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Colorado CD-7 candidates talk inflation, abortion access, election integrity in 9NEWS debate

In the redistricted 7th Congressional District, Democrat Brittany Pettersen is running against Republican Erik Aadland in a competitive race.

COLORADO, USA — State Sen. Brittany Pettersen (D) is running against former Army Officer Erik Aadland (R) in one of the most competitive congressional races following the retirement of Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D). The two faced off in a debate on Next with Kyle Clark Friday, Oct. 21. 

Aadland had originally announced a run for Senate, but he transitioned to run for the 7th Congressional District late last year.

Pettersen served three terms as a state representative for the 28th District before being elected to the state Senate in 2018, representing the 22nd District, in another highly competitive race.

CD-7 was redistricted in 2020. The previously drawn district leaned Democrat, but its new makeup as of June 2021 is:

  • Unaffiliated: 233,077 (44.3%)
  • Democrat: 148,275 (28.2%)
  • Republican: 135,643 (25.4%)

Pettersen and Aadland approach issues from two different directions, which was abundantly clear in Friday's debate where the two butted heads on multiple policy issues, including inflation, government spending, abortion, aid in Ukraine, and election integrity.

The candidates came face to face with their own past stances on issues - which appear to have evolved since - like 2022 election conspiracies and highly controversial safe injection sites.

Watch and read their answers to questions below:

Inflation and Government Spending

Q to Pettersen: Would you have voted for the $700 billion Inflation Reduction Act in total, and would you have preferred the $2.2 billion package that was billed Build Back Better?

Pettersen: “The Inflation Reduction Act is important to reducing costs for families. It was about investing in long-term savings, so the largest investment we’ve had here in Colorado or in the United States and in the history of the world for transferring to sustainable energy. That’s going to reduce costs over time. It’s also going to give the ability to cap the cost of insulin for seniors and negotiate drug prices with Medicare. There’s some things we can do to bring jobs back here to the United States with manufacturing, but we need to address rising costs for families. I would have absolutely supported that.”

Question: Is spending the way to reduce inflation?

Pettersen: “We have a duty as the United States to help support our economy in this difficult time. The American Rescue Plan saved our economy. I was able to oversee those dollars, help support our small businesses, making sure we kept our police departments afloat as well as our nonprofit organizations across the state. That’s why we have a government, to help us in a time of need.”

Aadland: “[The Inflation Reduction Act] does not address inflation whatsoever. In fact, the No. 1 contributing factor to inflation is government spending. We spent outside our cash flow, spend outside our tax revenue, create a deficit that must be supplemented by printing more money. That becomes a hidden tax on the American people as we inflate the money supply and every dollar gets devalued.”

Q to Aadland: Half of Congress’ discretional spending is spent with the military. Quarter trillion dollars. How much spending are you reducing from the military and where?

Aadland: “The military needs to be well-funded and funded efficiently. We got to make sure that dollars go to addressing the degradation of our military through the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and make sure we’re poised well into the future. And it’s a matter of right-sizing government to make sure that spending is efficient, and the military can actually accomplish its mission.”

Question: Is there any one area from the military that you think is not being spent efficiently?

Aadland: “How we’re sending money around the globe. We have to look at how our tax dollars are contributing American strength and the American people. We have a national security disaster on the border that’s not being addressed. We’re sending excessive funds to countries like Ukraine. Now I have great compassion for the situation there, but it’s got to be done with judicious oversight.”

The Debt Ceiling and Spending

Q to Aadland: Mr. Aadland – Key Republicans in the House are already talking about using next year’s debt ceiling fight as leverage to make cuts to Social Security and Medicare. A two-part question: do you support cuts to Social Security and Medicare, and should the US risk defaulting on its debt and causing harm to the economy given the current state of the economy?

Aadland: "The debt ceiling needs to remain so that we force government to operate within the cashflow, otherwise inflation will continue to grow out of control...as I mentioned that 16% inflation rate. I want Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid well-funded, but I want those programs to operate efficiently...so we need to look at revitalizing those programs, making sure that there's comprehensive reform."

Q: I understand your thought process on this, but I didn't hear an answer to either of the questions. Do you support cuts to Social Security and Medicare?

Aadland: "I don't."

