Colorado Congressional Candidates Debate America’s Future at Pikes Peak Community College

Colorado Senator Owen Hill (R) and Dr. Stephanie Rose Spaulding (D) debated immigration, inequality, education, and more on Nov. 30 at the Centennial Campus of Pikes Peak Community College (PPCC). Both Candidates are competing to replace Representative Doug Lamborn as the representative of Colorado’s 5th Congressional District in the 2018 mid-term elections.

Sen. Hill currently represents Colorado’s 10th Senate District in El Paso County and heads the Senate Committee on Education. He is a veteran and graduate of the Air Force Academy and a strong advocate for conservative education reform.

Spaulding is a self-described social justice activist, an assistant professor of women’s and ethnic studies at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs (UCCS), and author of Abolishing White Masculinity from Mark Twain to Hiphop: Crises in Whiteness.

Professor Robin Schofield of the English Department moderated the debate and began by asking the candidates about their stances on immigration policy.

Spaulding cited the recent repeal of the Deferred Childhood Arrivals Act (DACA) and the wave of deportations sweeping the country as her primary concern with US immigration policy, recalling that many children were afraid to go to school after the 2016 general election for fear they might be deported.

“Every day, as an educator, I touch and I see the horror and the terror that is a part of their lives because we have a broken system, and we are scapegoating the wrong people in trying to fix it,” Spaulding said. “We have young people who are horrified every day because they don’t know if they’re going to get a knock on the door, or if they’re going to be out at work and come home to find that they’re family isn’t there.”

“That does not represent the greatness of America. That does not make us a global leader.”

Spaulding said if she is elected she would urge Congress to “get off their butts, and pass a clean Dream Act.”

Spaulding also emphasized the need to examine our biases and change our discourse when we discuss immigration.

“The reality is when we talk about immigration in the United States, we’re not talking about immigration. We say that word, but when we say ‘immigrant,’ we are very specifically racializing the conversation,” Spaulding said. “If you start with fear – if you start by hate-mongering – then you are never going to have a humanistic response to what is going on when we talk about immigration.”

Hill stressed that “immigration” specifically refers to who may become citizens of the US and that those persons should be expected to assimilate into American culture.

“We need to do a much better job of saying, ‘You get to come, not just because you know someone over here, but do you believe in the values that we hold dear of liberty and equality? Do you share a desire to be a part of a common language, which is part of what makes us successful here?’ Is there a sense that they buy into the culture and the mindset of what it means to be American?” Hill said.

Hill said immigrants – those who wish to become citizens – need to be distinguished from those who come to the US to work, visit, or other reasons and that Congress has failed both at separating the two categories of persons and developing comprehensive, efficient policies to deal with each.

Hill also disagreed with Spaulding’s claim that the immigration conversation is racialized in the US.

“When you talk about building a wall – building a wall where?” Spaulding rebutted, referring to previous public comments Hill has made on immigration. “Because if you’re talking about building a wall between Mexico and the United States, that’s racializing it.”

“No one’s ever talking about building a wall between Canada and the United States,” Spaulding said. “In most people’s minds – and in the media – when we have the conversation, it is about Mexico and Mexicans. That’s a problem.”

Later, student Carmen Martinez specifically asked how the candidates felt about the recent repeal of DACA.

Spaulding reiterated the importance of Congress passing a clean Dream Act.

Hill said because the number of people around the globe hoping to immigrate to the US in search of better economic opportunities is so overwhelming, the US needs “reasonable limitations” on who the US accepts.

“I was one of the first Republicans ever to support Dreamers going to school and paying in-state tuition, so I got in a lot of trouble for that,” Hill said. “At the same time, you don’t get to come to America just because you have a certain age, just because you have a certain limit on when you were born. And we’ve taken it even farther to suggest that somehow you have a right to be here because of a certain age.”

Martinez said as a child of an immigrant mother, she was very disappointed with Hill’s answer.

“He said that he voted on it a long time ago and got reprimanded for it, so I feel like he changed his stance on it because of all the bad reputation he got for voting for something that Republicans don’t support,” Martinez said, referring to Hill’s comment about “getting in trouble” for supporting in-state tuition for Dreamers.

Martinez also disagreed with Hill’s statement that age should not entitle anyone to stay in the US.

“As a minor, if you’re brought here without a choice, you should be getting a little more help than a 32-year-old adult who knows what they’re doing,” Martinez said. “Or what about an infant coming over, not knowing what his future is going to hold? If his future holds being deported to a country he’s never known, I don’t think that’s fair at all.”

The candidates were also asked about their opinion on the impacts of the historic wealth gap in the US and how they planned to address it.

Hill emphasized the importance of education reform to help close the gap.

