Three Republican gubernatorial candidates trained their fire on Democratic incumbent Gov. John Hickenlooper — and took a few shots at the missing fourth candidate — in a debate on Saturday at the Tri-City Baptist Church in Westminster.
Former Senate Minority Leader Mike Kopp, Secretary of State Scott Gessler and former U.S. Rep. Bob Beauprez obliged instructions from debate organizers to avoid personal attacks on each other and instead “save those attacks for the man sitting in office.”
Prodded by the panel posing questions mostly submitted by audience members, however, the three on stage chided former U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo, the fourth candidate on the primary ballot, who has said he won’t debate fellow Republicans and was represented on stage in the church sanctuary by an empty chair.
“Showing up is critical,” said Kopp, who said that traveling the state and “showing up” for thousands of conversations is what propelled him to the top line on the primary ballot by winning the most delegate votes at the Republican State Assembly last month.
“I wish Tom was here,” he said. “He should be here letting you take a measure of him as he answers the questions.”
Beauprez quipped that each of the candidates would speak less if there were four of them on stage but then turned his answer to a dig at the incumbent Democrat, claiming that Hickenlooper hasn’t shown up during his term in office.
“What is the governor’s agenda? What’s he done?” Beauprez posed to the audience of about 150. “In truth, most of us know is the joke is he’s just pushed off the table the job he was elected to do to his cabinet and chief of staff. That’s not leadership.”
Gessler said that showing up at events “is a two-way street” — not just answering questions and demonstrating competence but also gleaning insight from others in attendance.
“If you want to lead, you’ve got to have a team behind you, and part of that team is the people of the State of Colorado,” Gessler said. One way to assemble that team, he elaborated, is to show up at events like Saturday’s debate. “I think I can do a better job when I’m listening to people because I’m showing up face-to-face,” he said, adding, “I’m sad that Tom’s not here, but he’s losing out.”
A spokesman for Tancredo said after the debate that Tancredo was sticking to his guns — the candidate was meeting supporters at an Arvada gun shop hours after his primary opponents had debated — because the potential for giving ammunition to Democrats was too great.
Pointing to the 2006 GOP primary, when Republican Marc Holtzman tagged Beauprez with the sticky nickname “Both Ways Bob,” Tancredo campaign manager Brian Dotterer said that his candidate’s positions were readily accessible and that anyone who wanted to see how he operates on his feet has the opportunity.
The three candidates who debated on Saturday answered questions covering mostly familiar ground in the campaign.
All three said they would back a repeal of Amendment 64, the statewide ballot initiative that legalized marijuana in Colorado, though they also all pledged to do a better job regulating the drug, particularly making sure that children don’t have access to it.
They also all listed signing an order to execute death row inmate Nathan Dunlap as among the first actions they would take in office.
“That’s work the governor should have done,” Kopp said, criticizing Hickenlooper for putting an indefinite stay on Dunlap’s scheduled execution last summer. “The fact of the matter is, if we all look inside, nobody would want to make a decision like that,” he said. “But when we run for governor, you say ‘I will lead on the tough decisions and the easy decisions’ — you can’t punt.”
Kopp said he would also reverse the executive order that created a bargaining unit for state employees and would begin implementation of what he calls his “blueprint for a leaner government,” which he said would drive down costs for regulated businesses and reduce the size and complexity of state government.
Gessler said the first thing he would do would be to “remove the beer kegs from the Governor’s Mansion. We’re going to get rid of the beer in there.” Then, turning serious, he listed the Dunlap execution and rescinding the “mandatory unionization” of state employees as among his first actions in office. In addition, he said, he would “start paring back bureaucracy,” get to work on improving the state’s education system and work on cutting taxes.
“Nathan Dunlap will be executed, we will repeal the gun laws that John Hickenlooper signed, we will repeal Common Core,” said Beauprez.
After that, he said he plans to freeze “nonessential regulations” and comb through the books asking whether every regulation is “pro-freedom or is it anti-freedom? Is it pro-jobs and opportunity or is it anti jobs and opportunity?” That review, he said, will “send a message that Colorado is once again open for business.” Beauprez also pledged to take up the “challenge of reforming PERA,” the state’s retirement system for public employees.
Ballots go in the mail to primary voters in less than a month, on June 2. Voters who are affiliated with a political party have until May 23 to disaffiliate or switch to another party in order to vote in the June 24 primary. Unaffiliated voters can declare a party affiliation and vote in the primary as late as June 24.
Political columnist Krista Kafer moderated the debated. Three women who go by the name “The Americhicks” — they host a Sunday evening talk show on KLZ 560 AM — posed questions submitted by the audience: Lone Tree City Councilwoman Kim Monson, Obamacare expert Dr. Jill Vecchio, and financial consultant Molly Vogt, who is working as the field director for Americans for Prosperity’s Colorado operations.
The debate was organized by North Jefferson County Republican Women and Adams County Republican Women, Broomfield Republican Women, Boulder County Republican Women, Foothills Republicans, Jefferson County Republican Women, Mountain Republican Women’s Club; North Suburban Republican Forum and The Reagan Club.
Political watchers were anxiously awaiting the May 5 deadline for state candidates to file the year’s first fundraising reports. Has the Beauprez campaign put the brakes on Gessler’s fundraising? Did Kopp’s unexpected assembly win result in a surge in contributions? Can either Gessler or Kopp raise enough money to get the candidates in front of primary voters and overcome Tancredo and Beauprez’ lead in name identification?
Through the last reporting period, ending at the end of 2013, Tancredo raised $409,946 and had $120,406 on hand; Gessler raised $302,896 and had $114,195 on hand; and Kopp reported raising $103,788 and had $46,839 on hand. Beauprez didn’t enter the race until the first week of March so didn’t have any fundraising activity to report by the last deadline. By comparison, Hickenlooper had raised $1,627,729 and had $1,047,975 in the bank at the end of the year.