Q: And should the U.S. risk defaulting on its debt at a time when the economy is in this kind of shape? It's going to be the choice of Republicans because we know Democrats are going to vote to increase the debt ceiling. 

Aadland: "Well that's right, and that's where it comes for Congress to actually operate within its prevue of the power of the purse...We have to make cuts somewhere and we've got to find where to do that."

Q to Pettersen: Is there anything you want to say on this topic? There’s pressure on Democrats to raise the debt ceiling permanently – essentially – raise the debt ceiling so high – we wouldn’t have periodic standoffs over raising it. Is that appropriate?  

Pettersen: "We remember a time, years ago, when this was not put on the negotiating table to potentially not fund our federal government. This has been used as a political ploy, so I think that taking it off the table -I understand what their incentives are for doing so - this actually has an effect on the economy, as you can remember during Trump. He actually stopped paying our federal employees for months...In Colorado we actually balance our budget. I understand the need to go in debt for some critical investments, but we do need to evaluate some of the spending and oversight in strategic investments." 

Pettersen: "My opponent has said that he supports McCarthy's plan, that he would gut Social Security and Medicare. And so I just want to set the record straight there. We also don't have the leading inflation in the United States. We're actually behind most states with our inflation rate in Colorado, but this is a global issue."

Q: Do you support this idea the Democrats are floating around of moving the debt ceiling so high that it doesn't become a bargaining chip?

Pettersen: "I think this should be off the table. We need to be strategic and responsible with our budget, but the way this has been politicized is very irresponsible. So yes."

Q to Aadland: She made a comment about you supporting McCarthy's plan that would result in cuts to Social Security and Medicare. You'd vote against the potential House speaker's plan?

Aadland: "I've talked to leader McCarthy at length. That's not part of the commitment to America. There is no effort to reduce funding to Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid. We've talked about this, and it's outlined clearly in the commitment to America. I think voters should check this out. This is a plan to get America back on track. It starts with a strong economy and first and foremost is addressing inflation."

Aid for Ukraine

Q to Aadland: Is now the time to let Ukraine fend for itself with whatever help it can get from the rest of the world?

Aadland: “We have to articulate our interests in Ukraine before we do anything. I’m a combat veteran, and I’ve seen the horrors of war. I’ve seen civilian causalities firsthand, and I can empathize with Ukrainians like nobody else. But we’ve spent more in Ukraine than Russia’s annual spend while we’re neglecting a national security crisis on our southern border.”

Q: Do you think we’ve spent more in Ukraine than we should have already?

Aadland: “We’ve done it without the right kind of oversight. That’s what we need, judicious oversight in all our spending. Otherwise, we’re just throwing money at a problem and escalating a conflict that is very dangerous. I don’t think that’s the right approach.”

Q:  You believe America has escalated the conflict?

Aadland: “I think that we need to be playing a leading role in finding a diplomatic and economic solution as quickly as possible. We should be shepherding peace talks, and we’ve done nothing but escalate the problem.”

Q to Pettersen: Do you believe the United States has done nothing but escalate the problem in Ukraine, and is now the time to cut off the Ukrainians from their aid?

Pettersen: “This is terrifying when I think about potentially losing the House majority. Because McCarthy has committed to taking away that funding they’re relying on right now to fight against the Russian invasion. They are on the forefront of defending democracy abroad, and we need to continue to support the Ukrainians in this fight.”

Abortion Access

Q to Pettersen:  Ms. Pettersen – You helped pass Colorado’s abortion access law that doesn’t put any restrictions on abortion. Would you try to pass a similar federal law allowing abortion at any time for any reason? 

Pettersen: "I'm proud of what we did here in Colorado to protect access to reproductive healthcare and to ensure this choice is between women and their doctors. The reason there aren't restriction are because, as you know, those later abortions come with medical emergencies. Doctors and women need to be protected in that circumstance. We need to make sure we're not protecting just the rights here in Colorado but protecting that at the federal level. I've done so here in Colorado, and I'll absolutely do so at the federal level."

Q: Should federal taxpayer dollars be used to fund abortions?

Pettersen: "I think this is something that tries to bring division around funding for abortion. I think that this is healthcare, that this should be funded no matter who the payer."

Q: That's a yes then?

Pettersen: "Yes."