“We cannot solve it by pulling the top down, and that’s why education is such a big deal,” Hill said. “We have got to find a way to give far more people the same chance to succeed, to give far more people the opportunity to create, build and develop that which creates wealth, that which creates value.”

Hill also said Congress needs to “stop double taxing” small businesses while giving tax loopholes and exemptions to large corporations and wealthy individuals.

Spaulding spoke first about the impacts of the wealth gap, before moving on to how she would address it.

“I know there are people who are full-time students here – there are people who are full-time employees here – and it’s not enough. That’s the impact,” Spaulding said. “The vast majority of you are in a generation where you will not have a standard of living that your parents had. That’s the impact.”

“We are working harder and harder to just to make ends meet.”

Spaulding also noted that although the unemployment rate in Colorado is relatively low compared to the rest of the country, that statistic can be deceiving. For instance, those who have quit looking for work are not officially counted as unemployed, and unemployment is higher among communities of color, single mothers, and other marginalized demographic groups.

Spaulding said she actually agrees with Hill on how to address the problem: by removing the tax exemptions and loopholes for the wealthy and large corporations and taxing the poor and middle class more fairly. She also said the tax burden Americans making under $30,000 a year will take on under the Trump administration’s new tax plan is “unconscionable.”

Spaulding also agreed that the US needs to invest more in education, noting that Colorado “lags behind the nation in terms of education funding.”

Spaulding also stressed the importance of ensuring that wages keep pace with rising costs of living and inflation.

“We have a booming housing economy right now, and people can’t afford rent, and they’re working two or three jobs,” Spaulding said.

“We are pricing people out of their homes,” Spaulding said. “I have a student who is military, and her housing voucher is for $1600. For her family of five, the only thing that she can find in terms of housing is $2400. How can we do that to our military population, let alone every other worker in southern Colorado?”

“We are not creating wealth if we keep pricing people into a cycle of poverty,” Spaulding concluded. “If we keep taxing people above and beyond what is conscionable, if we keep under-educating and taking away opportunities from those who need it the most, we are never going to close a wealth gap.”

The candidates were also asked whether they agreed with Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’s decision to suspend Department of Education regulations put in place by the Obama administration to protect students from being defrauded by for-profit colleges and what they would do to help protect students from predatory for-profit colleges, such as ITT Technical Institute and Corinthian Colleges.

Hill said he wasn’t familiar with the specific regulations DeVos suspended, but emphasized the importance of students making informed decisions about the schools they attend, as well as the type of education they pursue.

“We all make decisions every single day. What school are we going to go to? What classes are we going to take? Who we’re going to go on a date with, or what food we’re going to consume, or what chemicals we’re going to put in our bodies,” Hill said. “So we have to recognize, first and foremost, that we make the decision on where to go.”

“We should be far more selective on where we choose to spend our money on higher education,” Hill said. “When you look at $1.1 trillion of student debt in the United States of America, we have to ask: are we getting what we’re paying for? In a lot of cases, I’d say that we’re not.”

Spaulding said she did not support DeVos’s suspension of the Obama-era regulations and emphasized the importance of protecting marginalized persons and communities from predatory practices, as well as making sure those same communities have access to the knowledge and resources they need to protect and empower themselves.

“This goes back to the wealth gap question, because when you have communities that are systemically disadvantaged generation after generation, there is a cultural capital of even navigating higher education that folks who have greater wealth understand and most people in the United States who are marginalized do not understand,” Spaulding said. “How do you even fill out a financial application for FAFSA? That’s not knowledge that reaches every community in the United States.”

Spaulding compared the need to regulate for-profit colleges to the decision to ban credit card companies from college campuses to keep them from preying on financially illiterate students.

Finally, the candidates were asked how to go about healing the wide social and political divides in the US today and bring Americans from either side of the aisle together.

Spaulding shared an anecdote from her own life about how she challenged herself to do 52 different things for a year – one per week – and encouraged the audience to get out of their comfort zone and meet people from different social, political and religious groups.

“Talk to people you don’t normally talk to. Go to places you don’t normally go. If you’re Christian, go to a Buddhist temple. If you’re an atheist, talk to somebody of faith,” Spaulding said. “Shake things up.”

Hill said voters need to become more engaged in local politics to make their needs known to their representatives.

“Almost no one knows who their state senator is,” Hill said, referring to himself. “At the state level, we’re part-time. We get paid $30,000 a year – it’s public record, what we get paid – and we don’t have any staff. So really, it’s just one person representing about 170,000 people in Colorado. That model doesn’t work if we also don’t invest in trying to learn who are these people? Who do they stand for? What do they believe in?”

“Set aside two hours next year – just two hours. Spend one hour with your state rep and one hour with your state senator. Invite them for a beer or a cup of coffee.” Hill said.

