Bickering candidates for Congress are no-shows

Dennis Webb

Plans to hold a political forum on outdoors issues fell victim to politicking last night.Organizers canceled the Great Outdoors Education Forum at Colorado Mountain College’s Spring Valley campus after congressional candidate Greg Walcher’s campaign manager withdrew from the event.Monica Piergrossi works for the Colorado Environmental Coalition and helped organize the event. She said it appears that the campaign staff of Walcher’s 3rd Congressional District opponent, John Salazar, waited until the last minute to decide who to send to the forum. When Walcher found out it wouldn’t be a member of Salazar’s campaign staff, his side pulled out.Piergrossi and others involved with the event expressed frustration over its cancellation, saying it would have helped voters learn where Walcher and Salazar stand.”I think people were looking forward to hearing what their views on recreation and outdoor issues are because that’s such a main driver of the Western Slope economy now – tourism and recreation,” she said.Sponsoring the forum were CMC, the Colorado Wildlife Federation, the Colorado River Outfitters Association, the Colorado Mountain Club, the Wilderness Workshop, the Colorado Environmental Coalition and Roaring Fork Audubon. Organizers were planning for the candidates to address issues such as public land management, hunting habitat, water and fisheries.Walcher, a Republican from Palisade, is running against Salazar, a Democrat from Manassa, to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis, R-Grand Junction.Forum organizers tried to get the candidates themselves to attend, but both had other commitments.Walcher has accused Salazar of dodging debates with him during the campaign. Jeff Bridges, Salazar’s spokesman, finds irony in Walcher’s failure to have anyone representing him Wednesday at the forum.”Walcher’s skipped a debate. This is great – after all the stuff about our side skipping debates and he doesn’t show up,” Bridges said.He speculated that Walcher is afraid of having to talk about his record on water. Salazar has criticized Walcher for endorsing the Referendum A water initiative a year ago, while head of the state department of natural resources. Western Slope interests largely opposed that measure, which voters defeated, out of fear that it would help fund diversions of water to the Front Range.John Marshall, Walcher’s campaign manager, said the idea that Walcher would duck Salazar in a discussion about water is “patently absurd.””Greg is happy, happy, happy to put his record on conservation, natural resources and water up against anyone’s, especially John Salazar’s,” Marshall said.Marshall also blamed Salazar’s campaign for the events leading to the forum cancellation.He said he learned only Wednesday that Salazar planned to send a citizen representative rather than someone from his campaign staff.”I have no problem with that, but we need to make it apples with apples,” he said.Salazar chose to send Matt Sura, who works for the Western Colorado Congress citizens group and serves on a water advisory committee for Salazar.Marshall had been scheduled to represent Walcher. He said it wouldn’t have been appropriate for him to debate Sura, and Walcher’s staff was unable to find a citizen representative of its own on such short notice.