Democrat Jared Polis and Republican Walker Stapleton faced off in an hour-long gubernatorial debate Oct. 5 in Denver, the first of many scheduled in the coming weeks leading up to the Nov. 6 midterm election.
The questions focused on key issues affecting Colorado’s economy: traffic problems, the oil and gas industry, and growth, to name a few, all highlighting the differences between the two candidates. Even their wardrobes were markedly different: Stapleton wore a traditional suit and gold tie, while Polis was more casual in a gray blazer and polo shirt.
Their opening statements to each other set the tone for the rest of the debate.
“State government is not like the private sector, not even close,” Stapleton said regarding Polis. “You don't rack up a lot of debt hoping for somebody to buy you out. Instead what you do, is you have a taxpayer-funded bailout or you have bankruptcy. I don't want that to be Colorado's future.”
Polis played it a bit cooler, shrugging off most of Stapleton’s attacks. He said his background in running his own business would give him an advantage.
“I don't want that to be Colorado's future either. So, I agree with Walker on that,” he said. “I do believe there's a lot of lessons from the private sector that we can take into government because in the private sector we make the hard decisions balancing budgets, making payroll, paying for benefits for employees.”
Both acknowledged Colorado’s gap in transportation funding as a key issue this election. The candidates were asked what solutions they saw.
Polis said he believed the governor’s role was to be more passive.
“When you look to what you want, I hope, a governor to do, is to really be a listener,” Polis said. “And as convener-in-chief, governors shouldn't say ‘it's my way or the highway.’ A governor shouldn't come to you and say, ‘Here's how I think you should pay for something.’ A governor should listen.”
Stapleton touted his plan to build up funds through taxes.
“I've come out with a transportation plan that talks about the need to have a more dedicated sources of revenue in the general fund that we can apply to bonding for our roads,” he said. “I've talked about taxing sports, gambling — the American Gaming Association has estimated that sports gambling is a $150 billion nationwide. I think it could be a billion-dollar enterprise in Colorado.”
Both candidates also outlined their views on propositions 109 and 110, the dueling transportation funding questions on this year’s ballot. The two disagreed on 109, also known as the “Fix Our Damn Roads” question, that would force the state to bond money for road projects.
On 110, the sales tax increase question, Stapleton was adamantly against it. Polis didn’t take a position.
When asked about ensuring the future of Colorado’s oil and gas industry, Polis pointed out his endorsements, including a group of pipefitters sitting in the audience.
“Nobody cares more about safety than, of course, the men and women who work every day in the industry,” he said.
Without mentioning it by name, he also brought up how he’d handle conflicts such as Proposition 112, the increased setback measure, as governor.
“We certainly can’t ignore conflicts that exist in our state with regards to oil and gas,” he said. “But I’m always willing to roll up my sleeves and work with any industry to create jobs and to resolve conflicts in ways that avoid one size-fits-all policies.”
Neither candidate has supported 112.
Stapleton, a staunch supporter of fossil fuel development, was asked about how — or if — he’d promote the use of renewable energy as governor.
“I support renewables,” he said. “But I believe that the consumer, the hardworking Coloradan, needs to make a decision about what is the most effective, efficient form of energy for him or her. I'm not going to put a government mandate like Congressmen Polis on their heads. That's a radical, extreme policy that I simply can't support.”
The candidates agreed that rural communities haven’t seen an equal share of the growth and economic prosperity seen along the Front Range.
To change that, Stapleton and Polis said they’d both fund the state’s rural broadband initiative.
“(It) can enable independent employment, telecommuting and reduce healthcare costs through access to telemedicine,” Polis said.
“Moms are actually spending time going to McDonald’s or the library (to get internet) so their kids can complete homework assignments,” Stapleton said.
Stapleton added he’d reinstitute the state’s decades-old “Dome on the Range” program created by Roy Romer, former governor of Colorado.
“He actually had cabinet officials travel out to rural areas to interact with county commissioners to understand the needs of rural communities,” Stapleton said.
He said he’d also get behind projects such as the Jordan Cove Pipeline on the Western Slope and the Northern Integrated Supply Project in northern Colorado.
Polis touted his endorsement from the outdoor industry, a large employer in rural communities, and his new agriculture plan.
“We launched our ag plan last week in Greeley,” he said. “We look forward to working with farmers and ranchers across our state to open new markets and make our state more competitive and new revenue streams for them.”
Differing from Hickenlooper
Moderator Ed Sealover, a reporter at the Denver Business Journal, asked near the end of the debate what sector or industry they would concentrate on in a different way than current Gov. John Hickenlooper.
Polis said he’d help start-ups in all industries.
“We’d love to ease regulations on raising capital,” he said. “We put out a blockchain, a policy paper to provide a safe harbor under securities regulations. I helped champion efforts nationally to allow for crowdfunding and micro-investing. We can take it to the next level.”
Stapleton, meanwhile, focused on the role some social programs play in hindering Colorado’s businesses.
“I want to focus on mental health, homelessness and what's going on with our Department of Corrections,” he said. “I had two young people over the last week that killed themselves in my neighborhood, both students at Arapahoe High School. We have a chronic problem with mental health issues in the state of Colorado and we have a growing homeless problem.”
The debate also covered each candidate’s plans around healthcare and the state of Colorado’s Gallagher Amendment.
A sample ballot for the Nov. 6 election is available on the Colorado Secretary of State’s website.