Dear Walker Stapleton: Why Are You So Afraid of Westword?

"Dad, if you're going to share a photo on Facebook, maybe you should comb your hair first."
"Dad, if you're going to share a photo on Facebook, maybe you should comb your hair first." Facebook
Dear Walker,

Congratulations on winning the Republican nomination for Colorado governor. Even though you're already the state treasurer and you've got a name that you share with a former mayor of Denver (too bad about the whole KKK connection) and our old airport, not to mention a familial connection with the Bush political dynasty, it's still quite an accomplishment. But I'm concerned that you may be confused about some of the job requirements for the job you're seeking.

Which include communicating with reporters such as yours truly.

Yes, I work at Westword, a publication you branded a "phony news organization" (a comment your not-very-busy mouthpiece later kinda/sorta walked back) after our editor, Patricia Calhoun, wrote that you looked at her "the way a bull calf must regard a castration knife" when she tried to introduce herself to you at an event in August. She also quoted you as saying, "I can't talk to you. I don't do extemporaneous interviews. It doesn't work out for me. Talk to my people" prior to running away, Monty Python-style.

Long before that happened, however, you and your minions were figuratively giving me the Heisman.

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"Hi, Cory. I'm talking on the phone right now. What are you doing?"
I first reached out for an interview about the Colorado governor's race in October 2017, and spent months and months (and months) getting the runaround from folks on your team, with one possible exception. A couple of times, I actually managed to talk to a guy at your office named Bo, who promised he would pass along my request for an interview as part of our series of Q&As with major gubernatorial candidates to the right folks on your staff — and I'll bet he did, since he seemed as nice as nice could be.

But no one ever called me back, and message after message to your campaign manager, Michael Fortney, apparently fell into the meaningless void of space.

Every other Republican and Democratic guv hopeful who declared in advance of the June primary agreed to chat with me. The GOP contingent consisted of businessman (and Mitt Romney nephew) Doug Robinson, state Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, entrepreneur and former state legislator Victor Mitchell, tech expert and author Barry Farah, 2016 Denver for Trump co-chair Steve Barlock, former congressman Tom Tancredo, ex-Parker mayor Greg Lopez and 18th Judicial District DA George Brauchler, who is now focusing on a bid for attorney general. Also represented were a slew of Dems: former state senator Mike Johnston, onetime Colorado treasurer Cary Kennedy, business pros Erik Underwood and Noel Ginsburg, Congressman Ed Perlmutter, who's presently engaged in a re-election effort for the 7th Congressional District, and your current opponent, Jared Polis.

Not you, though. Fortney and another of your longtime associates, Josh Hanfling, ignored one entreaty after another until Calhoun threatened to make fun of you during an episode of the public-affairs TV program Colorado Inside Out. But rather than speaking with me directly, you only agreed to answer questions via email — which probably means one of your interns did it.

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"What do you mean the rest of the deer isn't on the other side of the wall?"
I hope she or he got college credit.

Following the primary, you named Lang Sias as your choice for lieutenant governor, and I asked if I could arrange an interview with him of the sort I was able to conduct with Polis's pick, Dianne Primavera. The response was radio silence prior to a September article in the Colorado Sun that explored Sias's ties to the notorious Tailhook scandal — after which things got even quieter.

You, Hanfling and supposed spokesman Jerrod Dobkin also failed to respond to my questions related to information about fines you received for being late paying property taxes as well as a more recent query in regard to reports that an employee for a political-action committee working on your behalf was recruiting potential volunteers at a rally last month reportedly attended by individuals tied to alt-right organizations such as the Proud Boys, which the Southern Poverty Law Center considers a hate group.

Granted, you've been appearing in media settings more often of late, including a series of debates against Polis. But those are controlled settings with plenty of opportunities to offer up well-practiced talking points. They may seem (your word) extemporaneous, but they seldom are — except for that time during the recent CSU Pueblo face-off when you asked Polis, whose children are ages four and seven, "Does that mean you'll tell your kids to smoke weed for schools?" That was high-larious!

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A screen capture from a recent debate in which Walker Stapleton asked Jared Polis, "Does that mean you'll tell your kids to smoke weed for schools?"
Such gaffes may make you want to go back to turtling up whenever you're in the presence of the press — but if you're elected governor, that's not going to be an option. Then you'll have reporters wanting to talk to you or your staff all the time — some of them from Westword (including Chris Bianchi, whom you ignored in regard to our recent governor's race cover story) and other news organizations that don't top your personal hit parade. Will you speak to them under those circumstances? Or will you freeze them out and make it clear that anyone who fails to be sufficiently enthusiastic about your every utterance should expect the same treatment?

Since I doubt you'll be calling me up between now and then, I guess I'll just have to wait until election day to find out. But until then, you don't need to be scared of me. I'm the opposite of terrifying. I own a goldendoodle, for Christ's sake. And if and when we finally meet in person, I give you my solemn vow that I will not try to castrate you.

Hang in there.


Michael Roberts
KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts