Maes encounters stony silence at Club 20 debate

By Ellen Miller
WESTERN SLOPE CORRESPONDENT

GRAND JUNCTION — After loud partisans in the 3rd Congressional District debate had shaken the rafters at Two Rivers Convention Center in Grand Junction, Club 20’s gubernatorial debate between Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper and newcomer Dan Maes was a quiet, staid affair.

Republicans who had so lustily and loudly cheered for 3rd CD candidate Scott Tipton sat on their hands even when Maes, the upstart who came with strong tea partiers’ support to win the GOP primary, tried to offer an applause line.

The GOP silence was deafening, but spoke volumes about the split in the party. Outside Two Rivers, American Constitution Party candidate Tom Tancredo blasted Club 20 for excluding him from the debate, an action Club 20 took based on its adopted policies and rules.

Tancredo labeled the debate “melodrama. On the one hand is a fraud who won’t say who he is, and on the other is the Denver mayor, a liberal and for all I know he thinks the Western Slope is a microbrew.”

Tancredo’s appearance attracted a couple of dozen supporters. Club 20 officials paid him no mind, and inside Hickenlooper and Maes squared off.

Maes brought a cheering section of perhaps three dozen, and they tried gamely to cheer when he accused Democrats of “ignoring our Constitution” and said he’d “been running against big people all my life. I have indeed traveled all those miles that people don’t believe.”

Hickenlooper reminded Club 20 that when he addressed the Western Slope’s lobbying and promotional group during his first year as mayor, “I talked about water, and I needed to earn” respect.

“I told you Denver needed to conserve, and we have,” Hickenlooper said. “We have in the last six years reduced Denver water consumption by 20 percent.”

He stressed his business background as a geologist-turned-brewmeister and said he’s running for governor because “I think I can turn this state around faster than anybody else.”

Democrats in the audience cheered, but without loud opposition from Republicans, their enthusiasm waned, too.

Asked about transmountain water diversions, Hickenlooper stressed Front Range conservation (to polite applause) and Maes declared that “no cow or crop should go without water with green lawns in Denver” (to silence).

Former state Sen. Ron Teck, R-Grand Junction, asked how the state’s budget “structural problem” would be solved.

“There is a widespread sentiment that government is wasteful,” Hickenlooper said. “The challenge is to make sure we give real facts to voters.”

Maes said Democrats are too generous with income limits governing which children are eligible for the state’s CHIP health insurance program.

“When a young lady on Medicaid turns 18 and wants to stay on Medicaid, she has a child out of wedlock,” Maes said.

That remark drew boos from all corners except for the small Maes cheering sections.

Hickenlooper said he opposes Amendments 60 and 61 and Proposition 101, calling them “appealing on the surface but more damaging that helpful.”

Maes said Democrats “need to hear just how fed up people are.” He added that he supports Amendment 60, which would roll back property taxes, but he opposes the other two.

Maes got his only cheers from Republicans when he said he would sign a bill, should the Legislature produce one, modeled after Arizona’s controversial anti-immigration law.

Hickenlooper drew boos when he said he doesn’t favor such a law in Colorado, and said illegal immigration is a failure of the federal government. He called for a secure border, solid identification cards and a guest worker program, and suggested that a group of governors could work out a compromise and “march on Washington.”

ellenm@acsol.net