GOP guv hopefuls duke it out

The Colorado Statesman

The three Republican gubernatorial candidates who debated on Thursday said they would work to repeal gun-control measures signed last year by Gov. John Hickenlooper and all three added that they would consider working to expand the rights of Coloradans to carry and use firearms in the state.

On stage at KUSA-TV studios were former Senate Minority Leader Mike Kopp, R-Littleton, Secretary of State Scott Gessler and former U.S. Rep. Bob Beauprez. Former U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo, the fourth candidate on the primary ballot, declined to attend the debate, having said previously that he won’t debate other Republicans. The GOP candidates traded barbs for the first time since the June 24 primary ballot was set earlier this month.

“The 2nd Amendment is there for a reason. It’s not for duck hunting, it’s not so you can shoot an elk for dinner,” said Kopp. “It’s there so people can protect themselves if they’re under attack.”

Republican gubernatorial candidates former Senate Minority Leader Mike Kopp, Secretary of State Scott Gessler and former U.S. Rep. Bob Beauprez prepare to answer questions during an hour-long debate at KUSA-TV studios on April 24 in Denver. Former U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo, the fourth Republican on the June primary ballot, skipped the debate.

Kopp said he would support removing restrictions on the right to carry concealed firearms — the so-called “constitutional carry” policy — and supports expanding the state’s Make My Day law to businesses and workplaces. In addition, Kopp said he supports allowing school districts to arm people inside schools.

“Everything rises and falls on leadership. Everything does. And our state has not been led well,” says former Senate Minority Leader Mike Kopp, R-Littleton, during a primary debate between Republican gubernatorial candidates on April 24 at KUSA-TV studios in Denver.

“I have no problem with the expansion of gun rights provided people use them responsibly,” said Gessler. While he “would have focused more on mental health” in response to the 2012 Aurora theater shooting, Gessler said he trusts teachers “if it’s appropriate for them to be armed” and would “have no problem with that and would support that.”

“Colorado deserves better leadership and on my watch they’ll get better leadership,” says former U.S. Rep. Bob Beauprez during closing remarks at a debate among GOP gubernatorial candidates on April 24 at KUSA-TV studios in Denver.

Beauprez said the difference between Republicans and Democrats over gun control highlights the two major parties’ opposing philosophies. “One believes people are the problem,” he said, referring to Democrats, “and the other believes people are the solution.”

“The reason I won is because I articulated principles in a positive way,” says Secretary of State Scott Gessler during a GOP gubernatorial debate on April 24 at KUSA-TV studios in Denver.
Photos by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

One thing he said the state could do right away to make it easier for law-abiding citizens would be to allow those who have already passed the “exhaustive process” required to obtain concealed-carry permits to bypass yet another background check every time they want to buy a gun.

The three candidates agreed on several other questions posed by moderators Kyle Clark, a 9 News anchor, and political reporter Brandon Rittiman during the hour-long debate.

All three said they would execute convicted killer Nathan Dunlap, whose death sentence Hickenlooper stayed last year, and all three said they would sign a bill repealing the ASSET legislation providing in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants who meet certain conditions. They all said that local governments should not have the power to ban hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and all said they’d welcome a fracking operation on their own property, although Gessler and Kopp allowed that a drilling rig might not fit in their backyards. They also all said they wouldn’t back tax increases to pay for K-12 education, higher education or prison costs.

Asked whether they would sign a bill repealing civil unions for same-sex couples, Gessler said he would have to look at the bill but that the option was “on the table,” Beauprez said he wouldn’t sign a repeal and Kopp said a repeal isn’t on his agenda but that he’s “always been a firm believer in traditional marriage.”

While all three are avowedly pro-life, the candidates parsed different responses to a question about their specific stances on abortion restrictions.

“I believe life begins at conception and ends at natural death,” said Gessler. His mother had “a difficult pregnancy” with his little sister, he said, acknowledging that, “those are tough decisions women have.” Gessler said his policy restricting abortion would include an exception when the mother’s life is endangered and that policymakers “need to consider exceptions for rape and incest as well.”

