Balance. It’s an idea that comes up a lot talking with Erik Aadland, the Republican hoping to represent Colorado’s 7th Congressional District in Congress.
“I think in every single instance, whether it's the environment, whether it is foreign policy, whether it's our economy, we need to be seeking that balance point,” he said during an interview with CPR News in late August.
The self-described conservative Republican is hoping “balance” will help him win over voters in a district that leans Democratic. In a nod to that political reality, he said, “I've got to appeal to the middle and I've got to appeal even to some Democrats who want change.”
It could be an uphill battle.
While political headwinds favor Republicans this cycle, registered Democrats outnumber Republicans in the district, although unaffiliated voters are the largest bloc. Aadland has less name recognition than his Democratic rival, state Sen. Brittany Pettersen, and less money. Aadland, who weathered a tough primary, had less than $50,000 cash on hand as of his last campaign filing. Pettersen had more than $900,000.
Though Aadland was recently named to the NRCC’s Young Guns list, as of now national Republicans have not put money into his race. The NRCC has reserved $2.6 million in advertising for the neighboring — and much closer — race, Colorado's new 8th congressional district.
While Aadland says he will listen to all his constituents, he’s “not going to abandon my own principles and my own conscience as a voting member in Congress… I’m going to reflect on my principles, reflect on my experience and then try to make the best decisions for my constituents.”
A core part of that experience is rooted in his military experience and subsequent work in the oil and gas industry.
Aadland was raised in a military family and has moved around a lot. His father is a retired major general and “a staunch Republican, so I grew up with that.”
He graduated from West Point in 2002 and served in the U.S. Army for eight years, including two combat tours in Iraq and then Afghanistan.
“I left [the Army] because of a crisis of conscience. I lost faith in the mission. I lost faith in what we were doing. There was nobody who could articulate why we were in Afghanistan and what we were trying to accomplish there,” he said. “I also had a family. I was pretty recently married when I deployed. I wanted to have kids and settle down. I wanted to be more at peace. I'd seen trauma, I'd seen war and I was seeking peace in many respects.”
He got a job with Noble Energy as a global logistics manager, but then left two years ago as he pursued a Master’s Degree in psychology.
But instead of going to work with trauma victims as he’d planned, Aadland’s career trajectory changed after attending a candidate training program run by America First Republicans, a group established by former Colorado GOP candidate Caspar Stockham. In June 2021, Aadland announced his candidacy for U.S. Senate, but struggled to gain traction in a crowded field, and by the end of last year, with new boundaries for the congressional districts established, he switched to run in the 7th Congressional District.
He said he decided to run for office because he believes in service and was concerned about the direction of the country, especially for his kids. “I think their future is in jeopardy. I do feel like Washington D.C. is astray and the policies they are implementing are harming my children's future.”
Aadland has cast doubts on the outcome of the 2020 election. In a video from last year, he called the presidential election rigged. And a 538 article about his views on the 2020 election included unconfirmed audio where he said we “now have an illegitimate government in power.” When asked about it during a telephone town hall in September, Aadland did not dispute the article.
CPR News asked Aadland in late August about his remarks from 2021. He would not say if he believes the 2020 elections were rigged or not. Instead he argued that Democrats like Hillary Clinton and Stacey Abrams also contested elections in which they lost. (While Clinton has questioned the race in the years since, she did concede to Donald Trump. Stacey Abrams sued over the way Georgia’s elections were managed after losing the race for governor in 2018, but not to overturn the results.)
“The 2020 election is in the past,” Aadland said in a statement. “I'm looking forward to the 2022 elections with a desire to bring leadership and wisdom to CD7.”
What he’d do if elected
When it comes to the issues, like many Republican candidates Aadland has tried to keep the focus on kitchen table priorities: the economy, crime and gas prices.
He describes these as non-partisan issues, but in the height of campaign season both he and his opponent’s answers often take on a decidedly partisan tone.
Aadland blames high inflation on government spending bills, like the American Rescue Plan. “Inflation is a result of government spending,” he explained. “And we print to make up the spending of money in order to fund the government. We inflate the money supply.”
