Opinion

BIDLACK | Doug Lamborn proves elusive on the debate circuit, yet again

Author: Hal Bidlack - June 1, 2018 - Updated: June 1, 2018

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Hal Bidlack
Hal Bidlack

I was carrying a large brown envelop when I made my first visit to the office of Congressman Doug Lamborn. It was in the summer of 2008, and I was the Democratic candidate running against the Congressman. I had received the mysterious envelop in the mail the day before. It had no return address. Upon opening it, I found a CD and an unsigned note that said the disk contained the “private strategy of Doug Lamborn’s campaign.” That was unexpected. But regardless, I knew there was only one honorable thing to do, which is how I ended up in Mr. Lamborn’s office the following day.

I asked to talk to a staffer and explained the situation to him. I said that I had not, of course, looked at the CD’s contents, nor had I opened any files. I had no idea what it contained, but if it was actually stolen from the Lamborn campaign, I was returning their intellectual property unread. I confess, the staffer was not quite sure what to make of that, but he took the CD, and I departed, heading back to my own campaign headquarters.

Over the years, I’ve asked people what they think I should have done with the CD. Opinions varied, with some people saying I did the right thing, while others think I was foolish and should have at least taken a peek. But of course, if you squawk about honor, as I do, you need to at least try to live an honorable life. I have no regrets about not opening the CD, even if it might have given me some kind of an edge in the campaign, especially in the single debate he and I would have in the fall.

I thought of that CD when I read the Colorado Politics story on the upcoming GOP congressional primary debates. In that article, the reporter noted Mr. Lamborn was declining to participate in the debate to be hosted by the Teller County Republicans. The same thing happened in 2008. I went to a number of debates with the two gentlemen running against Mr. Lamborn back then, Jeff Crank and Bentley Rayburn. It was always just the three of us, as Mr. Lamborn declined, then as now, to acknowledge that he was being challenged from within his own party. I liked both gents then and still do today, though we disagree on most everything.

When I formally became the Democratic nominee, Mr. Lamborn called me, very graciously to congratulate me, and to say he looked forward to the campaign. I thanked him and suggested a series of debates in each of the 5 counties that encompass the 5thCongressional District, with an extra one in El Paso County. He was agreeable, and said we’d work out the details down the road.

When the 2008 challengers split the opposition vote – likely to happen again this time, I suspect – and Mr. Lamborn was officially the GOP nominee, I contacted his office to set up the debates he had agreed to.  Weeks went by, and finally Mr. Lamborn agreed to only a single debate, to be held on Oct. 30, by which time a significant number of vote-by-mail voters would have already cast their ballots, just in case he messed up, I think.

I proposed, as the ground rules, that anyone could ask any question on any subject. His team counteroffered five questions, written in advance, with each candidate reading a pre-written response. As the challenger, I didn’t have too much bargaining power, but we ultimately agreed to have a couple of written questions, followed by an open-question period.

Local TV stations covered the debate and I enjoyed both the event and, frankly, the significance to the political process. I did well, I’m told, and Mr. Lamborn did not. A few days later, he beat me handily by many, many votes.

And so, I am not surprised by his refusal to take part in the upcoming GOP debate. Frankly, I’d be astonished if he did. But hopefully, for the general election in the fall, he’ll consider debating the Democratic candidate, Stephany Rose Spaulding, both earlier and more often than he debated me. The voters of Colorado’s 5th deserve the opportunity to see the candidates up close and personal. I hope the nice folks in Chaffee, Fremont, Teller, Park and El Paso counties raise a ruckus and demand it. It’s good for democracy, though this time, hopefully there won’t be any brown envelopes involved.

Hal Bidlack

Hal Bidlack

Hal Bidlack is a retired professor of political science and a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who taught more than 17 years at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.