COLORADO SPRINGS — Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bill Ritter and Republican Bob Beauprez took their campaigns to Colorado Springs for a debate on Saturday to address issues facing southern Colorado, including water and transportation.
Both candidates also talked about health care, a major issue to rural counties in the debate that was one in a series that included candidates from state legislative races.
Beauprez said health care needs to be affordable and Coloradans should be able to pay for it with their own health care savings accounts.
Ritter said that does nothing to help the 770,000 Coloradans who are already without health care and no way to pay for it.
“What you heard from the congressman was not a plan,” said Ritter, who said any health care plan has to provide access to those who need it. He said the state could reduce the cost of health care by looking at managed home care, fixing the state’s welfare computers and setting up a bulk purchase plan for prescriptions.
Ritter said water is a major issue for the region, and the state needs to do all it can to protect water quality. He said the state needs to do what it can to promote conservation and reuse.
Beauprez said he has worked on water projects in Congress to help the state, including a water transmission project for the Arkansas Valley.
Both men said toll roads have to be part of the state’s solution to transportation problems, but not the only solution. Ritter said the state needs to ensure the impact is reduced on local residents and the projects should pay for themselves.
Beauprez noted heavy opposition to toll roads, especially on the Eastern Plans where a toll road has been proposed from Fort Collins to Pueblo, but they must be included.
“I’d resist very strongly taking them off the table,” Beauprez said.
The two men continued their dispute over illegal immigrants and allegations from Beauprez that Ritter, when he was Denver district attorney, plea-bargained with legal and illegal immigrants so they could avoid being deported.
“I don’t think we have a greater responsibility than to ensure the public safety,” Beauprez said. I give Bill credit for sending some people to prison, but I think a legitimate question is how many more should have been that weren’t,” Beauprez said.
Ritter said prison overcrowding is taking money away from education. He said Beauprez has focused on 152 cases involving illegals in Denver instead of the 12,000 people he put in jail during his career.
“You can’t take 152 cases and isolate them and say that’s the problem,” Ritter said.
“This is a political wedge issue. This problem has increased in the past couple years, but it was a problem two years ago, it was a problem four years ago. This is a political wedge issue in a political year,” Ritter said.
Byron Geer, a health care worker and unaffiliated voter, said health care is a critical issue and praised Ritter’s plan for managed home care.
“We need to reduce hospital costs. It’s important that we have a governor who understands that,” he said.
Gwyn Spielman, a Democrat from Rio Grande County, said the region is highly conservative and Beauprez has the edge with his conservative views.