By Charlotte Schwebel
Several Colorado 2020 Senate Candidates voiced their plans to address the eminent climate crisis during a University of Colorado, at Colorado Springs forum titled, “Planet in Peril,” on Sunday, Oct. 6.
As 25 Colorado College students entered the ENT center to attend the UCCS forum, they merged into a Sunrise Movement protest, a youth-led movement that advocates for political action on climate change. The CC students joined their voices with students and community activists, chanting, “When the air we breathe is under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back.” Politicians and audience members alike offered support as the student activists filed into the theatre.
The protest was directed, in part, at former Governor John Hickenlooper, the current frontrunner in the race for the Democratic Senate nomination, who was not present at the forum. Protesters carried signs that called him with the name “Hiding Hick,” and an empty chair with his name on it sat at the far edge of the stage. Debate organizers Philip Oke-Thomas and Brent Wilkerson, President and Vice-President of UCCS College Democrats, stated they were in contact with Hickenlooper’s campaign manager and were told the candidate had a “prior engagement.”
During the forum, he was repeatedly called out by other candidates for his support of fracking as governor. Under his administration, the Colorado Justice Department sued Colorado towns that banned fracking and as recently as last year, he opposed ballot measure 112, which would have put a moratorium on new fracking activity in Colorado.
Republican Corey Gardner, who currently holds the Senate seat, was also absent from the forum. Wilkerson says this is to be expected, stating “every single candidate showed up except for the two who just so happen to have accepted oil and gas money in the past.”
Eight Democrats attended, including Andrew Romanoff, Alice Madden, Angela Williams, Trish Zornio, Stephany Rose Spaulding, Diana Bray, Lorena Garcia, and Michelle Ferrigno Warren. Unity Party candidates Joshua Rodriguez and Gary Swing were also in attendance.
The debate questions covered a vast spread of climate topics and started with the assumption that climate change is real and an urgent issue. All 10 candidates had answers for questions on land-use change, a just transition for workers, extinction crises, climate-induced migration, carbon sequestration, mass consumption, the role of indigenous peoples in combatting climate change, and cross-sector decarbonization.
Trish Zorino, self-described as “your friendly neighborhood scientist running for senate,” was best versed in climate change. The issue is at the center of her campaign, and she came prepared with a printed stack of detailed policies that campaign members dispersed among the crowd at the beginning of the forum. While most of the candidates were content to agree and add onto previously mentioned points, Zorino consistently piped up with fact checks.
Andrew Romanoff, former majority leader of the Colorado House of Representatives, gave strong talking points but was light on the policy. He led the race before Hickenlooper announced his candidacy. Romanoff brought the president or the obstruction in Washington into every answer masterfully. In response to a question on deforestation, he began with “our current president has never met a tree he couldn’t chop or a regulation he couldn’t dismantle.”
Alice Madden, another former majority leader in the Colorado House of Representatives, focused on her time in the EPA under President Obama. She was notably the only candidate on the stage who has experience in both state and federal government. She was the only candidate to acknowledge the importance of bi-partisanship, stating “we can’t just go into our corners and battle things out, we have to make strange bedfellows.”
If democrats don’t win the Senate, making bi-partisan alliances may be the only way to pass any of the legislation proposed at the forum. Though there were differences in delivery and scope, all of the candidates onstage were united in their desire for more renewable energy, climate policy driven by justice, reforestation, and innovation in climate science.
A group of Colorado College students, led by Sophomore Brita MacKay, brought pledges to support the Green New Deal (GND) and the No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge (NFFM) to the forum. By the end of the debate, seven candidates had signed the GND pledge and eight had signed the NFFM pledge. Freshman CCSGA representative Joshua Luckey asked two candidates to sign pledges. “They were really approachable and very inclined to engage with us,” said Luckey, “not only as members of the Colorado Springs community but as grassroots activists as well.”