Get to Know Colorado's Gubernatorial Candidates, in Their Own Words

Get to Know Colorado's Gubernatorial Candidates, in Their Own Words
iStock photos and Westword photo illustration

Who isn’t running for governor of Colorado in 2018?

There are enough candidates wanting to succeed term-limited Governor John Hickenlooper to fill a Coors Field dugout if you count left-field hopefuls such as Westcliffe resident Teri Kear, whose bid lacks a website, and Moses Carmen Humes, represented online by a gubernatorial Facebook page that’s garnered just north of thirty likes. And those players with at least a slim chance to score would still populate the diamond and the outfield, plus quite a few seats in the stands.

The field will be thinned on April 14, during the first state assemblies since 2016, when future President Donald Trump declared that the system was rigged...because he didn’t win.

This year, Democrats will gather at the 1STBANK Center in Broomfield, while Republicans plan to meet at the Coors Events Center on the University of Colorado Boulder campus. At these get-togethers, delegates selected at caucuses earlier this year will throw their support behind aspirants for the governorship and other state races. Those who attract at least 30 percent of the vote are guaranteed a spot on the June 26 primary ballot. Anyone who doesn’t, and who’s also fallen short in the petition process, which requires 10,500 signatures deemed valid by the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office, is out.

Several prominent figures have already withdrawn from the contest. Representative Ed Perlmutter announced that he would give up his congressional seat for a chance to sit behind the governor’s desk before reversing course. George Brauchler, district attorney for the 18th Judicial District, decided to set aside his dream of becoming governor to seek the position of Colorado attorney general, which opened up when Cynthia Coffman came down with her own case of gubernatorial fever. And both ex-rep Tom Tancredo and businessman Noel Ginsburg pulled out when the wave of support they felt would sweep them into office turned out to be little more than a ripple.

Leading Democrats for guv who remain include former state treasurer Cary Kennedy, who won her party’s caucus with around 50 percent of the vote, as well as onetime state senator Mike Johnston (the only Dem to date to have petitioned his way onto the ballot), Representative Jared Polis, Lieutenant Governor Donna Lynne and tech expert Erik Underwood. Among the members of the GOP contingent are Attorney General Coffman, Colorado Treasurer Walker Stapleton, 2016 Denver for Trump co-chair Steve Barlock, businessman (and nephew of Mitt Romney) Doug Robinson, entrepreneurs Victor Mitchell and Barry Farah, Larimer County Commissioner Lew Gaiter and ex-Parker mayor Greg Lopez.

To help you sort out who’s who, we’ve rounded up excerpts from in-depth Westword interviews conducted with the competitors who responded to us, about subjects ranging from their qualifications for office to what they see as the biggest issues facing Colorado. We’ll start with Republicans and move on to Democrats.
Republican Barry Farah - COURTESY OF BARRY FARAH
Republican Barry Farah
Courtesy of Barry Farah
On why the Republican candidates are running for governor:
Barry Farah: With George Brauchler and Tom Tancredo dropping out, it seemed to me that the combination of those two represented some conservative ideology that’s not being represented, certainly at the assembly level, and maybe in total. I feel very strongly that needs to be represented. It’s part of the infrastructure of the Republican contribution. The American idea means something, and if it means anything, it means that we celebrate economic freedom, that we dignify personal responsibility, and that we champion limited government.
I’ve spoken on those three things for twenty years and have spent a lot of time thinking about them and processing through myself as my own personal philosophy — and that’s why I say they’re not being represented in the way they need to be for the heart and soul of the Republican Party to continue with a cogent argument.

Doug Robinson: I see a Colorado that’s changing, with a lot of good things happening. But I don’t see an active leadership that’s shaping the state. What do we want Colorado to look like ten years from now, twenty years from now? What do we need to do so that this continues to be a place of opportunity, a place where your kids and grandkids want to live? We’re changing, and the question is, are we going to have leadership to shape that change? Or will they respond to change as it comes? I think for most people in Colorado, the number-one concern for them is economics. The backbone of strong families and strong communities is good jobs. Unfortunately today, one of four Colorado kids grows up in a household where an adult member of the household doesn’t have a full-time job. So that’s a concern.

Steve Barlock: The Republican Party in Colorado has been taken over by an elite group, I would say, and I’m not happy how that went. It doesn’t allow the common voter to get a candidate they can choose.

