Candidates for guv woo women’s vote

Three GOP hopefuls strut their stuff
The Colorado Statesman

Three of the four Republican gubernatorial candidates debated at Colorado Christian University on Tuesday and all three declared victory, as did the fourth, who maintains that primary debates only give Democrats fuel for the fall election.

A month before votes are counted in the race to challenge incumbent Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper — mail ballots for the election go out at the beginning of next week — each of the Republicans running claim they’ve got the upper hand in the crowded field.

Former U.S. Rep. Bob Beauprez, former state Senate Minority Leader Mike Kopp and Secretary of State Scott Gessler traded criticisms of Hickenlooper and visions of a Republican-led state — featuring lower taxes, fewer regulations and executions of certain death row inmates — at the 90-minute debate, which was moderated by former Senate President John Andrews, director of CCU’s conservative think tank, the Centennial Institute, and was broadcast live on the News/Talk 710 KNUS radio station.

Former U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo skipped the debate, as has been his policy since last fall.

Republican gubernatorial candidates former U.S. Rep. Bob Beauprez, former state Senate Minority Leader Mike Kopp and Secretary of State Scott Gessler laugh during a debate sponsored at Colorado Christian University on May 20 in Lakewood.

Although billed as a debate on “Women and Colorado’s Future,” there were only a few specific questions about issues pertaining to women, and those were posed from a decidedly conservative perspective. For a portion of the debate, four conservative women panelists lobbed questions at the candidates, including several submitted by members of the roughly 250 in attendance at the Christian school’s Music Center in Lakewood.

Debbie Brown, McKenzie Hughes, Krista Kafer and Helen Raleigh prepare to question three of the four Republican gubernatorial primary candidates at a debate on “Women and Colorado’s Future” at Colorado Christian University on May 20.

The theme from The Dating Game TV show played as the panelists took their seats — “Bachelor One, Bachelor Two and Bachelor Three,” Andrews said with a chortle before noting that all three candidates’ wives were also in the auditorium — and a few other times during the debate as KNUS host Steve Kelley took care of station business.

Republican gubernatorial candidates former U.S. Rep. Bob Beauprez, former state Senate Minority Leader Mike Kopp and Secretary of State Scott Gessler share a light-hearted moment during a debate on the topic “Women and Colorado’s Future,” sponsored by the Colorado Christian University organization Women of the Centennial Institute.
Photos by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

Asked about the purported “war on women” decried by liberals and Democrats, all three candidates rebuked the notion that one exists.

“It’s senseless rhetoric,” Beauprez said dismissively. “It’s stuff that happens in politics, and I don’t think we should get wrapped up in an argument about their semantics.”

GOP candidates can change their “tone and tenor,” Gessler suggested. “In recent years, the Republican Party has sometimes seemed disrespectful or harsh. We can’t come off as judgmental,” he said, charging that Democrats display hypocrisy when they blast conservatives for blocking equal pay legislation while paying their own women employees less than men. The rebuttal to the accusation — considered key to Democratic victories in the state this decade — is to “show our policies succeed and their policies fail,” he added.

Asked to name a woman the candidates respect — “other than your wife or mother” — Beauprez described a woman who worked at his bank, Kopp pointed to audience member and supporter former Pueblo City Councilwoman Vera Ortegon, and Gessler said he admired historic icons Helen Keller and Susan B. Anthony.

The candidates agreed on virtually every topic presented, slamming state government for doing a poor job of preparing for legalized marijuana and decrying the slow pace of the economic recovery since the 2008 recession, but took different tones when asked how they would handle death row inmate Nathan Dunlap, whose execution Hickenlooper put on hold last summer.

“Many times when John Hickenlooper should act, he passes the buck. When asked to carry out the execution for Nathan Dunlap, he kicked the can down the road to the next governor,” Beauprez said earlier in the debate. Later, he said, simply, “Nathan Dunlap will be executed.”

Kopp agreed, equally succinctly.

“I would have let justice go forward,” Gessler said, looking thoughtful. “We have a jury system that works. We have a death penalty in this state for the most heinous of crimes — something we never celebrate. We need to respect our juries. We need to respect our laws. I would have let that go forward.”

Andrews spoke quickly as the audience began to applaud. “It’s somber, it’s nothing to rejoice in, but you’re hearing three very principled men of integrity come down identically on how justice should be served.”

Given the chance to admonish Tancredo for skipping the debate — Hickenlooper was also invited, organizers said — the candidates went easy on their primary opponent. Beauprez said he’d let Tom make his own decisions and then blasted Hickenlooper for failing to “show up” as governor.

