Yesterday afternoon, rumors circulated that Republican gubernatorial candidate Walker Stapleton would finally address what’s emerged as a significant problem for his campaign. Stapleton’s dubious claim to a a “fourth generation Coloradan” rests on the legacy of his great-grandfather and former Denver Mayor Benjamin Stapleton, who rose to power with the support of the then-powerful Ku Klux Klan. Even as debate rages over changing the name of the Stapleton neighborhood in Denver and the New York Times profiled the controversy in depth, Stapleton has doggedly refused to respond except to say he is “looking forward”–this after having celebrated Ben Stapleton in previous campaign ads.
Until yesterday, when Stapleton sat down with CBS4’s Shaun Boyd for what we fully expect he believed would be the end of the matter. And then Boyd, one of the state’s most experienced but less confrontational political reporters, did something few expected.
She made the connection from 1923 to 2018:
Stapleton says he’s not his great grandfather — he was born 25 years after the elder Stapleton died — but he hasn’t expressly denounced Benjamin Stapleton’s involvement in the KKK, until now.
“I categorically condemn racism of all forms and I categorically condemn hate organizations and they will have no place in my administration as governor,” he said in a sit-down interview with CBS4’s Shaun Boyd.
But Stapleton’s critics note the man who introduced him at the state assembly — former Congressman and immigration hardliner Tom Tancredo — sat on the board of a white nationalist organization. [Pols emphasis]
You see, gentle readers, all this time as Stapleton and his press flaks reacted with feigned indignation to the merest suggestion that Stapleton should answer questions about his family’s KKK history, there was an easy connection to straight-up, undiluted white nationalist racism sitting in plain view the whole time–repeat GOP gubernatorial loser and ex-Rep. Tom Tancredo, who sat on the board of the white nationalist organization VDARE during the recent controversy in which that group was denied conference space in Colorado Springs. The VDARE scandal was just the latest in a decades-long career highlighted by unabashed racism so pervasive that Tancredo was declared persona non grata in George W. Bush’s White House.
But where Stapleton’s cousin George W. Bush shunned Tancredo, Stapleton embraced Tancredo to win over the state’s stridently conservative Republican primary voters. As Boyd reports correctly, during the primary Stapleton said he’d “love to utilize” Tancredo in his administration, even hinting to voters that Tancredo might be his lieutenant governor pick.
Today Stapleton says that’s “laughable” and “hogwash.” But after Boyd lays out the facts, that only makes it worse.
It’s not hyperbole to suggest that this could be a turning point in the governor’s race. The Stapleton family’s KKK history is a controversy that almost everyone agrees Walker Stapleton should have easily overcome. He could have taken care of this in 2010, when in addition to celebrating Ben Stapleton he could have taken two seconds to acknowledge Ben’s imperfect record. He could have done so at any point this year as the inevitable stories were written, and his refusal to make the simple, clear statement needed to get out from under his great-grandfather’s shadow became a story of its own. Stapleton’s allies like the Phil Anschutz-owned Colorado Springs Gazette put their own credibility on the line, lambasting the New York Times, the Denver Post, and everyone else who dared bring this subject up with rhetoric that can only be described as totally unhinged.
After this unexpectedly disastrous interview, it’s Stapleton’s defenders who are wondering what the hell comes next. As for Tom Tancredo? Walker Stapleton is no victim here, he opened the door and let Tancredo in. As a result Tancredo’s divisiveness and toxicity, one of the best-known reputations in all of Colorado politics, could help cost Republicans the governor’s race for the third consecutive election cycle.
And that is really quite extraordinary.