There are many factors causing inflation, which has happened around the globe, including supply chain delays, the rise in demand as people started traveling and eating out again, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine. But many economists do believe the American Rescue Plan made the increase steeper in the U.S.
Aadland’s answer is to reign in government spending, reduce waste within government and “stop sending money all over the globe.” (Foreign aid makes up less than 1 percent of the federal budget.)
“We need to make sure that government is more efficient…and rarely does government do things well with a high level of quality,” he said. “That's where as a limited government guy, I see the private sector as needing to be championed to provide essential services.”
As for climate, he describes himself as an environmentalist and says he’s “very concerned about man’s impact on our climate and on our environment.”
“I think we need to make strides in balance to accomplish that. But I see the Democrats going to the extreme on this issue,” said Aadland, citing what he described as Green New Deal-type policies. He thinks the U.S. should advance new clean energy technology, without compromising the current economy. “We need to have balanced energy reform. We need to have domestic production of natural gas.”
Aadland says he’d also support the development of nuclear energy in the district.
Although Aadland said he wants to support balanced policies, none of the major legislation recently passed by the Democratic-controlled House fits that definition for him. When asked to name a bill he would have supported, he dismissed them all as “hyper partisan.”
The list of bipartisan bills the Congress has passed includes gun safety legislation, reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, domestic manufacturing of semiconductors, the PACT Act to help veterans suffering health issues from toxic exposure, and the bipartisan infrastructure bill, which Aadland claims was “loaded with pork” and not “destined for true infrastructure.”
“There might be tenets I support, but right now these have had a very partisan agenda that I found problematic. So, I mean, there might be some that I just can't recall. The major ones, the ones that’ve got a lot of publicity recently, I had a hard time seeing how they were moderate in nature,” he said.
Aside from supporting a balanced budget amendment, Aadland said he wants to get rid of omnibus spending packages and “have line items strikethrough of these spending packages on the floor” to streamline bills and help them garner more bipartisan support. This runs counter to the congressional wisdom that tossing together the spending priorities of lots of members is what helps bills garner enough support for passage.
When it comes to issues that Congress is deliberating on now, like reforming the Electoral Count Act or a stock trading ban for members of Congress, Aadland answers, “Since I am not a sitting Member, I’m not able to comment on legislation that is before Congress.”
Aadland also would not directly say if he would vote to codify same-sex marriage in federal law if elected, writing only that “people should be able to marry whoever they want and the government should not be allowed to dictate it.”
On many issues, Aadland is in line with the Republican Party. He wants to build a wall and improve border security. He believes in the Second Amendment “as it was written in the Constitution.” He thinks the federal government needs to address mental health issues contributing to gun violence, but he doesn’t see gun safety measures as “the right mechanism to sort out gun violence and deprive good citizens — 99 percent of gun owners are good people who don't harm another living soul. I'm one of 'em.”
However, while he does support increased penalties for fentanyl distribution, Aadland said the Republican Study Committee proposal on the issue — which includes a life sentence for anyone convicted of fentanyl trafficking and capital punishment for dealing fentanyl which results in death — “sounds extreme.”
As for the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, Aadland said it was rightly decided; “my position is that this is a state's rights issue.” He said he would not support a national ban on abortion, just as he would not support any bill to codify Roe. He opposes federal funding for abortion.
Aadland says he would support California Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s bid for speakership, should Republicans win the House (McCarthy has endorsed Aadland), and the party’s Commitment to America plan.
If elected, Aadland hopes to get on the Energy and Commerce Committee, a plum assignment not many freshmen lawmakers land. Currently, Democratic Rep. Diana DeGette is Colorado’s only representative on that committee. The other committees he mentioned included Armed Services (fitting given his background, but there are no bases in his district and Colorado already has two members), Natural Resources (where currently four Coloradans serve) or Veterans Affairs.
Aadland says he’s met with the Freedom Caucus, but isn’t interested in joining it. “I don’t think that’s reflective of District Seven,” he explained. “I’ll be friends with members who are. I’m going to try and be very deliberate in my choices….and I’m not going to be on the extremes.”
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