How Climate Change Is Shaping Colorado's Senate Race

Oct 9, 2019

More Coloradans are thinking about climate change as a serious issue, and that's changing how voters are approaching the upcoming 2020 senate race.

KUNC's Colorado Edition discussed what this means with Jesse Paul and Mark Smith. Jesse Paul is a writer for The Colorado Sun, who reported on the growing block of climate change votersMark Smith is a professor at Colorado College, who attended the Senate Candidate Forum on Climate Change held in Colorado Springs this past weekend. 

How Senate Candidates Are Talking About Climate Change

Erin O'Toole: There are nine Democrats currently running in the primary race for Republican Sen. Cory Gardner's seat. How is climate change playing a role in the rhetoric of that race? 

Jesse Paul: At least three or four of the top candidates say that climate change is the most important issue for them, it's the thing that really defines their campaign. That includes former Gov. John Hickenlooper and former Colorado House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, the two who are seen as really the main front runners in this race. They're talking about it on the campaign trail, they're putting out policy statements about it, they're talking about it on social media, they're attacking Cory Gardner over it, it's a repetitive campaign stumping talking point for them.

What sticks out to you, are there any key differences in how the candidates are approaching climate change? 

Definitely. So Romanoff is endorsing the Green New Deal, this really whole cloth change to the American system of the environment and infrastructure. And John Hickenlooper and his presidential campaign, which he was in before he decided to jump over to the Senate race, actually denounced the Green New Deal as going a step too far and setting unrealistic goals. So these two candidates have very different ideas about how to tackle the issue, and Romanoff has not been shy about attacking Gov. Hickenlooper over his reluctance to support the Green New Deal.

Let's talk more about former Gov. John Hickenlooper, who is considered the front-runner in this race. Some are criticizing his stance on climate change. What more can you tell us about what he is saying? 

He really rejects anybody who thinks that he doesn't take climate change seriously enough. He told us in an interview recently that it's the single biggest issue for him on the campaign trail, and it's something that he feels like he worked really hard as governor to tackle. 

But some progressive voters, certainly Andrew Romanoff, say that he's not going far enough on this, and criticize him for his ties to say the oil and gas industry. One voter brought up to us the infamous Hickenlooper drinking fracking fluid. There are groups that have come out very forcefully to challenge and attack him over his climate change views and his response. 

And notably, the groups point out that he didn't show up to either the climate strike in Denver, the massive protest, or the recent candidate forums for the candidates on climate change. And he says there were scheduling conflicts in both and not to read into it too much, but certainly Romanoff and people who don't like his stances have used this as an opportunity to go on the offensive. 

Let's talk about money. You reported that a lot of  donations could come from this block of voters, from places like the League of Conservation Voters and the Sierra Club, among other groups. Do we have any idea yet of where they're thinking of sending their dollars?

We don't, except that it won't be going to Cory Gardner. Clearly they're going to back whoever the Democratic candidate is in 2020, and it's obviously unclear at this point who is going to win the party's nomination. They are going to be a potent force in this election. They are right up there with outdoor voters in Colorado, people who vote based off of their public land support, and love of skiing and hiking and all those great things as an important factor. 

And this is the race against incumbent Republican Sen. Cory Gardner. Where does he stand on climate change?

Sen. Gardner in an interview with us last year says he believes climate change that is real, believes that it's caused by humans, he doesn't want there to be any mistake or misunderstanding about that. However, he's also very clear that he doesn't think that policies can be enacted that hurt people in Colorado, i.e. the fossil fuel industry, and take away jobs as a means to push back against climate change. 

So again, while he believes that it's real and it's happening and it's impacting the earth, he's opposed to things like the Green New Deal that would be this whole cloth major change to the system. 

Credit Amy Gray / Mountain West News Bureau

How A Colorado Voter Is Taking The Climate Into Account

Lily Tyson: How important is an issue like climate change to you when it comes to how you vote and who you're voting for? 

Mark Smith: It's so important, the situation is dire and we need a candidate that is putting climate change at the very top of their priorities. 

You attended the recent candidate forum on climate change. What are some of your takeaways from that event? 

On the most basic level, it was just great to see that there was a debate on climate change, that 10 of the 12 senate candidates were there, and that they'd taken the time to prepare seriously and talk about the issue. The forum was very civil, and the different candidates treated each other well, and I really appreciated that. 

Were there any clear policy differences between how candidates were approaching this issue?

I wouldn't say that there were clear policy differences. There were clear differences in how much each candidate emphasized climate change, and I appreciated the honesty with which one or two candidates said "I care about this issue, but this is not my major issue." 

How much do you see a senator being able to do when it comes to this big, global issue?

I see it as extremely important. Since the election of President Trump, the states, and what we call sub-national actors — states and cities — have really been taking the lead on climate change, but this is really a national and international problem and if we don't have leadership and action on the national level, we're not going to get to where we want to be, where we need to be. 

This conversation is part of KUNC's Colorado Edition for Oct. 9. Listen to the full episode here