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Democratic Candidates For Colorado Governor Debate Key Issues

Bente Birkeland
Capitol Coverage
From left to right, Mike Johnston, Cary Kennedy, Donna Lynne and Jared Polis sit down prior to the start of the Colorado Public Television debate.

The four Democratic candidates vying to replace Gov. John Hickenlooper recently discussed everything from transportation and education to fixing the state's budget in a debate this week.

The debate, hosted by Colorado Public Television, gave Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne, former state senator Mike Johnston, Congressman Jared Polis and former state treasurer Cary Kennedy a chance to highlight what made them the best Democratic candidate.

While the candidates mostly agreed on overall policies, there are some differences.

Here are some highlights from the debate.

Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne

Credit Donna Lynne for Colorado
Donna Lynne for Colorado
Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne

On why she wants to be governor: Lynne said that despite positive numbers on the jobs front, Colorado families are still strapped for cash.

"They feel pressed to afford daycare. They feel pressed to afford health care, and housing, as you know, is a huge issue," she said. "We're not taking care of them, we're not helping them. We don't have a strategy."

As governor, Lynne plans to find solutions for working families in the state.

On handling a recession: Lynne said she would increase the state's money reserves to ten percent.

"I think that's prudent. We didn't get that far and clearly, we have some pent-up demand for things like roads and education, so it was a little bit of a balance," she said, "but I would definitely say next year we've got to take the tough step of adding to that rainy-day fund that we have."

On working with Republicans: Lynne said as governor, she would continue to work with Republicans on health care, where she thinks there's already a potential for bipartisanship.

"I think that Republicans and Democrats do agree on health care," she said. "I think they agree on the fact that we're spending too much money on health care we've got to reign that in and make it affordable for working families."

Mike Johnston

Credit Mike Johnston for Colorado
Mike Johnston for Colorado
Mike Johnston

On why he wants to be governor: According to Johnston, Colorado needs steady leadership in the face of national uncertainty. He said he's the man for the job.

"I think it's easy in this moment in history to look around at the news, TV or Twitter or Facebook and ask yourself, 'Wow. How did we get here?'" he said. "I think the more compelling question is how do we get out of here? How do we make sure Colorado is still led by the kind of pragmatic problem solver that can make sure we're able to make big progress on things like education funding, affordable housing and affordable health care?"

On handling a recession: Johnston hopes to change laws to save money - namely, laws he says target people who are poor or mentally ill.

"Stop criminalizing mental health, stop criminalizing drug addiction and stop criminalizing poverty," he said. "Those kinds of reforms are some of the few big ideas in the state that would save the state hundreds of millions of dollars in the state budget and that would be where I would start."

On working with Republicans: Johnston said he's got a proven track record of working with Republicans. He said of the more than 120 bills he sponsored and passed as a state senator, more than 100 had Republican co-sponsors.

"Rural Jumpstart was a piece of legislation I worked on with conservatives from the Western Slope," he said. "They wanted to provide incentives to grow business in rural communities across the state. We successfully passed that and got it signed. Or things like trying to solve cold case sex assaults."

Cary Kennedy

Credit Cary Kennedy for Governor
Cary Kennedy for Governor
Cary Kennedy

On why she wants to be governor: Kennedy said her goal as governor will be to prioritize education and affordable health care options.

"It doesn't make any sense that we have the top ranked economy in the country and our investment in education, K-12 and higher education ranks at the bottom among states," she said. "We can do so much better."

On handling a recession: Kennedy said the state must invest wisely to avoid massive losses in a recession.

"I took steps to move state investments — taxpayer's money — out of risky Wall Street investments, so that here in Colorado taxpayers didn't lose money in their state investments in the same way that other states lost hundreds of millions of taxpayer's dollars," she said.

On working with Republicans: Kennedy said she brought people together as state treasurer. She said education is one policy area that shouldn't be partisan.

"I helped build a broad coalition — Republicans and Democrats coming together — that has today invested over a billion dollars in rural communities helping them rebuild their aging school buildings," she said.

Jared Polis

Credit Jared Polis for Colorado
Jared Polis for Colorado
Congressman Jared Polis

On why he wants to be governor: Polis said his experience as a business owner has prepared him for the job of governor.

"I've created small businesses and I've created jobs and I'm running on the power of bold ideas and a proven track record of real results," he said.

He highlighted his stance on health care and history working in Washington, D.C. as why he would be a good leader for the state.

"I was proud to work with President Obama to pass the Affordable Care Act and work on its implementation," he said. "But health care is a human right and it's not enough to say it. We have to act on it, right here in Colorado. That's why I'm the only candidate who supports a Medicare for all model or a common payer across the western"

On handling a recession: Polis said he would focus on job growth and touted his background as an entrepreneur.

"Empowering people to be able to support themselves and perhaps someday even create jobs for others is what an economic recovery and economic growth is all about. I'm the only one who has done it," he said.

On working with Republicans: For Polis, he said he would be ready to work across the aisle on the issue of renewable energy.

"As part of our plan to get Colorado to 100 percent renewable energy I think there's a lot of elements that can get bipartisan support," he said. "One thing Republicans are always good for is cutting red tape and regulations."

Capitol Coverage is a collaborative public policy reporting project, providing news and analysis to communities across Colorado for more than a decade. Fifteen public radio stations participate in Capitol Coverage from throughout Colorado.

Bente Birkeland has been reporting on state legislative issues for KUNC and Rocky Mountain Community Radio since 2006. Originally, from Minnesota, Bente likes to hike and ski in her spare time. She keeps track of state politics throughout the year but is especially busy during the annual legislative session from January through early May.
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