On first look at the Republican primary race for Colorado's Fifth Congressional District, between four-term Rep. Doug Lamborn and retired Air Force Major Gen. Bentley Rayburn, it's difficult to see significant differences between the candidates.
Both are quick to describe themselves as true conservatives — in fact, each says he is more conservative than the other. Both are sworn foes of the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, and say they would prefer "free-market solutions" to problems in healthcare and coverage. Both think allowing gays to serve openly in the military was a bad idea, though neither can point to a specific negative consequence of Don't Ask, Don't Tell's repeal.
We realize that to much of the Independent's readership, these stances make it impossible to cast a vote for either Lamborn or Rayburn. But for those who will vote in the June 24 primary for whatever reason, we wanted to explore whether we could make an argument for either candidate.
To find the main area where they diverge politically, we go back to the military, specifically defense spending. It's an issue of obvious importance to Colorado Springs, and timely, as the country looks ahead to a new round of base closures.
Lamborn serves on the House Committee on Armed Services and positions himself as the military's best friend. Rayburn had a distinguished, 31-year career in the Air Force.
In a 40-minute phone interview with the Independent several weeks ago, Lamborn fielded a question on what parts of the military he would want to see cut, expanded or eliminated.
"I think we have done some cutting over the last several years to the point I would not want to see further cuts," he said. "When I look at major weapons systems, I can't think of major things that should be canceled or eliminated. I don't think we should compromise on training or readiness. ... And I don't think we should cut on military pay or benefits. ... And those are all the major components of the defense budget."
A problem is that Congress has a mandate to cut defense spending as a result of its own difficulties in coming to agreement on a budget. And that has pitted House members such as Lamborn, who want to preserve weapons systems and protect bases in their districts, against military planners who maintain that given the cuts they must endure, it would be better to sacrifice some weapons systems, such as the A-10 and U-2 airplanes, and some bases along with them, in order to preserve spending on readiness and modernization.
Lamborn has been a faithful champion of the Ryan-Murray budget agreement. Rayburn, who came to the Independent for an interview several weeks ago, said he couldn't support it.
"It not only [originally] cut military pensions," Rayburn said, "but the presumption that it really helped the [armed] services out with their budget is really a false argument, because the budget was so restricted it wouldn't let the services have the flexibility they needed to really save money. ... So, for example, with the Air Force situation, there's a number of systems that, if we had all the money in the world, it would be fine to keep, like the A-10, U-2 — but we don't have all the money in the world. ...
"With the mission of providing ready forces and things like that, we really need to be able to pull out entire [weapons] systems. Just slicing 10 percent off the top doesn't really save any money. ... You cut 10 percent of the A-10s, you still have all the logistics, you've got the depot maintenance."
This is not to say that Rayburn would decline to fight for Fort Carson's health. Rather, we mean to highlight this developing clash, in times of less, between politicians (sometimes from both sides of the aisle) whose interests are often parochial, and defense professionals who must look first to the nation's overall interests. There, it would seem Rayburn has a slight edge. But then, he has no voting record.
And any edge Rayburn has in the military realm might not be enough to overcome some other red flags. He was initially unfamiliar with the phrase Citizens United, but when "corporate personhood" was mentioned, he said he doesn't have any problem with the Supreme Court's 2010 decision. He said he'd like to see the Department of Education eliminated, and that he'd "probably" support shuttering the Environmental Protection Agency. (He and Lamborn would like to see the Department of Energy eliminated, with a few key functions moving elsewhere.)
Both candidates were cordial and thoughtful in their time with us. Lamborn even came close to saying he made a mistake in boycotting President Obama's State of the Union address in 2012; when asked if it was the right thing to have done, he paused and said, "I haven't done it since."
But unless you're a one-issue voter, and that issue is the military, we don't feel we can endorse or even recommend either of these candidates to represent Colorado Springs in the U.S. House of Representatives.