GRAND JUNCTION – Charges of tax-dodging and big-government liberalism flew at a heated debate in the 3rd Congressional District campaign Saturday night.
Pueblo Democrat Sal Pace accused Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, of running an ethically sloppy House office and campaign.
“You’ll never get a headline like this when I’m your congressman: ‘Tipton violates House rules,’” Pace said, displaying a newspaper story about Tipton holding a taxpayer-funded town hall in Eagle County, which was not yet part of his redrawn 3rd Congressional District.
Tipton, in turn, painted Pace as a tax-happy liberal.
“This is a man who voted to actually increase taxes on small restaurants, down to the straws, the napkins and little packets of sugar,” Tipton said.
Pace vo-ted for several bills in 2010 that suspended tax breaks, including an exemption for napkins, paper bags and plasticware at restaurants.
The biannual debate day by Club 20, the Western Slope lobbying organization, is usually a raucous affair that draws several hundred people. But with no Senate or gubernatorial race on the ballot this year, the 650 seats at Colorado Mesa University were two-thirds empty.
The small crowd did not stop the candidates from ripping each other during a cross-examination period near the end of the debate.
Pace accused Tipton of avoiding taxes, workers’ compensation and Social Security payments on his campaign staff by classifying them as contractors rather than employees.
Tipton said when a person works for you for a few months, “that is contract work.”
Pace began the debate by sticking to his campaign theme that Washington needs more bipartisanship.
“Gridlock means we don’t have a permanent transportation bill. Gridlock means we don’t have a farm bill,” Pace said.
But he didn’t shy from going after Tipton later in the debate, which prompted an indignant response from the congressman.
“Mr. Pace likes to talk like he wants to be bipartisan. ... You’re all about partisanship,” Tipton said.
The debate was the first to include Tisha Casida, an unaffiliated candidate and supporter of Ron Paul, the Republican former presidential candidate.
Casida answered most questions by asserting the federal government should have very little authority over most aspects of American life.
“I don’t think that there are any beneficial federal programs when it comes to helping the economy,” Casida said.
Most people are tired of the major parties, she said.
“I want to be accountable to you, not to a political party,” Casida said. “Party loyalty and party allegiance has done absolutely nothing to foster cooperation.”
When the time came for candidates to cross-examine each other, Tipton and Pace talked past Casida, who stood between them, and directed zingers at each other.
Both of them tied each other to controversial people and ideas in their own party.
Pace criticized Tipton for voting for the budget written by vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan, saying it would usher in cuts to Medicare benefits and the Forest Service’s firefighting capacity.
Tipton pressed Pace on who he supported for president.
Pace said he’s voting for “the Democrat,” but he never said President Barack Obama’s name.