Seven gubernatorial candidates made a play to stand out on Nov. 12 at St. Cajetan’s event center.
A mix of businessmen, former politicians and civil servants debated Colorado politics during the three hour debate. The debate was hosted by a coalition of 13 different non profit and activist groups such as Together We Will Colorado and 350 Colorado.
“I think the question posed before us is what are we going to do to try to bind this state back together in a moment when it feels most divided,” said former State Sen. Michael Johnston as the debate kicked off. “And what are we going to do to prove to the rest of the country that is possible that democracy still works?”
Three different topics were covered during the forum, which were energy, immigration and Colorado elections. Energy was the most prominent topic discussed, taking an hour of debate time compared to the half hour that the two other sections were allotted.
Johnston, Noel Ginsburg, Former Treasurer Cary Kennedy, Former Mayor Greg Lopez, Congressman Jared Polis, Matthew Wood, and Erik Underwood all participated. Also invited but not present were Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne and Kathleen Cunningham. However, Lynne’s campaign sent a statement to the forum explaining her absence as well as her campaign’s platform.
Out of the candidates present, four had previous political or civil service experience. Johnston represented northeast Denver, Polis still serves in office and Lopez served as mayor of Parker. Kennedy worked as a budget analyst in the governor’s office before winning statewide election as treasurer.
Ginsburg has 37 years of experience as businessman. He has no prior political experience. Underwood is a tech entrepreneur. He ran as a GOP senate candidate in 2016. This year, he switched parties to run as a Democrat. He describes himself as fiscally conservative but socially liberal. Wood hails from Grand Junction and has no government experience.
Lopez was the only Republican. With the exception of Wood, the rest were Democrats.
Candidates kept on eye on a green future for the state while paying credit to the legacy of oil in Colorado. Fracking was one of the major issues raised during the energy debate. Polis was challenged for his reversal on a 2014 anti-fracking measure to have a boundary of 2,500 for fracking wells from homes.
“I’ve been on the record and have supported personally and financially 1,500 and 2,000 foot setbacks that allow homeowners to have it closer if they want, through surface use agreements,” Polis said.
As far as fracking went, however, none of the candidates seemed prepared to end the practice immediately. Instead, differences were found in how far each candidate was prepared to go to regulate the practice. Lopez went the least far when it came to fracking regulation. Kennedy and Johnston were both on the opposite end of Lopez, advocating the strictest measures possible. Although all candidates agreed that the practice should be phased out, they disagreed on how quickly that process should take place.
However, all candidates agreed on the importance of investing in renewables and pushing the state toward a fully green economy.
Immigration was another major topic discussed. With 17,000 Dreamers present in the state according to the Center for American Progress, DACA and sanctuary policies drew the most reaction from the audience. MSU Denver has spent the last ten years working to achieve Hispanic Serving Institution status. Themes varied from helping undocumented immigrants emerge from legal shadows to ensuring that the undocumented did not fear using emergency services.
Johnston brought a Colorado angle to the DACA issue. He said that during his tenure as state senator, he helped pass the Advancing Students for a Stronger Economy Tomorrow law which paved the way for undocumented students to pay a special tuition rate that made college affordable for those students. Previously, undocumented students who graduated high school in Colorado paid out-of-state tuition rates.
Significant conversation time was also paid to the Taxpayer Bill of Rights. In perhaps the only segment that provided any true dissension, Underwood said that he would work to end TABOR. Wood argued that TABOR was a matter for the people to decide without providing specifics. The rest of the panel offered similar arguments that TABOR needed to be reformed despite the challenges the law posed to the state’s budget.
“Colorado can be the state that stands up to the nonsense we see coming out of Washington and continue to lead,” Kennedy said in her closing pitch to voters.
She and the other candidates called on the state to continue its tradition of independent politics with its next governor.
The Colorado governor’s primary for both Democrats and Republicans takes place March 6, 2018.
Additional reporting by Cassie Ballard, Madison Lauterbach and Janis Carrasquel
To see the full forum by Met Report click here