What better way to kick off the home stretch of the 2018 mid-term election than with a long time feature at Colorado Pols that we call our “Debate Diary.”
We’re LIVE at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Denver for the first gubernatorial candidate
debate forum of the General Election. Democrat Jared Polis and Republican Walker Stapleton have agreed to participate in 10 debates/forums over the next couple of weeks, with a particularly-busy schedule in the next couple of days that includes a CBS4/Colorado Sun/KOA debate tonight; a debate sponsored by Colorado Mesa University and Rocky Mountain PBS on Saturday in Grand Junction, and a debate moderated by the Pueblo Chieftain on Monday.
There are more than 50 tables full of Denver business leaders for this event sponsored by the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce.
*NOTE: The most current update will appear at the top of the page. As always, unless something appears in direct quotes, consider all statements paraphrased in the interest of time and/or the prevention of carpal tunnel syndrome.
This was a pretty tame debate overall, which perhaps should be expected given that it was the first of 10. The discussion also get pretty wonky at times — a reflection of the business-centered audience in the room.
In general, Stapleton seemed jittery and jumped around from topic to topic. He seemed mostly intent on repeating his line about Polis and his “extreme and radical agenda.” It appeared that Stapleton was trying to jab Polis to get him to respond forcefully, but he really just sounded like someone reading talking points from a focus group. The best thing you can say about Stapleton is that he wasn’t the complete disaster that he was during GOP Primary debates.
Polis, on the other hand, remained calm and focused on his message despite Stapleton’s repeated attacks. Polis surely knows that Stapleton badly needs some way to generate momentum in his campaign; it was wise for him to avoid taking that bait. Polis also came off as much more knowledgeable and prepared to discuss the topics in-depth.
Neither candidate landed any significant blows, and neither made any major mistakes. If you were undecided about the race before you watched this debate, it’s unlikely that you would have heard anything specific that would change your mind. But if you took a broader view of the debate and the candidates, Polis was clearly the better speaker; he backed up his points with specific stories and anecdotes from around the state, whereas Stapleton mostly just threw out jargon.
Stapleton needs to make a mark in these debates. He didn’t do that today. Polis entered today as the clear frontrunner in the race for Governor; nothing happened here that would change that perception.
Closing statement time. Stapleton goes first.
He brings up “Dads and Donuts” again — an event he mentioned in his opening remarks that he joked about being happy to miss. Stapleton talks about “debt financing” and “the associated payroll tax.” Hopefully this means something to this audience, because it just sounds like he’s throwing out phrases written on his note cards.
Stapleton says we would need a taxpayer funded bailout or the State of Colorado would go bankrupt under Polis’ economic plan.
Polis begins with talking about schools he has founded in Colorado, then transitions into apprenticeship programs and making higher education more affordable. “I’m a creative problem solver,” he says.
Polis says Colorado is a great state and mentions that he was born here, which is a not-so-subtle swipe at the fact that Stapleton was born in Connecticut and moved to Colorado only about 10 years ago.
Sealover says this is the last question: What do we do to update the Gallagher amendment?
Stapleton mixes up a nonsensical word salad about how he doesn’t like the current ratios. Sealover asks him for a specific figure that would be better. “I don’t know, Ed,” responds Stapleton. Well, good call on bringing that up, then!
Stapleton throws out a line about Polis’ “extreme and radical agenda” for the 700th time.
Polis jumps into his answer by commenting on Stapleton’s statement about being proud about his office implementing “BEST” grants. Polis says the funding for these grants comes largely from marijuana taxes, which he says is interesting since Stapleton continually bashes the marijuana industry.
Sealover asks for specific directions on changing Gallagher. Polis says that people don’t want Gallagher to go away, but that it needs to be adjusted. He goes back to his “convener in chief” line.
Sealover asks the candidates to get more specific on economic ideas and how the candidates might compare with Gov. Hickenlooper’s ideas.
Polis mentions several business competitions that he has judged and focuses on his experience in growing new startups. “Every 500 person company started as a one-person company.” In general, Polis uses a lot of specific terms and points to current programs around the state; he’s done his homework and it shows.
Stapleton says he wants to focus on mental health, homelessness, and the department of correcti0ns. What this has to do with his economic plan is unclear.
Stapleton says we have implemented misguided parole policies. He then says Polis was one of the first supporters of the marijuana industry, which is bad, or something.
We’re moving on to a question about water.
“Water is critical to Colorado’s future,” says Stapleton. He says he would make water a priority and that he would “fund it.”
Stapleton says that he doesnb’t think Polis has a real water plan because he doesn’t support increased storage. He concludes by naming a bunch of rivers in Colorado.
Sealover asks about how Stapleton would fund his water plan.
Stapleton says we have to engage the private sector to help. “We will be able to engage the private sector BECAUSE water is a finite resource.” Huh? Stapleton then says Polis wants to “de-fund water,” then repeats that Polis doesn’t have a water plan.
Polis responds: “Walker, it’s pretty clear you left the water conference the day before I addressed the water policies.” Polis effectively shoots down Stapleton’s claim that he has no water plan at all.
Next question is about how to develop rural economies.
Polis lists things like broadband internet and tele-medicine. Talks about “creative districts” in Loveland and Trinidad, Colorado. Says outdoor tourism could be a better focus for job growth, as well as reducing healthcare costs — says healthcare costs are always a top concern whenever he talks to a business owner.
