State Sen. Brittany Pettersen, left, and Erik Aadland, candidates for Colorado’s 7th Congressional District seat. (Pettersen: Courtesy of Pettersen campaign/Aadland: Courtesy of Aadland campaign)
There is one thing the two main party candidates for Colorado’s 7th Congressional District seat agree on: The nation’s polarization is the country’s greatest existential crisis. Other than that, their policy viewpoints diverge on a number of issues.
“I’m stepping up to run because the stakes couldn’t be higher in the next election in ensuring that we have a democracy in the future,” said state Sen. Brittany Pettersen, a Lakewood Democrat, during a Sept. 28 virtual forum hosted by the chapters of the League of Women Voters for Chaffee County and Jefferson County. Libertarian candidate Ross Klopf also participated.
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Pettersen, who has served in Colorado’s General Assembly since 2013, is facing Republican Erik Aadland, a first-time candidate and veteran, to represent the newly drawn district following longtime representative Ed Perlmutter’s retirement.
While Aadland sits on the other end of the political spectrum from Pettersen, he also sees partisan divide as a top priority to work on.
“I’ve reentered this public arena to be of great service in a time of great peril and great crisis. We can see a nation divided like never before. The hatred, the vitriol, the hyper partisanship is something we must come together and heal,” he said.
The two differ on Congress’s role in passing electoral reform bills. While it has been a high priority for the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives to pass election and voter legislation following the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, Democrats have not been able to get anything past the Senate and onto the president’s desk.
Pettersen said she supports both the Presidential Election Reform Act and the For the People Act, both of which have passed the House. She said legislation that would help restore the electorate’s trust in elections is paramount for the next Congress.
“The thing that keeps me up in night: In 2020 the only reason we were able to certify a free and fair election in the United States of America was because of the Democratic House majority. That’s un-American. That’s undemocratic. Our democracy is literally hanging off a cliff right now,” she said.
Meanwhile, Aadland said solving distrust is a bipartisan issue. In June 2021, Aadland spoke to the Jefferson County Republican Men’s Club and called the 2020 presidential election “absolutely rigged,” but he has not used that type of rhetoric recently.
He said that he supports measures such as voter ID laws and measures against ballot harvesting, and that it is crucial that voters do not feel that elections have interference from government agencies and Big Tech.
Those decisions, however, should be left to the states, he said.
“We must get it right, or we lose this country. I don’t want to address it as a congressman. I want Colorado to do the right thing and I want other states to do the right thing. This isn’t a federal issue,” he said.
Aadland used a similar argument for reproductive health policy, saying that he would not support any legislation about abortion at the federal level and that those decisions are a “states’ rights issue.” The House passed the Women’s Health Protection Act to protect the right to abortion with zero Republican support.
Meanwhile, Pettersen, who was a strong supporter of Colorado’s Reproductive Health Equity Act that codified abortion rights into state law, said she would “fight for the women across the country who don’t have a legislature like Colorado.”
“This is a tragic time in our country’s history,” she said of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in June to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade decision. “We have gone back decades.”
If elected, Pettersen said her main priorities would be protecting democracy, continuing an economic and behavioral health recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and supporting the transition to sustainable energy. She applauded the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act, which made record investments to address the climate crisis, but said she wants to see Congress move to expand and modernize the country’s grid system.
Aadland named his top priorities as reducing inflation, addressing crime and pursuing energy policy that is in “balance” with environmental stewardship.
“What that means is striving towards more sustainable energy sources,” he said. “Congress can lead that effort. We need to be exploring things like nuclear energy … while we use oil and natural gas.”
Both Aadland and Pettersen agreed that there is a “humanitarian crisis” at the southern border, where migrants fleeing political instability and violence are attempting to cross into the country at record numbers.
Pettersen wants to see a pathway for migrants to get work permits and a policy to ensure migrant families are kept together. She said she has spoken with business owners who would welcome those migrants from places like South and Central America to fill an urgent worker need.
“This is about addressing the humanitarian crisis. It’s also about addressing our economy and making sure we are able to fill those gaps,” she said.
Aadland said he wants to “secure the border,” including finishing the barrier wall started under the administration of former President Donald Trump and increase resources for border patrol agents.
“We need to have compassionate immigration reform, but no other country has an open border. Chinese fentanyl is streaming across the southern border … bad actors and terrorist elements are exploiting our southern border, so we need to have a measure of control,” he said.
“We don’t want to stop the flow of immigrants. We just want to control it in a compassionate way and introduce legislation that clarifies the process so that people coming across and wanting to become citizens of this country know how to do that,” he continued.
The 7th Congressional District favors Democrats by about 7 percentage points, according to an analysis of recent election results from the nonpartisan redistricting staff.
Pettersen and Aadland are scheduled to both appear at a debate hosted by 9News on Oct. 21. Ballots for the general election will hit voters’ mailboxes in mid-October.
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