Oct. 24–Republican Walker Stapleton, down in recent polls and even more in the money race, seized forcefully on his chance Tuesday to make a final pitch that Democrat Jared Polis’ ambitions for expanding health care coverage and renewable energy would exceed the limits of Coloradans’ wallets.
“I don’t want a Colorado (that’s) dictating how we can turn on our lights or heat our homes at night,” Stapleton said during a debate co-sponsored by The Denver Post. “That’s not the Colorado way. The Colorado way is to keep the government out of our lives.”
During the last debate between the major-party candidates, Polis pushed back with confidence against Stapleton’s repeated characterizations that his plans for those and other issues would cost the state and its residents tens of billions of dollars.
At one point, in response to a question about how he would address climate change in his first year, he rattled off ways he would seek changes in state law and use his appointment powers on the public utilities commission to support cheaper renewable energy sources. Those efforts also would go toward his pledge to move Colorado’s power grid to 100 percent renewable sources by 2040, he said.
A moderator clarified: Did he think he could pass the laws he ticked off in his first year?
“If we Democrats win the legislature, I think we have a good chance of getting our agenda — at polisforcolorado.com — done,” he said with a smile.
More than anything, the 90-minute matchup clarified the stark differences in approach each would bring, with Polis pushing to be bold — and Stapleton pushing on the brakes.
Polis, a congressman from Boulder, and Stapleton, a Greenwood Village resident who is the two-term state treasurer, are vying to succeed term-limited Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat. Tuesday’s televised debate took place at the University of Denver and was sponsored by The Post, DU’s Center on American Politics and Denver7.
The stakes are high in the Nov. 6 election, and mail-ballot voting is underway.
Polis is seeking to become the third Democrat in a row to capture the governor’s office, while Stapleton is hoping voters will turn back to Republicans.
Stapleton has trailed Polis by notable margins in the few public polls released so far, with recent polls of likely voters putting Polis’ lead at 7 percentage points. Tuesday’s debate was the eighth and final matchup of a statewide debate tour between the major-party candidates.
Those previous events have touched on a round robin of recurring issues, including health care, education funding, transportation fixes, gun laws, immigration and how to encourage more renewable energy in a state that’s still a major oil and gas producer.
For his part, Stapleton said Tuesday he supports some efforts to address human-caused climate change, including continuing state tax credits for wind and solar power — but he reiterated that his “all-of-the-above” approach in energy includes fossil fuels. He said he wouldn’t support energy mandates.
Tuesday’s event drew out some distinctions.
Stapleton, when asked about his first-year spending priorities, first pivoted to repeating his criticism of Polis’ plans. Pressed again, he said he would focus on transportation and housing.
“Roads. Roads, infrastructure and attainable housing are the most important thing,” said Stapleton, who supports Proposition 109, a measure that would direct the state to issue $3.5 billion in highway bonds without raising taxes. He also said he’d rely on sports betting, the positive impact of federal tax cuts on the state budget and other sources to boost funding.
Polis said his first year’s major spending priority would be to expand Colorado’s current support for half-day kindergarten in public schools to full-day kindergarten. He estimated that would cost $200 million a year, and he says that he’d proposed dipping into the growing general fund.
He also would begin expanding the number of slots in the state-supported preschool program, he said — but he said his ultimate goal of universal preschool would take time.
On his plans for universal health care — which Polis hasn’t concretely fleshed out — he defended the ambitious goal, noting that less than 10 percent of Coloradans are without health insurance.
Asked if that marked a departure from his pledge for a single-payer system — potentially replacing private-sector insurance plans — Polis said: “The only way to get to any type of universal health care coverage is to save money. … I’m never caught up on the number of payers, whether it’s one or 17. I want to make sure we cut administrative waste and pass the savings on to Colorado families.”
Stapleton responded: “I mean, that’s just congressional speak for ‘I don’t have the foggiest idea of how I’m going to pay for it, but I’m going to make false promises of free.'”
In a rare moment of agreement, both candidates said they’d seek to have their administrations reflect Colorado but declined to pledge that their staffs would be half women or reflect that 32 percent of Colorado residents are non-white. Polis quipped, “I guarantee that there will still be some role for white men in my administration.”
Both declined to say for certain whether they’d lift Hickenlooper’s hold on the execution of Chuck E. Cheese killer Nathan Dunlap, though Stapleton sounded more inclined to let it proceed. Polis made clear, though, that he supports a repeal of Colorado’s death penalty law — while Stapleton said he does not.
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