One of the frustrations of the contest to represent Colorado’s vast 3rd Congressional District is that both candidates tend to bash each other’s positions rather than emphasize their own.

Each is painting the other as an extremist, leaving voters to cast votes based on fear rather than a reasonable expectation of how the candidates are likely to comport themselves in Washington, D.C.

We thought that speaking to the candidates would help us better understand their policy differences. We were wrong — primarily because Lauren Boebert stonewalled the Sentinel’s editorial board and eluded virtually all of our questions, thereby denying us the opportunity to make a fair comparison.

Diane Mitsch Bush was much more forthcoming, answering each and every question we posed. We not only got a sense of her legislative priorities — lowering health-care costs, creating more jobs that pay a living wage and protecting public lands — but also her approach to achieving policy wins. It’s the same formula that served her as a Routt County commissioner and a Democratic state lawmaker: stakeholder engagement and a bipartisan approach to problem-solving. She even knows which committee assignments she wants: Agriculture, Transportation and Natural Resources.

Boebert, the GOP candidate, failed the first test of public service, which is to be accountable to the people. If she wants to represent us in Washington, D.C., she has to be willing to answer questions. She wants to tell us who she is and what she stands for by serving up platitudes instead of delving into policy specifics. Perhaps this is intentional because she’s never held elected office and she just doesn’t know her stuff.

Indeed, when the editorial board asked for some clarity on her contention that “free and open markets” would help solve the health-care dilemma, she turned to a campaign staffer for an answer. In another instance she said, “No one has fought more for water than I have,” because she helped gather signatures to get Proposition 113 on the ballot. That proposition concerns Colorado’s participation in an interstate compact to ensure that the presidential election is decided by the outcome of the national popular vote. It’s politically naive to conflate a voting compact with interstate water compacts, which are authorized by Congress.

Boebert has successfully established a political persona as an unflagging supporter of President Donald Trump. She has a “Contract with Colorado” full of familiar Trump-era themes: build the wall, strong national defense, better enforcement of immigration, and never voting “to give away our personal freedom to socialists, globalists or other left-wing lunatics.” She also wants to give more authority to the president “to take on the Deep State by firing those in the executive branch not implementing his policies.”

That paints a pretty clear picture in itself, but our hope was to suss out how this contract is relevant to health care or climate change or foreign policy specifics. We never got there. Boebert spent the majority of her time with the editorial board refusing to answer questions until she got through a point-by-point refutation of an oped Mitsch Bush wrote about her views on health-care policy. She refused to say whether she would vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act. She’s against a single-payer system, but we could never pin her down on specifics of what an ACA alternative would look like if she were to play a role in crafting one.

The most definitive thing Boebert said was that she would never vote “for legislation that removed citizens off of their health care plans.”

But neither would Mitsch Bush.

“I do not support Medicare for All and the reason I don’t is because we’re in an emergency,” Mitsch Bush said. “This is triage. We have to shore up the ACA. We have to deal with drug costs and we have to make sure we can recover from COVID. I don’t approve of getting rid of people’s choices. I believe there are other ways to deal with a lack of competition, but taking away private insurance hurts people.”

We would have liked to explore how Boebert’s contract pledge of fiscal responsibility (she supports a Balanced Budget Amendment) squares with a need for further investment in an economic recovery. But again, there was no time for an adequate number of questions after her filibuster.

Mitsch Bush wants any future stimulus to include investment in infrastructure: broadband, transportation, the electric grid and water. Infrastructure projects get people back to work immediately and set the table for future prosperity, she said.

Workers displaced from the Western Slope’s fossil-fuel industries by declining markets have the skills needed to transition to 21st century manufacturing, she said. Her goal of creating more living-wage jobs in the district revolves around incentives for more small manufacturing operations. The pandemic exposed supply shortages, so why not position the district for medical manufacturing?

Boebert missed out on an opportunity to give us a crisp vision of what she’ll fight to get passed. But she did leave us with this:

“I will always try to find sensible solutions and stay true to my contract,” she said of the prospect of working with Democrats. “If we can’t come to an agreement, that’s something that I can’t compromise on.”

She’s definitely a fighter. She exhibited remarkable tenacity in avoiding answers to most questions. Some voters may find that to be an adequate platform. But it left us feeling that Boebert would somehow be even less accessible if she’s elected.

Voters have very contrasted options here: A firebrand, overflowing with personal horsepower but lacking any serious policy chops or an experienced policy wonk whose style may not lend itself to today’s full-contact brand of D.C. lawmaking.

A reminder that we’re not endorsing candidates but simply sharing some honest impressions about what they bring to the table.

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