Q to Aadland: Mr. Aadland – you've said you support Texas’ abortion ban – and the right of any state to do as they please. So, if a state decides to jail women for having abortions and jail any friends or family who help them obtain an abortion – you're comfortable with that?

Aadland: "Well, that's not what I said. I said I support a state's rights decision, so Texas's right to choose, Colorado's right to choose. I've also said that I will not support any federal legislation whatsoever to ban or promote abortion, and I'll uphold the Hyde Amendment. This is a state's level decision and I'm focused on Colorado. And I'm not going to do anything as your next representative to address this issue. I think the federal government needs to stay out of it altogether, and I think what we have here is an extreme and permissive bill on par with North Korea and China. I don't think most pro-choice voters here in Colorado understand how permissive and extreme this bill really is. Abortion up to the day of birth. I can't support that personally and I'm not going to do anything as a congressman. I'm gonna stay out of it and let Colorado decide through the legislative process."

Q: So, states like Texas that are more restrictive about people accessing that care, or friends of them, you're ok with it because the state chose that?

Aadland: "Well, I'm not looking at Texas. I'm not going to intervene in Texas. I'm allowing Texas to make his own laws because that's where it should be. i might have issues with the extremeness of Texas's bill, but I'm focused here on Colorado, and this is the bill I'm looking at."

Q: What about states criminalizing out-of-state travel to seek an abortion?

Aadland: "I think that's extreme. I think that's problematic."

Q: Why? 

Aadland: I think it's a gross overreach of power between inter-state compacts. Ultimately the federal government needs to stay out of that. I want to remind the listening audience, I'm running for Congress, so I'm focused on the federal issues. I'm a limited government person. i want to reduce federal government intervention, and I do think what you've stated about Texas is a bit extreme. That's not something I would support.

Q to Pettersen: Do you want to be heard on this issue? 

Pettersen: "I just want to clarify that my opponent will not protect those rights at the federal level, and also doesn't support the law we passed protecting those rights here in Colorado. And so, he supports states like Texas being able to throw women and doctors in prison for up to life for making this healthcare decision."

Q: So at the end of the day, you've said you're not going to be weighing in one way or another in Congress. If Republicans take the House, that's not going to be your choice. It's going to be the choice of your party leadership. And if they were to put up an abortion ban similar to the one being promulgated in the Senate by Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, how would you vote on that?

Aadland"I would vote against it. I've made that commitment to my constituents, I'm not gonna weigh in at the federal level. And I think Ms. Pettersen is misstating me. I have been very clear that I support Colorado's ability to decide through the legislative process and I won't interfere on that."

Election Integrity

Q to Aadland: Mr. Aadland, you’ve falsely claimed that the 2020 Presidential election was rigged. Let’s listen to that. 

Sound: “The 2020 election, it was rigged. It was absolutely rigged. Absolutely rigged. If you do enough looking into it, I think you’ll be convinced.”  

Q: Mr. Aadland, your claim the election was rigged is false and it’s dangerous. That lie led people to storm the US Capitol on January 6th – Americans died as a result. That lie has led to death threats against election workers in Colorado. Should your false claim disqualify you from office in the eyes of voters?  

Aadland: "Well I think your statement is a bit extreme Kyle...I've called into question just like Hillary Clinton and Stacey Abrams and hundreds of Democrat legislators did in the 2016 elections that our elections are secure. But in every speech, including this one, I talk about looking forward. I haven't asked that we overturn the 2020 election. This is not about President Trump...I make this about concern for the American citizens and the integrity of our constitutional republic and should be a nonpartisan issue that we have a dialogue. Your rhetoric, in fact, makes it very hard for us to have a dialogue that comes to a solution that makes our election secure."

Q: Pointing out that the claim is false is not rhetoric, that's just a fact. Pointing out that it's gotten people killed is also just a fact. But you additionally said that the election had been “undermined by fraud, how they were corrupted, and now how we have an illegitimate government in power.” You believe that we have an illegitimate government in power?

Aadland: I've evolved. I'm not a politician. That speech I gave was the first speech I gave in the U.S. Senate race, and I recognize the divisiveness of that language.

Q: Have you changed your beliefs, or have you just stopped saying it out loud because it's gotten you in trouble? 

