With Colorado’s gubernatorial election less than a month away, the leading candidates are finally meeting face-to-face, laying out the political courses they hope to chart and — at least to a modest degree — taking off the gloves.
On Oct. 5, Democratic Congressman Jared Polis and Republican State Treasurer Walker Stapleton conducted what was technically termed a “forum” but which occasionally veered into the more combative territory of a debate.
In what might be a result of his trailing in recent polls, Stapleton waged most of the combat, wasting few opportunities to describe Polis as a tax-hiking, debt-raising “radical,” while Polis put up his dukes only rarely and usually in a strictly defensive mode.
The well-attended early morning event was sponsored by the Denver Metro Chamber and more than 20 partners from Colorado “business-focused organizations,” and took place at the Hyatt Regency at the Colorado Convention Center.
The forum was capably moderated by Denver Business Journal political reporter Ed Sealover who guided the candidates through a broad range of issues.
None of the topics discussed had specific relevance for members of Colorado’s Jewish community. Such issues as the state’s potential relationship with Israel and recent upticks in anti-Semitic incidents and harassment in Colorado would have been addressed in an interview with the Intermountain Jewish News, but both candidates have been non-responsive to this newspaper’s repeated interview requests.
Those areas that were explored offer a general view of their substantial differences and occasional similarities. What follows is a summary of the candidates’ responses and their relative positions on issues of importance in Colorado, circa 2018.
State Budget Priorities
Polis would prioritize increasing state funding for education, especially in the early childhood category. State funding currently supports only half-day kindergarten programs in public schools; he would like to broaden that to encompass full-day kindergarten and other preschool programs.
He touted his “100-day agenda” for health care, emphasizing state support for preventative health care programs, including mental health.
His platform stresses expanding coverage, lowering costs for prescription drugs, bundling payments for Medicaid and setting up a state reinsurance pool.
State funds that are saved through such efforts, Polis said, would be used for the state’s transportation and road needs.
Number one on Stapleton’s priority list would be roads and infrastructure, he said, regardless of the outcome of next month’s voter initiatives — notably Initiative 153 and the “Fix Our Damn Roads” proposal — related to these issues. Next would be programs to help create more “attainable housing” for potential homebuyers.
Stapleton wants to make Medicaid more sustainable by working with the array of state agencies involved in the expansion of the state’s health care insurance program. It needs to be streamlined and made more sustainable and accessible for young people through cost-cutting measures.
President Trump’s tax plan implemented last year, Stapleton said, will make it easier for Colorado to achieve these goals.
“Fixing Colorado’s crumbling infrastructure” to achieve 21st century transportation standards is a mainstay of Stapleton’s strategy, he said, stressing that he opposed the state’s expenditure of $150 million to build “new offices for bureaucrats” in the Dept. of Transportation.
Stapleton would work to allocate more of Colorado’s general fund for road improvement by raising revenue through taxing sports gambling, reforming a “broken” regulatory model for medical marijuana and making CDOT more fiscally accountable and transparent.
Polis says Colorado is already paying for poor roads and inadequate public transportation through decreased productivity. While interested in the idea of taxing sports gambling, he said that any revenue generated through that source would be grossly inadequate for Colorado’s transportation needs.
Introducing a theme he repeated several times, he described the governor’s role as the state’s “convener-in-chief,” who should actively solicit ideas from voters, both political parties, local government leadership and the business community.
Noting his endorsement from various groups associated with the oil and gas industry, including pipefitters, Polis said he would work with that sector to resolve conflicts and avoid “misguided one-size-fits-all policies.”
While stressing the importance of such safety and environmental concerns as fixing pipeline defects and reducing methane emissions from gas extraction technologies, Polis said he wants to formalize the state’s regulatory role by making it more compatible with local jurisdictions. Legal conflicts between industry and various government jurisdictions cause delays in production and waste money, he said.
Stapleton countered that while Polis is a “radical” who strongly favors renewable energy sources over oil and gas, he supports an “all of the above energy strategy” that includes fossil fuels.
Oil and gas generate significant employment and revenue for Colorado, Stapleton says, while there is a “law of diminishing return” on the economic viability of renewable sources. After the point where 70% of the state’s energy needs are met with renewables, he said, those sources cost more money than they save and the increased costs are passed on to consumers.
