State Treasurer Walker Stapleton still appears to be the frontrunner for the Republican gubernatorial nomination with less than six weeks to go until the June 26th Primary, but the wheels are coming off when it comes to Stapleton’s signature issue of PERA reform.
As Blair Miller explains in a detailed story for Denver7, Stapleton has talked himself into quite a corner here:
The pension became the centerpiece of discussions during this year’s legislature, buoyed by rallies by Colorado teachers who demanded fixes to the system in addition to better pay and school funding.
Yet after a last-minute deal in the legislature to try to shore up the system, some in Colorado are questioning how much Stapleton was involved in the PERA discussions this year, while others who were more closely involved say Stapleton’s work backs up his talk…
…in a speech last weekend made to El Paso County Republicans, Stapleton said the legislative measure “shored up” PERA for the time being.
“I have been the longest, largest, loudest voice for reforming PERA, and as a result of Republican leadership, we have shored up that system for 500,000 public workers in the state of Colorado,” he said, according to a video recording obtained by Denver7. [Pols emphasis].
First off, it is a pretty big mistake for Stapleton to publicly say that PERA has been “shored up” by the legislature. Stapleton has spent the last eight years trying to convince voters of his PERA expertise; if he is admitting that PERA reform is no longer a critical problem, then Stapleton needs a new shtick for the General Election.
On the other hand, Stapleton might be better off not talking about PERA anymore. He could have tried to take credit for legislative reforms, for example, but this Denver7 story indicates that he was encouraging lawmakers to oppose the measure — when he bothered to engage at all:
Also last week, one of Stapleton’s political opponents in the gubernatorial race, Republican Doug Robinson, told a gathering in Elizabeth that Stapleton didn’t attend a May 3 emergency PERA board meeting that took place ahead of the deal or take part in legislative talks…
…”Walker’s hung his hat on being “the loudest voice on PERA”, but at the end of eight years, what does he (or the taxpayers) have to show for it?” the spokesperson said in a statement to Denver7. “He’s barely even shown up for the meetings. Let’s just call a spade a spade — Walker’s only real interest in PERA is in its ability to serve as a talking point for his political ambitions.”…
…When asked to respond to the accusations made against Stapleton, a campaign spokesperson who agreed to speak on the condition they not be named admitted that Stapleton did not attend the May 3 PERA board meeting, but said a deputy called in to the meeting. The spokesperson said that wasn’t out of the ordinary, which one of the sources Denver7 spoke with confirmed.
And though another group that has focused on PERA’s liabilities and opposed Stapleton’s work on PERA in the past, Secure PERA, found that Stapleton attended 53 percent of board meetings from 2011 through 2016, a Denver7 review of board meeting minutes from 2017 show that Stapleton attended eight of the nine meetings that year, missing only one on the first day of a three-day retreat.
Stapleton’s intermittent attendance at PERA board meetings is not a new revelation, though it boggles the mind that he has continued to make it so easy for opponents to attack him on an issue he has been screaming about for years. If he does win the Republican nomination for Governor and tries to keep PERA reform as a top issue, Stapleton will also have to explain why he has been ignoring one of PERA’s biggest problems — the hundreds of millions of dollars being siphoned off by Wall Street fund managers for financial advice that consistently underperforms benchmarks.
Stapleton’s campaign website says that he “will bring the same persistence in fighting for economic reform to the Governor’s office as I have shown as Treasurer.” He has a tough task ahead of him convincing voters that this is a good thing.