Thursday night's Senate District 8 candidates' forum began and ended with perceived insults. In between, Democratic challenger Jay Fetcher of Clark and State Sen. Jack Taylor, R-Steamboat Springs, exchanged thoughtful positions on issues such as the current state budget crisis to the future of mass transit on Colorado's Western Slope.
The forum drew about 150 people to Centennial Hall and was hosted by the Community Alliance of the Yampa Valley and the Western Slope Congress. The candidates fielded four planned questions and then answered impromptu written questions from the audience.
Fetcher used a portion of his introductory remarks to say he took offense at Taylor's assertions that Fetcher had let the Western Slope down while serving on the legislative reapportionment committee that adjusted the boundaries of state Senate and House districts after the 2000 census, which he said Taylor made during campaign appearances
"I've been accused of selling out Grand County and the Colorado River headwaters to the Front Range," Fetcher told listeners. "I'm insulted by that."
Fetcher said the original reapportionment map proposed by the committee for Senate District 8 (comprising six counties, Routt and Moffat among them) also included neighboring Grand County. However, the Colorado Supreme Court sent it back to the committee and asked for a different equitable plan that didn't split counties.
"(The court) required whole counties, and Grand had the right number of people in it," Fetcher said. "I did not sell out Western Slope water. The decision that I voted on was upheld by the Colorado Supreme Court. The redistricting plan voted for by my opponent was not upheld by the Colorado Supreme Court nor was it approved by the U.S. Supreme Court."
Taylor ignored Fetcher's remarks until his own closing remarks when he charged that Fetcher had passed on the opportunity to consider several other reapportionment maps.
Waving a fistful of colored maps in the air, he said, "There were clearly other maps that could have been voted on that would've kept the headwaters of the Colorado on the Western Slope," Taylor said.
His retort was brought on in part by other remarks Fetcher made in his closing statement.
"This race is about someone who has spent his life in Northwest Colorado and someone who has spent his public life in Denver," Fetcher said.
He pointed to the work he has done on behalf of ranchland preservation and the Steamboat Springs School Board.
Taylor took offense at Fetcher's remark.
"To be told that I spent my public life in Denver is an insult," Taylor said. "I've already traveled 22,000 miles in this district. I'll match anyone's record. When people see my old yellow truck, they know I'm there."
The forum was about much more than campaign barbs.
Asked how they would resolve the state budget crisis brought on by conflicts inherent in three constitutional amendments -- the Taxpayers Bill of Rights and Amendment 23, which fully funds education based on the inflation rate plus 1 percent, and the Gallagher Amendment -- the two candidates said they would seek some form of timeout on TABOR and Amendment 23 until the state economy recovers.
"TABOR, Amendment 23 and Gallagher have set up what some people call a perfect storm," Taylor said.
The amendments cannot be changed without a vote of the people, Taylor said, and he doubts that Gallagher, which shifts a greater portion of the property tax burden onto commercial property, will be changed by the voters.
To help with necessary budget cuts on the order of $250 million, Taylor said he would ask the voters to defer the constraints of TABOR and Amendment 23 for limited periods of time.
"I would propose to relax 23 for a very specific, very clear period of time," Taylor said. He also suggested a timeout on the provisions in TABOR that ratchet down the state budget year after year, until the economy improves.
"I would propose we put a fail-safe trigger point in TABOR where it kicks back in when the economy comes back. I would put both on the ballot in clear terms."
Fetcher said the portions of TABOR that limit the growth of government and require a vote of the public on tax increases are beneficial.
"What concerns me is the revenue portion that makes it difficult for us to recover from recession." Coloradans will receive a $300 million income tax return next year, Fetcher said, and he would prefer that his portion go to restoring cuts in education, health care programs for seniors and basic services such as keeping more driver's license offices open.
Fetcher said he wants to see Amendment 23 remain in place, but he would consider deferring the 1 percent funding above inflation in times of lower revenue for Colorado. Finally, Fetcher said he would like to see the voters consider putting a reasonable limit on the decreasing share of the property tax burden residential owners enjoy under Gallagher.
Asked by a member of the audience if they would favor new mass transit options on Colorado's Interstate 70 corridor, the candidates said "yes." And both said it probably would take large amounts of money devoted to new conventional highway lanes before the state realizes that goal.