Polis said his 100-day plan would reduce health care costs by resisting drug price gouging, using the state’s insurance regulatory power to protect consumers, reducing the disparity of health care costs between Colorado’s urban and rural regions and establishing a reinsurance program to keep premiums affordable. These efforts would be enhanced by measures to support telemedicine and mobile medical clinics.
Polis’ advocacy of universal health care for Colorado — an early keystone of his campaign and the target of some of Stapleton’s most withering criticism — remains the congressman’s “north star” on the issue, he said. That goal is an eventual one, he said, but one that he promises not to give up on.
Stapleton promised to invest resources in supporting mental health care for Coloradoans, provide more marketplace choice both within and without the state exchange and encourage more industry competition with the goal of making available more affordable health care plans for young people.
Cost savings are crucial to all of these efforts, Stapleton said, while Polis’ goal of mandating universal health care for Colorado would literally bankrupt the state. “That is not compassionate,” he said. “That is cruel.”
Focusing on higher education, Stapleton voiced his support for the “income sharing” plan currently in place in Indiana in which Purdue University contracts with students to pay back their educational expenses after they are employed in their chosen field. It is a better alternative to “unfunded” student loan debt at the federal level.
He also emphasized skills-based and vocational training programs, noting a plan being used by Toyota which subsidizes such training for its employees. Not everyone who graduates high school, Stapleton said, is best served by seeking a college education.
Polis expressed agreement with all of these suggestions, but added that union apprenticeship programs and high school internships are additional areas that the state should consider supporting.
He emphasized his own background in establishing several schools in Colorado and stressed the critical importance of education to the state’s economy.
Polis would empower agricultural economies in rural areas — and also some urban areas — by opening new markets through economic diversification, expanding outdoor recreational assets and supporting increased internet connectivity, telecommuting and telemedicine.
He added that helping develop “creative” assets in arts and culture can be a boon to smaller rural communities, pointing out that Loveland and Trinidad are setting positive examples in this area.
Stapleton said he aspires to be a governor with a “holistic” vision for economic development who would set up offices in all of the state’s rural regions to encourage business relocation and development.
He would work with local governments to develop expanded broadband and internet systems and encourage telecommuting as an employment option. Working to attract energy development in rural areas would be an additional priority.
On the issue of water — Colorado’s “lifeblood” in Stapleton’s words — he would expand the state’s water storage capacity, an effort that would include a thorough cleaning and upgrading of existing storage tanks.
An important pillar of his water policy, Stapleton added, would be to fund such efforts by raising water fees according to usage — those who use more would pay higher rates.
“Water is a finite resource with a return,” he said, emphasizing its critical importance to the energy sector, Colorado’s growth and the state budget.
Polis said that he also supports expanded storage and cleaning programs, voicing support for the water plan recently put in place by outgoing Governor John Hickenlooper.
He added that the state should be an active and creative advocate for reducing water usage wherever possible, including in the agricultural sector. The importance of water to the state’s farming industry and to urban development and growth cannot be overstated, Polis said.
Area of Choice
Given the opportunity by the moderator to speak about an area of particular interest or concern, Polis emphasized that Colorado should continue working toward creating a diversified economy.
Noting his own experience as an entrepreneur who has done very well with startups, he said the state should take full advantage of its “tremendous creativity of spirit” in encouraging entrepreneurial development.
As governor, Polis said he would concentrate on regulatory reform to encourage startups in Colorado, especially easing regulations on raising capital and securities, and making a concentrated effort to streamline crowdfunding sourcing and facilitate tech transfers between universities.
Stapleton’s area of choice was threefold: Mental health, homelessness and corrections.
He noted that these areas are interrelated in significant ways but that the state suffers from a lack of coordination in its ability to deal with them. Misguided parole policies and insufficient rehabilitative services and mental health treatment for inmates contribute to high recidivism rates and consistently high rates of homelessness and violent crime.
“This is not the Colorado that we want in the future,” Stapleton said. “I know we can do better.”
Chris Leppek may be reached at IJNEWS@aol.com.