Aadland: "No, I don't think this is a partisan issue. I've acknowledged that Biden is the legitimate president, and I'm looking forward. What can we do, in a nonpartisan way, to restore trust in the institution of our elections? We do have to get away from divisive rhetoric. I've become much more savvy and sensitive to my constituents...it's the question of what are we going to do to restore that confidence. We have to move beyond the divisiveness, the hatred, the vitriol, but it's not just Republicans. Both parties have called into question the integrity of our elections, and that's problematic, so what are we going to do about it."

Q: So just to clear this up: You do or you do not believe that America has an illegitimate government in power?

Aadland: "I don't, no... the coverup of the Hunter Biden laptop has me deeply concerned. That alone could've thrown out or changed the course of the election...We could call that an aspect of rigged, but I don't know. It's too complex for me to get down. What it does is there's enough concern for us to work together to make these elections are secure. 

Q: Ms. Pettersen?

Pettersen: "To compare Hillary Clinton, talking about access to voting rights and what we need to do to fix our system to Trump and what he did to try to overthrow the government with a violent insurrection is just completely out of line. We are looking to the future right now. We need people who are not conspiracy theorists and election deniers who are going to support our constitution and vote for whoever wins in 2024. We need confidence that the people running across the country are going to put our democracy first. 

Q: "If you lose this race, will you accept the result?"

Pettersen: "Yes."

Q: "If you lose this race, will you accept the result?"

Aadland: "I will accept it, yeah."

Opioid Crisis

Q: Ms. Pettersen – You tout your record on fighting the opioid crisis. Part of that record is your advocacy for Denver to create a supervised drug injection site – where people using injectable drugs could get high under medical supervision. That idea got pushback and even Democrats abandoned it. Here’s what you told me in 2019:

Sound: "We have people who are already using. If we don’t create this site, they’re going to be in the parks, in the alleys, in the public bathrooms. It doesn’t stop use."

Q: "Do you still believe that supervised drug injection sites are a good idea – and would you support similar efforts at the federal level?"

Pettersen: "We know that this is evidence-based, it would save lives. It's irrelevant in this race, but it's something that the doctors, the experts here in Colorado brought as what we can do to prevent overdose deaths...Unfortunately, it's been used as a political weapon. Because stigma is the biggest barrier we face to getting people the help that they need, that's why I didn't bring the bill, and it's why I don't think that they should actually address it at the state level...it would save lives for the people in the pilot program...but it does detrimental for our ability to come together and reduce the stigma for people that are struggling with addiction."

Q: You said that it's irrelevant in this race? Your continued support for supervised injection sites?

Pettersen: "It's not something where it would be relevant at the federal level."

Q: And why is that? Is it because you don't think the federal government has a role to play in that part of the opioid crisis? Explain that.

Pettersen: "This was something around a state law that would've taken away the rights of...if you had a site like this, that you could actually lose property rights, and it was just addressing that for one pilot program. This is not something that has to do with the seat that I'm running for, but it's something that would save lives. Unfortunately, it's been used as a political weapon."

Q: Would you support federal funding for supervised injection sites in communities that choose that?

Pettersen: "No." 

Q: Mr. Aadland?

Aadland: "That's interesting, because President Biden has proposed exactly that same thing. Federal funding for clean injection sites and the distribution of drug paraphernalia. So, I'm glad to hear my opponent wouldn't support such a naive proposal, because enabling addiction doesn't solve the root of this problem."

Defunding Federal and State Agencies

Q to Pettersen: You signed a letter last year urging President Biden to “divest from immigration enforcement agencies like immigration customs enforcement, ICE and customs and border patrol.” How would defunding ICE and border patrol make Americans safer?

Pettersen: “That’s broad language, so it could be made out to be anything. What I support is making sure we secure our border, but we look strategically at the investments we’re making, and we look at two criteria when we’re doing that. Is this the best use dollars? Is this the most efficient way we’re going to do this? And is this a humane policy? Right now, people wait up to 12 hours in line before they go across the border to have their personal and commercial cars look at. We know that we can actually bring screening so that we can quickly identify people and drugs being trafficked over the border. This will also address some of our supply-chain issue. I don’t support funding the cruel border policies of suffering families, hundreds of kids who don’t know where their parents are. And I don’t support targeting law-abiding immigrants here in Colorado. I think we need to be focused on criminals.”

Q: You told President Biden that taking money away from border security is the way to do that.

