Polis and Stapleton come out swinging in event that kicks off weekend of debates

The Colorado gubernatorial candidates were in Denver to begin a string of debates this month.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Walker Stapleton leans into a mic next to Jared Polis, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, during a business forum on Friday, Oct. 5, 2018, in Denver. (Esteban L. Hernandez/Denverite)

Republican gubernatorial candidate Walker Stapleton leans into a mic next to Jared Polis, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, during a business forum on Friday, Oct. 5, 2018, in Denver. (Esteban L. Hernandez/Denverite)

(Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

staff photo

Our first glimpse of Jared Polis and Walker Stapleton sharing a stage made one thing pretty clear: These guys are not going to be friends.

Sure, Stapleton and Polis shared pleasantries after Friday’s gubernatorial business forum hosted by the Denver Chamber of Commerce concluded. They shook hands. But things got off to an aggressive start in the one-hour debate.

Stapleton wasted little time going after Polis, repeatedly calling the congressman “radical” while name-dropping him during his introduction. After Polis reminded folks he’s earned the support of fellow Democrat Gov. John Hickenlooper, Stapleton landed his best jab.

“I know John Hickenlooper and I can tell you, you are no John Hickenlooper,” Stapleton said.

The forum could set the tone for the remaining seven debates the two are scheduled to participate in leading up to this fall’s election. It wasn’t exactly an electrifying debate debut for either candidate, though it’s possible they’re both saving their best lines and energy for their scheduled televised debate Friday evening. (We’ll be watching!)

Here are three things we learned.

Stapleton will be on the offensive. 

After listing some of his goals for the state — making healthcare accessible, improving economic opportunities, fixing the state’s infrastructure and improving housing options  — Stapleton said none of these things will be possible if Polis is elected governor.

“Because he represents the most radical, extreme departure from Colorado that we’ve ever had,” Stapleton said. “He has promised unapologetically about $90 billion worth of spending that will triple our state budget.”

Stapleton, the State Treasurer, said there’s not a lot of ways to pay for this. While Stapleton went after Polis repeatedly, the congressman usually used his time to try to shut down the claims. It’s pretty obvious Polis sees himself as the favorite (comfort level: tieless at the forum, just a polo under the jacket). Stapleton will be the guy going after his opponent more often than not and trying to establish differences between the two.

The Colorado Gubernatorial Candidate Forum hosted by the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce on Friday, Oct. 5, 2018, in Denver. (Esteban L. Hernandez/Denverite)

The Colorado Gubernatorial Candidate Forum hosted by the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce on Friday, Oct. 5, 2018, in Denver. (Esteban L. Hernandez/Denverite)

Polis was quizzed on how he would balance oil and gas interests while advocating for renewable energy.

The congressman has a plan to make Colorado run on 100 percent renewable energy by 2040. He opposes the ballot measure that would increase setback distances. How would he handle potential conflicts between these two interests?

“I am always willing to roll up my sleeves and work with any industry to create jobs and to resolve conflicts in ways that avoid misguided, one-size-fits-all policies,” Polis said.

He commended Hickenlooper for working to identify and fix pipeline defects that could pose a risk to areas near oil wells. Polis was also supportive of the methane emissions rule. He said the state has an “appropriate role” in regulating how the oil and gas industry operates but added that he looks forward to bringing together working groups including local community members, oil and gas companies and environmentalist.

“We need to make sure we formalize the degree with which we consult with our local communities, our municipalities and counties around surface impacts that affect them,” Polis said.

The two have some varying ideas on sectors they would like to expand in Colorado.

When asked which sectors they would focus on that Hickenlooper didn’t target during his tenure, Polis said he was excited about the idea of a startup economy in Colorado. Both candidates have experience working in the tech world. Polis wants to expand and grow this specific business sector beyond the Front Range.

“I think that’s part of the challenge of helping the startup economy, meaning the infrastructure, the coworking space, the mentorship network, the angel-funding network, (to make it) more a part of the statewide landscape,” Polis said. “It’s personally exciting for me when I get to visit coworking space in Montrose, in Grand Junction.”

Stapleton had a longer list: He wants to focus on mental health, homelessness and addressing issues within the state Department of Corrections. He said there’s a lack of coordination between municipalities and the state in these issues.

“I had two young people over the last week that killed themselves in my neighborhood,” Stapleton said, referring the two students at Arapahoe High School who died this week. “We have a chronic problem with mental health issues in the state of Colorado. And we have a growing homeless problem. Anybody who spends time in the 16th Street Mall can tell you that.”

Want to learn more?

You can watch the two debate again tonight at 6 p.m. on CBS4. The debate will also air live on CPTV12 and KOA NewsRadio.