I’ve grown up in Colorado. I’m a fifth-generation Coloradan. I go back to the 1860s in Central City, with miners and even a tenor in the taverns up there. On my mother’s side, I have a politician in the 1880s. They used to call him Honest John. That’s as far as my political dynasty goes, except for a few judges. And at least in my political dynasty, I have a politician who was actually called honest. There have been a few Honest Johns in Colorado history, but he was one of the first.
Republican Doug Robinson - COURTESY OF DOUG ROBINSON
Republican Doug Robinson
Courtesy of Doug Robinson
Victor Mitchell: Like many people, I’m very frustrated and disillusioned with the politics of our day — politicians who can’t seem to get anything done. I’m not a politician. I’m a businessman, I’m a leader. And I think we need that type of thinking to really lead our state forward. Our whole campaign is very substantive. We’re putting forward very big ideas, a very substantive agenda. We’re taking on the big issues of the day and really trying to bring a degree of competence and leadership to our state’s government.

Walker Stapleton: In my time as state treasurer, I led the fight to kill the largest two tax increases in Colorado history and have been a vocal and tireless advocate for reforming our pension system, which has up to a $50 billion unfunded liability, the largest debt we have as a state. I will continue to lead in the governor’s office on issues like public safety, stopping sanctuary-city policies, and fighting for the taxpayers of Colorado.

click to enlarge Republican Walker Stapleton - COURTESY OF WALKER STAPLETON
Republican Walker Stapleton
Courtesy of Walker Stapleton
Lew Gaiter: I have had the position of chief executive in the private sector — in my own company and as president of a statewide nonprofit organization — as well as in the public sector, as chairman of the Larimer County Board of County Commissioners. These experiences have taught me the importance of leadership and working with people.

As a county commissioner, I have worked with commissioners across Colorado, and I am the immediate past president of Colorado Counties Inc. I am also a current member of two state boards (the Colorado Board of Health and Statewide Internet Portal Authority) and a past member of two other state boards (the Child Fatality Review Committee and the State Emergency Medical and Trauma Services Advisory Council). These positions have allowed me to be very involved in issues affecting all Coloradans and have given me relationships with leaders around the state.

Cynthia Coffman: I think that I am the best qualified, based on my experience not just as attorney general, but having been in public service in Colorado for many years. I know how state government should work, and I know that things aren’t working now. I know the people and the way to fix problems. I think that I’m definitely the best qualified person and the right fit at the right time.
Republican Steve Barlock - COURTESY OF STEVE BARLOCK
Republican Steve Barlock
Courtesy of Steve Barlock
On immigration:
Farah: There’s really one thing the governor can do related to immigration, and that is he can apply public pressure opposing sanctuary cities, and I would do that. I believe it’s absurd that any mayor can invent which federal laws he wants to comply with and then choose arbitrarily which federal laws he doesn’t want to comply with. I think that’s a bad path for anyone to take, because look at what happens if you turn that on its head.
Right now, you might be violating the law in an area you feel as a mayor is a matter of policy that you believe in.
But what if other mayors started revolting against federal laws you do believe in because they don’t believe in them? Are we just going to allow all the mayors to make up their own laws as they go? No. We’re a country of law, and we have an approach that’s laid out for federal law to change. You can’t just choose to violate those federal laws, especially when you’re dealing with criminals who are dangerous and when you’re messing with the incentive system for police officers.

Barlock: I will enforce all illegal-immigration laws, and I’m not for any sanctuary cities — and I’m not supportive of countries being able to buy property in Colorado that are supposedly sending us refugees. Doing real estate, I have to represent my clients to the best of my ability to get what he wants. And what he got was a check from Juárez, Mexico, and the people who bought this property, they said they’d spent millions of dollars over the past six months running around buying up little beat-up properties up the corridor. Now, I’ve got to go, “Why is that happening?” And it’s because we have marijuana, and they want to export it out of the state — but they also want to bring in drugs and illegal immigrants to take advantage of our system. I’m tired of that.
Republican Victor Mitchell - COURTESY OF VICTOR MITCHELL
Republican Victor Mitchell
Courtesy of Victor Mitchell
Stapleton: Sanctuary cities are a direct threat to public safety in Colorado and are a violation of federal law. We should work with law enforcement officers, both local and federal, to make sure we are keeping dangerous criminals off our streets. This issue has nothing to do with going door-to-door or breaking up hardworking families, but has everything to do with using all law enforcement tools at our disposal to keep illegal immigrants who have committed serious crimes out of our state.

On Trump:
Robinson: I’ve been happy with some of the things he’s done and concerned about others. I’m especially happy about Neil Gorsuch. I think it’s a real coup for Colorado to have a Supreme Court justice. It’s been quite a number of years since Byron White. I also think [Trump] has been strong internationally in terms of the response to Syria.

Barlock: I feel that because he’s draining the swamp — and I want to drain the swamp in Colorado, definitely — there will be backlash. And that backlash has deep pockets. Their main purpose in life is to make his life a living hell. But Donald Trump is working hard for the American people, and he is as loyal to America as any individual has ever been.
Republican Cynthia Coffman - FILE PHOTO
Republican Cynthia Coffman
File photo
Coffman: I’m glad we have a Republican president, as a Republican myself. I think there are things policy-wise that are very beneficial to the country, the tax cuts being chief among those. The president has a different style than I have — not surprisingly, since we’re different people. But he has a different approach and a different way of characterizing things. And sometimes I cringe, and I would put things differently. But overall I am pleased with the progress we’re making as a country.

On infrastructure and government spending:
Mitchell: We’re going to have a lot of changes in the coming years with autonomous vehicles. We’re going to have to think that through. We’ve never had a twenty-year transportation plan, either, which I plan to implement as well. I believe we’ll be able to put as much as $2 billion into infrastructure in the first year of my administration without increasing taxes or fees or anything like that, but doing more with less and reforming CDOT. It’s a political bureaucracy right now, and it’s very inefficient, and they can’t seem to fix anything.

Farah: In addition to that $1.5 billion we already spend [on transportation issues], we need $800 million to $900 million per year, and that fixes a lot of roads. That gets you eight lanes from Colorado Springs to Fort Collins, it gets you to eight lanes where necessary on I-70, it bumps up your laneage in a lot of parts of the Western Slope, it fixes your bridges, it fixes a lot of roads in rural Colorado that are in desperate need of repair — like, roads that are physically dangerous to drive on. It fixes all of those. The impact studies are already completed. This is not a novel thing to fix roads. There are a lot of places in the world that do it a lot faster. We just need the leadership to get it done.

Transportation used to be about 8 percent of the budget, and now it’s down to about 6 percent of the budget. So it’s absurd that one of the most important things a state government can do would dwindle in size on a percentage basis — and we have so much that needs to be done. It’s not complicated; it just needs leadership.

Republican Lew Gaiter - COURTESY OF LEW GAITER
Republican Lew Gaiter
Courtesy of Lew Gaiter
Barlock: It’s [about] cutting wasteful spending. Boulder has a nonprofit that received a grant from the city — taxpayers’ money — to research straws, and the waste of straws. There are hundreds of these programs that are just wasteful. They’re paying off political promises with these nonprofits. So the first thing we need to do is dig deep, and like I said, there are no sacred cows. Everything is going to be reviewed. We need to get our budget in working order, and our fast pace has gone so quickly that money is leaving us like a sieve, and we need to figure out how to plug that up.

Stapleton: Colorado’s Department of Transportation spent $150 million on new offices while leaving our infrastructure in shambles. We need new leadership. We traded out a Delaware bureaucrat for the mastermind behind the “Big Dig” in Massachusetts. I will put someone in charge who knows how to build roads and bridges and look to radically decrease the overhead and operational costs at the department so that they can focus on its core function of building roads and bridges.

On education:
Farah: You need all the choices you can get in education. And education has a comparative advantage concept just like the free market. Go back to Dave Ricardo’s concept — Dave Ricardo was a contemporary of Adam Smith — of comparative advantage that he introduced. He introduced it for markets, but I’m applying it to people. And the idea is that you can do three or four things, but if you can find the one thing you’re great at, that you have passion for, you can become a really productive person. And my heart for kids is for them to learn and develop and grow and become fantastic at something. So now, not only are they producers and economically self-sufficient, but they’re also happy and they have a passion. You have to have choice to make that happen.