Pettersen: “It’s the rest of the letter that’s really important to me. … That was the end of the letter. That was part of it. I just talked about the things that I don’t think we should be funding. And I think that blindly funding and not having scrutiny and oversight leads to government fraud and abuse, and that’s what we’ve seen.”

Q to Aadland: Mr. Aadland, you’ve said you talked with Republican House Leader Kevin McCarthy about “defunding” state and local prosecutors if they exercise discretion in a way you don’t like. How would defunding prosecutors make Americans safer?  

Aadland: "Right now we have lawlessness in Colorado. We're leading the nation in auto theft, we're leading the nation in bank robberies, we're the cocaine capital of the country. Violent crime is up over 30% here in Colorado. This is a result of not enforcing the law and soft on crime policies that my opponent has directly supported. So what Congress can do is make sure federal funding goes to the right places and use the power of purse as pressure to make sure that the rule of law is upheld. Now I would never support defunding the police. We need to make sure that law enforcement is well-funded, resourced and trained. We have to restore the integrity that was lost because of the Democrat's push to defund the police. This is very problematic. We must address crime at its root, and that's upholding the law."

Q: So, explain to me how it's bad to defund the police, but you've called to defund the prosecutors who prosecute the cases that police bring them.

Aadland: "We need to make sure that prosecutors enforce the law, and we need to put pressure on them to do so using the federal means to make sure that our streets are safe. And right now, attorneys general and prosecutors across the country with their soft on crime policies not doing their job, we have to put pressure on the state governments to make sure laws are enforced and upheld."

Q: Lastly, would you name a city or county in Colorado whose prosecutors you would defund? 

Aadland: "I think that Denver needs to be looked at closely. We've got out of control homelessness, we're No. 2 in the national in fentanyl overdose deaths.
We're not enforcing the law. and auto theft is a major impact on the cost of hardworking families."

Election Conspiracy

Pettersen to Aadland: Did Trump lose the 2020 election?

Aaland: “Yes, he lost the 2020 election. Biden is the president. We have out of control inflation, rising crime, an unsecure border, unprecedented global instability. Biden is clearly the president.”

Fentanyl Legislation

Aadland to Pettersen: You supported a 2019 bill to reduce the penalties for fentanyl distribution from a felony to a misdemeanor. You also signed a letter asking Biden to defund border control agents and make our border porous. How do you justify such a naïve proposition?

Pettersen: “I am deeply concerned about the opioid epidemic, and I look forward to working with you to address this. This is something I’ve dedicated seven years of my career to fighting to lead the nation on increasing access to treatment and recovery services. This is a devastating situation, and fentanyl has taken over the drug supply chain across the country and across the globe. This is not a Colorado issue. We’re 33rd in the nation for fentanyl overdose deaths and 29th for overdose deaths in general. But we have a lot of work to do. I saw firsthand what happens when people who are struggling with addiction – how decimated our system is and a lack of access to treatment and recovery services – when I was fighting to save my mom’s life. She struggled with addiction for 30 years and fentanyl started coming in when she was addicted to heroin. She started overdosing at a high rate. She overdosed 20 times in the last year she was struggling with addiction.”

Mental Health Care

Q: Is it the federal government’s responsibility to provide more mental health resources for children and, if so, how would you pay for it?

Pettersen: “This is something that is deeply personal to me, the failures in our system. The federal government has a responsibility to make sure we bring parity around funding. We have a parity law around supporting mental health care at the same as physical health care, but it’s actually a complaint-based system, and it’s really ineffective. We need to double down on our investment to help states like Colorado with limited funding options.”

Aaland: “We have to find a way to fund mental health services because that’s the core of so many of the problems we’re seeing in society, especially in our school system. We need great resources, so kids feel reconnected, they feel heard, they feel like they have an outlet other than drugs or violence or alcohol or all the things that are contributing to the problems we see in our society. As your next congressman, I’ve got to look at the budget. How do we fund it? I don’t know. … We got to figure that out.”


9NEWS political debates 

9NEWS is hosting six candidate debates ahead of the 2022 general election on Nov. 8. The full slate includes four statewide races and the two most competitive congressional races. 

All of the debates will be livestreamed on 9NEWS.com, 9NEWS+ and the 9NEWS YouTube channel and will be available to watch afterward on those platforms. 

The full lineup of debates is below: 

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