Beauprez said he will continue to “speak out on behalf of innocent life,” but added that he’ll “also be very respectful of the wishes and conclusions of other people,” who hold differing views.

“I don’t think it’s on the agenda right now for anyone in this campaign,” Beauprez said. He added, “This is an issue that gets trumped up in every political campaign for obvious reasons, to divide people on a very difficult issue.”

“I am always in favor of protecting unborn life,” Kopp said. “I believe when a woman is pregnant, she has a human life inside her.” Noting he has “always voted pro-life,” Kopp said he isn’t “one of those candidates that will get squishy during a political campaign.”

When Democrats nominated pro-life gubernatorial candidate Bill Ritter in 2006, Kopp observed, liberals found a way to get past those differences, even though they used the issue to bludgeon Republicans.

“It’s not an issue I’m afraid to talk about,” he said. “I am pro-life and would absolutely stand up for legislation that protects life without exceptions.” However, he added, if he were governor, he would sign legislation “that created exceptions in the interest of saving some.”

The Republicans jumped at the chance to fire back at New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who earlier this week slammed Colorado’s “quality of life” in the wake of marijuana legalization, saying it’s a state “where there’s head shops popping up on every corner and people flying into your airport just to come and get high.”

Kopp said he basically agrees with Christie that legalized marijuana might have ill effects, but drew laughter from the studio audience when he added, “Getting advice from the governor of New Jersey on Colorado’s quality of life is like getting advice from the cast of Jersey Shore for dating.”

Gessler said the state’s marijuana policy “has been mismanaged,” although he added that he respects that voters passed the constitutional amendment legalizing the drug.

Beauprez — who headed the state GOP’s efforts to bring the next Republican National Convention to Denver before jumping into the gubernatorial race early last month — said that he looks forward to inviting Christie to Colorado and expects to get the chance if Denver lands the 2016 RNC. “I’d like to show him what this state’s really about,” Beauprez smiled.

In response to a later question about regulating marijuana-infused “edibles,” all three agreed that the state needs to regulate the product more tightly. “We’ve had two kids selling edibles at their schools,” Kopp said, noting that he has a 7-year-old son. “I don’t want to be wondering if the candy he’s eating is really candy.”

Asked to address perceived vulnerabilities unique to each candidate, the hopefuls sounded confident.

Told by Clark that “ethics” is the phrase most closely tied to Gessler’s name by the Google search engine, Gessler swatted back the suggestion that opponents might have a field day should he win the nomination.

“We have a corrupt ethics commission in the state of Colorado,” he said, calling the Independent Ethics Commission “controlled and dominated and run by Hickenlooper re-election supporters who are personally and financially interested in seeing him re-elected.”

Gessler called the Hickenlooper administration a “pay-to-play” affair. He blasted a conference in Aspen where donors were able to gain access to the governor and his staff — a situation the IEC ruled last week passed ethical muster. It was the opposite of the IEC’s ruling against Gessler over his use of state funds to attend a Republican lawyers event held in Florida during the 2012 Republican National Convention, which was ruled a violation of state ethics rules and is currently under appeal.

Kopp said his conservative record won’t hinder him at the polls.

“I campaigned on issues like cutting taxes, immigration reform, regulatory reform. You know what I did?” he asked. “I actually went to office and advanced those issues.” He said he campaigns on the issues he plans to implement and that voters can see he follows up on his campaign promises.

Asked whether his losing 2006 campaign for governor was as bad as commonly thought, Beauprez said he’s made plenty of mistakes in his life and he’s always learned from them.

“If we disqualified everyone who lost a game, we’d probably be looking for a new quarterback every season for the Broncos,” he cracked, adding that he hadn’t just compared himself with Peyton Manning.

The debate streamed live on the 9News.com website and is available on the station’s video archive. It airs at 7 p.m. on April 26 on KTVD and at 11 p.m. on April 27 on KUSA.

Ernest@coloradostatesman.com