Robinson: Colorado is a little challenged, because it’s one of the few states in the country where the state [education] board is outside of the governor’s direct control. [Boardmembers are] elected directly by the people, and even their chairperson is elected by the board. But even so, the governor does have a great deal of influence, I think, in focusing them on what really matters. And I think we need better outcomes for our students.
Specifically, I think there are some innovative models in other places around the country. At the heart of education is our teachers, and we need to make sure we’re hiring, recruiting, mentoring and paying our best teachers what they deserve to be paid. I believe charter schools and choice and other innovative models improve the public schools in terms of creating more competition. I’m a big believer in STEM education, including one of the nonprofits I’ve been involved in, KidsTek.

Mitchell: My plan on higher ed, which I talk about quite a bit, is to triple the amount of STEM graduates — science, technology, engineering and math graduates. My plan also calls for freezing in-state tuition rates for any in-state kid for the entire term of my administration. Right now, they’re growing by anywhere from 5 to 8 percent, and it’s upwards of $35,000 a year for a kid to go to CU today. And the third thing I’m going to do is to drive down the high cost of student housing. There are very few affordable housing options for any of our in-state kids in higher ed, and that’s roughly one-third of the cost. I plan to do a lot more to promote affordable housing for students in our state.

Barlock: We are a global testing ground for unproven education systems. I believe we need to budget our education system better; we need to be fairer to teachers. But I feel our teachers’ unions in Colorado are some of the worst things for teachers, because they don’t work for the teachers. They work for the administrative branch of the education system in Colorado. Their leaders always get good jobs when they get votes, and I think they lie to teachers. I’m all for working with teachers, students, families and taxpayers to find a reasonable budget for education. I do want the best for the students in Colorado, but we can’t budget ourselves out of existence and hurt the state.

"No parent in our state should be forced to send their child to a failing school, and all children in Colorado should have access to a high-quality education, regardless of income or zip code."

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Stapleton: We should empower families to make the best decisions for their children. No parent in our state should be forced to send their child to a failing school, and all children in Colorado should have access to a high-quality education, regardless of income or zip code. School choice to me is about equal opportunity and investing in our children and the future of our state. We need to be smarter with the funding we have, first and foremost. Not enough money is getting to the classrooms, where it belongs. We need to pay our teachers well and give them the tools they need to teach our kids, but unfortunately, so much money gets caught up in the bureaucracy and never sees the classroom. Expanding school choice is another method of having our dollars go further, and I would look at every avenue to expand educational opportunities as a means of increasing quality and decreasing the cost of our education model.

On marijuana:
Mitchell: I’ve talked to more than a dozen school districts all across the state, and I’m calling for transparency and public accountability and scrutiny with every dollar of marijuana revenue. We’re going to have a website where anyone can log in and see where the money’s coming in and where it’s going out in real time.

But I’m also going to lead a public-awareness campaign as governor to make sure people are well informed about the recreational aspects of marijuana. Marijuana is not like alcohol, contrary to what the industry is advocating. It is a gateway drug, as the toxicity of marijuana is much greater. It stays in your system for weeks, if not months. It’s not in and out of your system like alcohol, and there are DUI-related incidents every day that are marijuana-related. We need to be able to speak truth to power and educate our public. There is a counter-narrative to what the marijuana industry, the well-heeled industry, is putting out there. But that doesn’t mean I support repealing Amendment 64. The voters have spoken. I didn’t support Amendment 64, but I believe in the rule of law, so I plan on enforcing that.

Farah: Marijuana is a state issue; our state has voted on it — although the jury’s still out on whether or not it was all that wise. When you take the THC out of it, I’m a total proponent of it. Absolutely. Eliminate suffering wherever you can. When you allow for recreational marijuana with high content of THC, I’m not sure of the wisdom of that. But it’s settled law, and as governor, I wouldn’t do anything to upend the settled law. But I would promulgate the courtesy laws that are already in place and encourage people to go ahead and enforce them, so while these other studies are being finalized, we can at least be courteous to one another.

Barlock: Donald Trump supports states’ rights. Our state’s citizens have made marijuana the law. And until a federal judge says that [Attorney General] Mr. [Jeff] Sessions is correct and says, “Enforce that law,” I will go by our state law, which is voted for by the people of Colorado.

