County business owners, trying to establish themselves as the most anti-regulation, pro-business, and fiscally conservative candidate in the race.
"We can't have a federal government that thinks it's a Cadillac when we're paying for a Yugo," said Charlie Ehler, a true political newcomer from Fountain who has a colorful, if not unusually brief, way of describing his positions on issues.
The forum at the El Paso County Republican Party headquarters came one night before Coloradans caucus and begin the process of selecting candidates for the primary ballot in June.
Four of the candidates - Ehler, Peg Littleton, Darryl Glenn and Tim Neville - are committed to getting their names on the primary ballot through the state assembly a process that begins at the caucus Tuesday night. Three - Jon Keyser, Robert Blaha and Jack Graham - are collecting 10,500 signatures from registered voters and bypassing the state assembly, and one candidate, Ryan Frazier, is gathering signatures but considering the assembly route.
Realistically there could be as many as four or five candidates on the ballot in June and there are 13 in the race officially now.
Everyone hopes to pull a Colorado political repeat from 2014 and unseat Colorado's Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet.
Candidates were asked first what their plan was to address the $19 trillion national deficit.
El Paso County Commissioner Glenn, a "proud Christian Constitutional conservative," said he went to law school to study the Constitution.
"I say we apply those principles to all of those particular programs out there. Do they have a Constitutional basis and if they don't then why are we doing it," Glenn said. "Do we really need to fund Panda Cam?"
Robert Blaha, the Colorado Springs businessman who owns a bank and has made a career of "attacking big bureaucracies," suggested we utilize zero-based budgeting.
"We need to get rid of the Department of Education, downsize the IRS, chase as much money out of the federal government and get it back to the local level," Blaha said.
Ryan Frazier is an attorney and former Aurora city councilmember who runs a consulting firm and a northeast Denver charter school. He said that in Aurora every year they balanced a $750 million budget "not because it was the right thing to do but because we had to."
Frazier said the federal government needs the same budgeting restrictions.
Jack Graham has never run for political office before, but he's a former Colorado State University football player who was drafted into the NFL and "bounced around, unsuccessfully." He landed back in Colorado where he worked in the re-insurance industry and founded his own small insurance company. Most recently he was the athletic director at CSU.
"We've balanced our budget seven times in the last 12 years," Graham said. "We are in serious trouble here. We have to get this under control. We have to say we're not raising the national debt ceiling. We have culpability as well. We sign off on these budgets."
Graham said the issue is important enough that he's willing to risk a "state of paralysis" to fix it.
Littleton, an El Paso County Commissioner who has served on the state Board of Education from the 5th Congressional District, said we need lower taxes, lower federal spending and lower deficits. She's a real estate agent who was a president of a local charter school and raised three children.
"We know that what we're doing is unsustainable," she said. "It is irresponsible for us to pass things like omnibus bills . As a county commissioner we balanced our budget."
Keyser, a graduate of the Air Force Academy and a combat veteran who became a corporate attorney and resigned from the state House to run for U.S. Senate, said they need to combat "fraud, waste and abuse" in every federal department.
"Right now our national debt is one of the biggest national security threats that we face," Keyser said. "We have to be able to talk about this in a way that everyone understands. What a lot of young people are seeing right now is reckless spending."
Keyser said he also supports a balanced budget amendment that would require Congress to come out even every year.
Neville, who won in Littleton in 2014 to reclaim the state Senate for Republicans, said that he would approach the issue like a small business owner (he's in insurance).
"You start with what doesn't add value," Neville said. "As a businessman that's what we always did."
Then he said the U.S. Senate needs to "reclaim the power of the purse" and "defund the regulators."
"We need to get the foot off the brake that doesn't allow the economy to grow as it needs to," he said.
Ehler was the last candidate to answer.
"It takes courage to say no," the retired computer programmer said. "We have been partying on our children's money."
Contact Megan Schrader at 286-0644