The debate was the final event in PPCC’s three-part Civil Discourse Series, sponsored by the Global Village, the Student Activities Board, Phi Theta Kappa, and the Office for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

A Reflection on the PPCC Civil Discourse Series & The Creation of “Others” in American Society

Last week, I covered the first round of forums in the Pikes Peak Community College Civil Discourse Series, “Talking About Culture,” for The Paper.

As a reporter, I’m obliged to leave my commentary out of the story, and much of the material I gathered at the forums, from students and faculty alike, did not make the final story after editing, so I thought I’d write my own reflection on the event here.

First, I want to address the remarks Lucas Holland made at the Rampart forum on people choosing to be LGBTQ.

I used to think like Holland. I grew up in a conservative, Christian household. I went to church most Sundays, where I often heard pastors preach the same talking points about people becoming gay because of childhood trauma. I might have known a couple gay people in high school, but I was never close to them, so it was easy for me to believe the argument the pastor was pushing.

Then, years later, one of my closest Ranger buddies in the Army came out to me and a few others as gay.

I served in 2nd Ranger Battalion – a bunch of 18-to-24-year-old, hyper-masculine, type-A-personality males. These men throw around ruthless, berating, and demeaning jokes about homosexuals, women, and all things feminine all day as if it were casual dialogue – it’s just the culture there.

My buddy couldn’t have enjoyed it. No one would want to be talked about like that. No one would choose it. If my buddy could have just chosen to be straight so he wouldn’t have to hide his pain and anger every time he heard the word faggot, I’m sure he would have.

So, awkward as it was, I asked my Ranger buddy if he felt he was always gay or if it was a choice he made. His reply stopped me dead in my tracks.

“When did you choose to be straight?” he said.

And I wish I would have asked Holland the same question.

I realized then that people do not choose their sexual orientation any more than they choose to be left-handed or right-handed.

Seeing LGBTQ people as victims of trauma assumes they somehow need to be healed, that they somehow need to be fixed – as if they were alcoholics or drug addicts. It is insensitive, demeaning, and divisive. It makes them into a category of “Others,” a category of sub-humans.

The United States has a long history of creating groups of “Others” to demonize, scapegoat, and exploit, going back to its European colonial roots, which was the main focus of the Centennial forum.

The Native Americans were called savages and heathens by the first colonists, who justified their slaughter as “God’s work.” American revolutionary Thomas Paine demonized the English king in Common Sense by comparing him to the Catholic Pope and claiming Jews and Muslims created kings to rile the ignorant lower classes into revolt. America’s racist slavery system remained until the Civil War’s end in 1865, and Jim Crow lasted another one hundred years. The Irish became the immigrant scapegoat of choice in the mid-19th century, followed by the Chinese in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Even Italians used to be considered one of the “black” races according to US immigration law, until Italian Americans made the case that Christopher Columbus was Italian and, therefore, part of America’s origin story.

J’Amie Sirvaitis, a history major, and I had a great conversation about how much of our racial division in America comes from our inability to honestly confront our history, especially in K-12 education. He said so much of our history, from slavery and the Civil War to Jim Crow the Civil Rights Movement, is “whitewashed” and not given the attention it deserves in early education.

At the Downtown forum, Alex Malone, coordinator of High Impact Practices at PPCC, said he had read about a history textbook in Texas being changed to refer to slaves as “unpaid laborers,” exemplifying Sirvaitis’s point.

Professor Amy Cornish made a similar comment at the Downtown forum. When she taught in K-12, she was not allowed to discuss race and racism with her sixth graders, because it was too sensitive a subject.

Personally, I think policies like that do children a disservice. If kids do not talk about race in school, they’ll get their ideas about race from somewhere else – friends, family, media, etc. Considering the power of media on influencing perceptions of race, as clearly demonstrated by Kimberly McCabe’s comments in the story, it is quite imprudent not to counter that influence with rational, informed discussion in the classroom. Students should not have to go to college before they learn there is in fact no biological justification at all for the concept of race.

Furthermore, why the concept was developed has to be part of the conversation. Why do we create Others to scapegoat, subjugate, and exploit?

True, much of it is to blame on simple human ignorance and xenophobia, but propaganda and profit also play a large role.

Many of the first settlers of the American colonies were poor Englishmen who would sell themselves into indentured servitude for a number of years to pay for the voyage across the Atlantic. At the end of their servitude, they were promised their own plot of land. However, it became a common practice of the Virginia colonial government to prosecute these servants for absurd crimes in order to extend their sentences and exploit them for more free labor. When a group of these white indentured servants and African slaves, led by Nathaniel Bacon, rose up in rebellion against the government of Virginia, the governor stole more land from Native Americans to appease them.