Stapleton says we need a Governor who has a “holistic plan” for economic development. “I look forward to being a Governor with a holistic vision.” He’s very fond of saying “holistic development.”
Stapleton brings up Jordan Cove Pipeline project on the Western Slope, then mentions Northern Integrative Supply Project (NISP) in Northern Colorado.
Next question is about education, specifically higher education.
Stapleton says the next governor needs to be “proactive about creative solutions for higher education,” then mentions an education plan created by someone in Indiana and a program in Kentucky.
Polis says he agrees with income sharing programs that others have attempted in Indiana. Talks about apprenticeship programs and others that utilize career-based training. Polis talks a lot about the schools he founded in Colorado.
Sealover asks about road funding ballot measures. Polis says he has not taken a position but thinks there are problems with them. Stapleton says he is concerned about the funding mechanisms and segues into an endorsement he received from Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers.
Stapleton says he wouldn’t fund multi-modal transportation plans but would focus “Entirely on roads and bridges. Bridges and roads.”
Next question about healthcare costs.
Polis connects with the audience by talking about how he knows what it is like for small businesses to struggle to provide healthcare for employees. Talks about prescription drug prices and re-configuring pricing zones for important drugs. Polis mentions a LOT of specific policy ideas and is very smooth in his delivery.
Polis says he was proud to support Affordable Care Act and mentions that 400,000 Coloradans gained access to healthcare as a result. Takes a swipe at Stapleton’s plan to cut healthcare benefits.
“I’m very proud that Colorado is one of the healthiest states in the country,” says Stapleton. “Young people are paying more for their home mortgages…I mean more for their healthcare than their home mortgages.” Stapleton sounds like he tried to memorize a bunch of talking points but didn’t quite study hard enough.
Stapleton says Polis’ healthcare plan would “wreck our economy and bust our budget.”
Sealover asks how Stapleton will deal with healthcare when most funding comes from federal government. Stapleton says that New Mexico’s Democratic candidate for Governor doesn’t like Polis’ healthcare plan (?)
Next question about growing Colorado’s economy.
Stapleton: “Economic growth means jobs, and jobs mean growth.” Neat!
Stapleton says Polis’ healthcare plan is wrong and criticizes his decision to vote for the Affordable Care Act and the individual mandate.
Sealover asks about managing growth. “It involves bonding, it involves collaboration,” says Stapleton. He then says he passed “sweeping debt reform” as State Treasurer.
Polis: “I think Walker spent most of his time talking about me, which is what he usually does.” Polis says Walker may wish he was running against a big-spending Democrat, but that he is a successful business leader who understands how to balance budgets. Polis talks about a land exchange program for teachers in mountain communities that he promoted in Congress.
Sealover: Do we have the right economic development policies in place?
Polis tells a story about former Gov. Roy Romer saying that Colorado’s competitive advantage is our quality of life and beautiful scenery. Says being stronger in education is a marketing advantage.
Next question is about the energy industry. Sealover says that Stapleton is an advocate for oil and gas industry while Polis supports renewable energy.
Polis talks about his support from the people who work in various energy industries, then brings up Hickenlooper and pipeline defects. “I’ve long argued that we need to formalize the way we talk with our local communities about oil and gas development.”
Stapleton comes out swinging. “I know John Hickenlooper, and you are no John Hickenlooper.” Polis gets laughs by jumping in and saying that Hick is a little more to his left. “To use a baseball analogy, if John Hickenlooper were a left fielder, you wouldn’t even be on the ball field.”
Stapleton says Polis’ energy plan would cost $45 billion. Sealover asks Stapleton to name some renewable proposals that he would continue to support if elected. “I believe that the consumer, the hard-working Coloradan, needs to figure out what energy option is best for them.”
Next question about transportation funding.
Stapleton says the Department of Transportation would not spent $150 million on new administrative offices if he were Governor and would instead use that money for roads. Says he wants to tax sports gambling. Says our marijuana regulatory process is broken in Colorado. “It is a question of leadership, and leadership that I cannot wait to provide.” Calls Polis’ ideas “another radical, extreme proposal.”
Polis ignores Stapleton’s punch and sticks to his own policy plans. Talks about being a “convener in chief” to bring people together. Polis wisely pats the Denver Chamber on the back for its transportation ballot measure, then mentions that Stapleton’s transportation plan would take 600 years to fix our roads.
First question: What are the biggest changes you would make in the current budget and how is that affected by TABOR caps.
Polis says priority is education. Talks about funding full day kindergarten for all Colorado families.
Stapleton is wearing a dark suit and a gold tie. Stapleton says he would prioritize roads and infrastructure. Says he was one of first people to support Republican tax plan in 2017, which is a better thing to say than to stick with his long-debunked claim that he was the “only Treasurer in the country” to back Trump’s plan.
Stapleton doesn’t take long to start attacking Polis, which he does for a minute or two before a long, rambling answer about other budget things. He seems nervous and is kinda just vomiting out talking points.
Polis is wearing a gray jacket and black collared shirt. It’s his turn for an his opening statement, which starts out about his private sector business experience primarily. He mentions his support from Gov. John Hickenlooper.
We’re one minute into Stapleton’s opening statement, and he’s already bashing Polis.
Stapleton gets first crack at opening remarks. He makes a strange joke about how he is missing a father-student donut breakfast this morning, which he calls “one of the perks of running for Governor.” Uh, okay.
Our moderator this morning is Ed Sealover of the Denver Business Journal. Sealover is wasting no time with chit chat and jumps right into the introductions.