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CD-2 candidates Peter Yu, Joe Neguse debate in Loveland

Candidates discuss issues as well as philosophical underpinnings of democracy

In an example of how the classroom can meet the real world, students, parents and teachers gathered at the Loveland Classical Schools Wednesday night for a student-moderated debate between two of the four candidates hoping to replace Rep. Jared Polis as representative to the U.S. Congress for Colorado’s District 2.

Candidates Joe Neguse, running as a Democrat, and Peter Yu, running as a Republican, discussed policy issues like school choice, immigration and the national debt as well as more philosophical issues such as whether they feel the United States House of Representatives, as it functions today, is filling its role as defined in the Constitution and advocated for in the Federalist Papers.

Zipporah Rowe and Tobias Hild, upperclassmen studying American Government at LCS, moderated the debate before an audience of about 200.

The candidates expressed divergent positions Wednesday night. In their closing remarks, both noted they have essentially polar-opposite views on many issues.

When asked how he would increase voter turnout and confidence in election systems, Neguse said he is a supporter of an automatic voter registration program for those eligible and that Colorado stands as a good example to the rest of the U.S. on the voter engagement front. Yu said he wants to do everything possible protect our system against voter fraud.

Both candidates agreed that an environment of hyper-partisanship is causing voters to lose trust in elected officials and the system.

On school choice and school funding, the candidates disagreed on whether providing more funding to Colorado’s schools would succeed in creating a better statewide education system. Public schools should not have three- or four-day weeks and dilapidated buildings, Neguse said; money is not the solution, but rather doing a better job of teaching people how to lift themselves out of poverty, Yu said.

In the cross-examination portion of the debate, Yu questioned Neguse about his support for Medicare for All, a platform advocating for a nationwide, universal health-care coverage system that is championed by Democrats across the country.

Yu asked Neguse how he plans to pay for such a system, and whether it would result in high taxes and long waits to see a doctor. Yu claimed he had spoken to “hundreds” of doctors in the process of defining his stance on the subject.

Neguse said there have been many studies, with the results posted online, about how to pay for Medicare for All, despite the fact that the Congressional Budget Office has not given the proposal a financial impact estimate. Mechanisms to fund it might include a “modest” payroll tax increase, graduated tax increases for the wealthiest Americans, or financial transactions taxes on stocks and bonds.

Conversely, in his comments on how to reduce the national debt, Yu said that something needs to be done about the three biggest contributors to the national debt: health-care programs like Medicare and Medicaid, and the Social Security program. Yu said he does not want to get rid of the programs that many people contribute to throughout their lifetimes, but did not specify what he wants to do with them, aside from recognize they’re “unsustainable.”

Neguse grilled Yu on his experience in public office, serving on a community board, helping author a piece of legislation, or policy-making experience of any kind. Yu responded that he had not, but he was proud that his lack of experience meant he was not tied to the establishment.

After Neguse mentioned that President Donald Trump has engaged in “dehumanizing” rhetoric about immigrants, Yu took Neguse to task about his views and allegiance to the president, earning applause from the audience.

“I support every president of this country,” Yu said. “… Joe runs around saying he wants to impeach the president. How does that help our country? Are you OK with the fact that that could cause people to lose jobs? We need to focus on making things better and building on (the president’s) accomplishments.”

Neguse said his views on President Trump do not mean he is unable to work across the aisle to help people burned by health-care costs or student debt.

“Clearly, we have very different, competing visions for our state and country,” Neguse said. “I would say the country he’s describing sounds like there are no problems he seeks to solve, and I’d like to solve problems if I go to Congress.”

Not all questioned yielded diametric answers. Asked what his guiding principles would be while making important decisions as an elected official, the candidates offered more similar answers, each referencing the Constitution.

Loveland Classical Schools Executive Director Ian Stout shakes hands with candidates to represent Congressional District 2 in the U.S. House of Representatives Joe Neguse, center and Peter Yu, left, at Loveland Classical Schools Wednesday night in Loveland. (Julia Rentsch / Loveland Reporter-Herald)

“My guiding principal is that the Constitution is very clear — Congress is for promoting public welfare … and trying to do the greatest good for the greatest number,” Neguse said.

Yu noted that the Constitution sought to ensure Americans’ freedom.

“I am a believer the Constitution made this country the greatest country in the world,” he said.

Both men said they feel the role of the House today is not meeting the ideals set out for it in the Constitution they each hold dear. But each said that, if elected, they would be the one to try to get it back on track.

In her closing remarks, Haddie Baugh, an 11th-grade student at Loveland Classical Schools, encouraged all candidates to keep an open mind to bipartisan solutions which will most benefit America as a whole.

“If we wish to achieve the full potential of American government, then both representatives and citizens must engage in civil discussions like this one,” she said.

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