Bacon’s Rebellion set a precedent in American policy that continues to this day, at home and abroad.

The governor of Virginia in 1676 would rather kill and steal from the Natives than quarrel with his own lower classes, just as the US government today would rather violate their treaty with the Standing Rock Sioux and force the Dakota Access Pipeline through their reservation than put it across farms owned by white North Dakotans or face a lawsuit from Energy Transfer Partners for shutting the project down. Likewise, the US government would rather overthrow Hussein in Iraq and Ghaddafi in Libya before they stop trading their oil in US dollars, killing millions and destabilizing the entire Middle East, than face an American public up in arms over high gas prices at home.

Someone always profits from dividing up the population and pitting one group against another – the wealthy and powerful – and that aspect went largely unaddressed at the Civil Discourse forums.

The taxes the British imposed on the American colonies which led the Sons of Liberty to rile the lower classes into revolt only affected the wealthiest American colonists. Wealthy plantation owners benefitted from maintaining slavery into the mid-19th century. American steel tycoons benefitted by demonizing the Irish and forcing them to build their railroads for low pay under horrific conditions. Then, those same tycoons later accepted the Irish and turned their propaganda on the Chinese – the new wave of cheap immigrant labor. In World War One, Woodrow Wilson created the Committee on Public Information to pump out war propaganda demonizing the Germans as “huns” and “barbarians,” riling the public into a belligerent, nationalist hysteria, all to protect the investments of Wall Street bankers and American industrialists in the European arms races. And the examples go on and on.

If we are to truly heal the cultural divisions within American society – racial, ethnic or otherwise – we have to understand that those divisions were not simply the result of ignorance and xenophobia, but that they have also been intentionally engineered by those in power seeking to exploit us.

There is plenty of historical evidence to suggest that people are more likely to unite when they have a common enemy than out of feelings of love, sympathy, and good will. And while I understand PPCC’s aim is not to start a revolution, calling out that common enemy seeking to divide us will help us realize that are all in the same fight together – that hating “the Others” only plays into that enemy’s hands, only aids in our own exploitation.


PPCC Civil Discourse Series Explores Race, Culture, and Sexuality

Last week, I covered the first round of forums in the Civil Discourse Series, sponsored by the Global Village, the Student Activities Board, Phi Theta Kappa, and the Office for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, at Pikes Peak Community College for The Paper.

American students and faculty reflected on the influence of media in creating racial bias in their own lives.

Foreign students shared their culture shock at the emphasis on race in American society.

And other students debated whether our sexuality is something we’re born with or something we choose.

Read the full story at

I’m Now Officially a Published Journalist!

My first official piece of journalism was just published today in The Paper, the new Pikes Peak Community College newspaper.

An extremely conservative and boisterous economics professor has ignited a controversy at PPCC about the boundaries of professors' academic freedom after making some unsavory comments about the repeal of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, also known as the Dream Act.

Consistent with the First Amendment to the Constitution, the principle of academic freedom protects professors’ rights to share controversial material or opinions in class.

However, academic freedom has its boundaries.

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act holds that educational institutions receiving federal funds have a duty to provide an educational environment free of discrimination on the grounds of race, color or national origin.

Furthermore, professors may not indoctrinate students by presenting their opinions as dogmatic truth without allowing students to contest those opinions.

Professor Jeffrey Robinette may be pushing the boundaries on both fronts.

Read the full story at

Shamanic Boom Presentation

My friend Dr. Brian Hewlett and I facilitated a workshop on Curing Capitalism with Cooperative Self Directed Enterprises at the Shamanic Boom Festival in Cheyenne, Wyoming on Aug. 27, and I've been meaning to upload the video for some time now.

We had a small but highly engaged crowd and made some great connections there.

Many thanks to Allaina Riddell and all the rest of the Shamanic Boom Family for this opportunity to grow, network, and share ideas.

Draft Bernie Conference Live Stream Party

Friends! I'll be hosting a party at my house for DraftBernie members and other Colorado progressives to get together and watch the Draft Bernie People's Convergence Conference on Sept. 9. Nick Brana, Dr. Cornel West, LEE CAMPJimmy Dore, and Tim Black have invited Bernie Sanders to a town hall to discuss why Bernie Sanders should leave the Democrats and start a new People’s Party. They will also be delivering a petition to U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders with 50,000+ signatures asking him to do just that. We will be watching the event via live stream and will also have the opportunity to submit questions to Bernie and the other panelists online. This will be a great opportunity to network with other progressives in the Springs and build momentum for the political revolution we all want to see. Come eat some food, drink some drinks, and make some friends! However, I only have room to host about 20-25 people, so please RSVP via Facebook or, preferably, email me directly: