June 19–In their final debate before the June 26 primary, the four Democrats vying for a chance to become Colorado’s next governor tussled Monday evening over everything from immigration and guns, to the state’s rural divide and oil and gas drilling.
But the real fight came on the topic of campaign-trail tactics, where the candidates again picked one another apart over allegations of negative television ads and inappropriate campaign financing.
The bulk of those attacks were leveled at U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Boulder, the presumptive front-runner, who has injected more than $11 million of his own money into the race.
“I think this election is for sale,” declared Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne, though she declined to name a direct buyer.
“He’s sure spending an awful lot of money,” quipped former Colorado Treasurer Cary Kennedy as she looked at Polis.
And former state Sen. Mike Johnston went after ads from Kennedy and Polis and their commitments to not attacking the other Democrats in the race.
“They caved on those promises,” Johnston said.
The theme of “clean campaigns” and whether candidates’ broke their pledges to run them was the most contentious part of the debate and is an issue that has been swirling around the Democratic race for weeks. It’s become a sticking point at forums and fodder for candidates’ news releases as they jockey for votes.
Heading into the final stretch before the primary, it was clear during Monday’s debate hosted by The Denver Post, Denver7 and the University of Denver that the theme wasn’t waning.
“When I started this race I wanted to spend the time hearing from actual Coloradans, not millionaires and billionaires,” said Polis in a stab at Johnston, who has won backing from some of the nation’s wealthiest Democrats. “… Candidates shouldn’t be forced to either be wealthy or spend time with 10 millionaires at a Denver steakhouse every night trying to raise the funds they need to compete.”
Johnston accused Polis of talking out of both sides of his mouth by advocating for campaign finance reform and also putting so much of his money into the race.
“Mike, look, if you didn’t have all these out-of-state donors, I wouldn’t have needed to put in my own money to keep up with you,” Polis quipped back. “Money begets money.”
Polis also accused Kennedy of running negative and false ads against him. Kennedy, in turn, said she disavowed an attack piece against Polis from an outside group backing her campaign, and shot right back at Polis that he had attacked her.
“I’m a fighter, but I fight clean,” declared Lynne, who has stayed out of the fray, but is behind in fundraising and name recognition among voters
On policy, the four candidates showed some differentiation on the hot-button issue of immigration.
None of the candidates would commit to making Colorado a “sanctuary state,” but each voiced support for ending interaction between local and state law enforcement and federal immigration authorities.
Polis called the Trump administration’s new policy of separating immigrants coming to the U.S. illegally from their children “acts of terror” and said “we should be a welcoming state for immigrants.”
He also voiced support — like the other candidates — for Gov. John Hickenlooper’s move Monday to sign an executive order forbidding any state resources from being allocated to that Trump administration immigration policy.
While the order is not expected to have any substantive impact, Hickenlooper says it serves as a rebuke of the president.
Lynne, who is Hickenlooper’s No. 2, also agreed with the governor’s move, saying of the Trump administration’s separation policy: “I think the word ‘reprehensible’ is probably even too mild.”
Kennedy declared that she thinks “local law enforcement shouldn’t have anything to do with enforcing federal immigration policy.” Johnston agreed, declaring “there’s no reason for the state to share that information with (Immigration and Customs Enforcement).”
The candidates also were split on oil and gas drilling, though they all oppose a potential ballot initiative to increase the distance between drilling and occupied buildings to 2,500 feet. The current setback is at least 500 feet.
Lynne did not offer a specific proposal. “I do think that a 2,500-foot setback is not something that most people support,” she said. “… I think it’s arbitrary. Quite frankly, I mean 799 could be my answer. But I think we have to rely on professionals.”
Kennedy agreed that current setbacks are too lenient and wants to give local governments more authority to set the boundaries — a power now mostly reserved to the state. “I support giving our local jurisdictions the authority to make those setbacks longer than they are currently,” she said. “… I don’t think we should have the same setback requirement for every single building in the entire state.”
Johnston said he, too, wanted the setbacks to be expanded beyond the current 500 feet, but contrasted with Kennedy because he believes in statewide setback rules. “But I believe that we need to have one set of statewide rules so you don’t have every local city council and county commissioner having oil and gas companies come and negotiate,” he said.
Polis also said current setbacks weren’t enough and noted he would still supported 1,500- or 2,000-foot setbacks as he proposed in the past.
“We need additional setbacks statewide, and we should be guided by science,” he said.
On guns, all four candidates said they supported a ban on military-style or assault-style weapons, as well as a so-called “red flag law” that would allow judges to seize firearms from people deemed a threat.
Polis blamed gun regulation gridlock on special interest groups — “It’s the gun manufacturing lobby or the NRA” — while Lynne said she would declare gun violence a health crisis if elected governor.
Johnston touted his record in the legislature supporting gun-control legislation, while Kennedy said students needed to be safe in their classrooms.
On Tuesday night, the four Republicans vying for governor — Colorado Treasurer Walker Stapleton, former Parker Mayor Greg Lopez, businessman Doug Robinson, and former state lawmaker and businessman Victor Mitchell — face off in a final debate of their own.
Staff writer John Frank contributed to this report.
(c)2018 The Denver Post
Visit The Denver Post at www.denverpost.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.