Kopp made a similar point, shaking his head. “Tom should be here,” he said, and then turned his fire on the Democrat, who he called “a nice guy, someone you would like to hang out with,” but also someone who waffles and avoids hard decisions. “Mastering the art of motion without consequence is no way to lead the state,” Kopp said. “I wish he was here to talk about that.”

Gessler said he learned plenty every time he appeared at forums or debates and chided Tancredo for missing that opportunity, though he also added that he agreed that Republicans shouldn’t be attacking each other.

Tancredo spokesman Brian Dotterer said the day after the debate that Tancredo was sticking with his plan to stay away from intraparty scrums and instead train his attacks on the Democrats. “Primary debates don’t serve the eventual nominee well, and there are plenty of opportunities for voters to get access to Tom,” Dotterer told The Colorado Statesman, ticking off numerous meetings on the candidate’s schedule. In addition, he said, voters with questions can call up the office and have a good chance of reaching the candidate on the phone.

The remainder of the debate showcased the candidates’ well-honed pitches arguing why each is best qualified to take on the popular incumbent.

“Colorado has always been big enough to accommodate the dreams of everyone. That is, until about eight years ago,” Beauprez said, referencing the period when Democrats began consistently winning state elections, including Beauprez’ own 16-point defeat for governor at the hands of Democrat Bill Ritter. “Colorado’s better than this,” he continued. “We’re bigger than this. We historically have been the envy of the country — when they say the ‘shining city on the hill,’ I assumed they were looking uphill at Colorado. Let’s be great again, and let’s begin in November with electing a new Republican governor in Colorado.”

The job of the next governor, Kopp said, “should be to empower individuals and not the government. Every decision our next governor makes ought to be viewed through the lens of whether or not it empowers individuals: Does this advance freedom? Does it hold the line against the oppression that the Left has foisted on us? And beyond that, does it actually advance our individual freedoms, does it lift people up who are in despair and people that need jobs who are in poverty? Does it free the shackles of higher taxation and excessive government regulation? We all understand that a big government means small people. I do believe that the governor needs to make it a relentless focus to empower individuals and not the government.”

Gessler said he came to Colorado nearly two decades ago to find a better life and advance “through hard work and perseverance, not to game the system.” But, he warned, “we are headed in the wrong direction. We have a governor who, if you look at his actions, his agenda, has done everything he can to grow government, to restrict our abilities to get ahead, to live the type of lives we want. Whether you look at gun control or renewable energy mandates or increased taxes — there’s a long list — he’s done it. For me, this is sort of personal,” Gessler said, noting that his parents grew up in Detroit “when it was the richest city in the world, and now it’s in shambles.” Likewise, he added, he started his career in Chicago, another great city, he said, “in decline.” Those once-great cities offer a lesson, Gessler said: “Our future depends on the choices we make today and the values we transmit to our children.”

Before the crowd had entirely dispersed, each of the campaigns was proclaiming that their candidate had come out on top.

At Tuesday’s debate, Beauprez’s campaign blasted an email to supporters saying, “Beauprez was the only Republican to have a comprehensive plan to empower businesses and encourage job growth. … Beauprez set the pace and was the only candidate to have the vision, experience and drive to govern Colorado.”

The campaign noted that Texas Gov. Rick Perry was among the high-profile endorsements Beauprez has won in recent weeks, including two former gubernatorial candidates who didn’t make the primary ballot, state Sen. Greg Brophy and Adams County businessman Steve House.

“Mike stood head and shoulders above his opponents tonight — articulating a vision of empowerment, presenting a specific plan and once again demonstrating he is the new generation conservative to lead our state,” Kopp campaign manager Sean Walsh told The Statesman.

Gessler’s campaign manager, Rory McShane, took a slightly different approach, getting in digs at the other two candidates who had appeared at CCU.

“Unlike just our opponents who mouthed platitudes and then erroneously claimed ‘victory’ Secretary Gessler provided REAL examples of things he’s achieved in office, like this week generating a million dollars in revenue for the state by licensing innovative software,” McShane told The Statesman.

As Republicans are set to start voting, McShane said, the campaign is confident that the candidate — nicknamed the Honey Badger for his relentless tenacity — is benefiting from the same momentum that saw Gessler win a caucus-night straw poll conducted in some counties.

“All our numbers show that voters are most moved by the fact that Scott is the only candidate with a record of executive accomplishment,” McShane said after the debate. “All the candidates can say ‘I voted for, I fought for, I voted against, I fought against.’ But Scott’s the candidate who can point to actual executive accomplishment.”

The debate was sponsored by The Women of the Centennial Institute, CCU’s conservative think tank and itself the sponsor of the Western Conservative Summit, an annual confab that brings thousands of activists and politicians to Denver for a weekend of seminars and speeches. This year’s schedule includes former South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, set for July 18-20.

Ernest@coloradostatesman.com