Robinson: I actually played quite a role in the campaign [opposing Amendment 64]. And we lost. At the time, I didn’t think it was the right thing for Colorado and for our kids. But 55 percent of the voters said that it was. It’s in the [state] constitution. That’s the law. A lot of the conversation among the politicians has been, has youth usage gone up or down since it passed? But to me, I think that’s really irrelevant. Youth usage is too high. We’re the highest in the country in some of these measures — not just in marijuana, but heroin and opioids and some of these other problems we have. So my focus since then has been, let’s keep these products out of the hands of our young people. Let’s educate them as to what they are and keep them out of their hands.

Stapleton: There have been a lot of unintended consequences that have come with legalization of marijuana. I don’t think a repeal is a realistic option, so as governor, I will work with the industry and stakeholder groups to make this work. We need to have better guardrails in place to...address some of the unintended consequences we have seen develop.

Coffman: In terms of federal intervention, I think my position as governor will be very similar to my approach as attorney general. This is something Coloradans voted into the constitution in the initiative process, and I will defend the fact that this is part of Colorado’s state law. Obviously, with Attorney General Sessions choosing to retract the memos that were put into effect during the Obama administration, we’re now left with our U.S.
attorneys having the discretion to make enforcement decisions. So far, as nearly as I can tell, there hasn’t been a change in Colorado in terms of how legalized recreational marijuana is being addressed. But I think we have to see what comes down the road — if either the attorney general or Congress decides to take more action.

I think we’ve done a decent job in Colorado of setting up a regulatory scheme and having law enforcement enforce the laws. I say “decent” because I think there’s room for improvement as time goes on. Overall, as far as pros and cons of legalizing marijuana, I was not in favor of it, and I have great concerns about how school-age kids perceive marijuana as a drug and the risks that are associated with it for them, as young kids with developing brains. I have much fewer problems with adults making those decisions for themselves and having that free will, and much more concern about kids. To me, the jury’s out on the extent to which having legalized recreational marijuana is causing more impaired driving, because I don’t think we have the solid statistics that we need to judge that.
click to enlarge Mike Johnston with his children. - KENZIE BRUCE
Mike Johnston with his children.
Kenzie Bruce
On why the Democratic candidates are running for governor:
Mike Johnston: How do we make sure Colorado is in a position to help drive the new economy and not be dragged behind the old one? What we’ve seen is that there’s so much disruption coming to our world through globalization and automation and the changes in technology — all of these workers who’ve been in existing industries for generations that are seeing dramatic changes and dislocation. We’re going to see up-and-coming people coming out of college and elsewhere who are going to experience eleven and twelve and thirteen different careers over the course of their lifetime. We have to prepare a system that helps to train and re-train them over the course of their lifetimes, so if they’re at 45 and their industry dies or contracts, they have the infrastructure and the skills to get prepared for the next emerging industry.

Cary Kennedy: I grew up in a family that was committed to service, to reaching out and helping others. That’s what inspired me to work in public service. I grew up in a family with three brothers and sisters who joined my family through the foster care program, and I also have a sister who joined my family through a faith-based organization. So I grew up with kids who didn’t have the same opportunities I had, and I saw firsthand how important it is that we provide opportunities for people — and to most of those kids growing up here in Colorado, the only opportunities they get is through our public schools. It’s one of the reasons I’m so passionate about making sure that every child in Colorado and every school in our state provides opportunities that give them the foundation for lifelong success.
Democrat Jared Polis - COURTESY OF JARED POLIS
Democrat Jared Polis
Courtesy of Jared Polis
Jared Polis: I think there’s an enormous opportunity to turn bold ideas into results at the state level on issues that really make a difference for our country and for families. If you look at something like climate, with President Trump pulling out of the Paris Accords, all the progress on climate and clean air is getting made at the state level. And I have a bold plan to move our state to 100 percent renewable energy by 2040 and create clean-energy jobs that can never be outsourced. And if you look at the other issues that I’ve spent a lot of my career on, which are education and providing opportunity for families, again, we’re not going to see anything positive coming out of Washington. The only thing we’re going to see is funding cuts. But at the state level, it’s really time to stop talking about investing in kids and time to build a winning coalition to actually do it.

Erik Underwood: I introduce myself as a candidate who is about change and is also lifting the bar of what is expected about my leadership as the next governor. I talk in solutions, not sound bites. Everything I talk about from a policy standpoint or what I propose about how to fix issues and problems here in Colorado, I have a way of doing it. I think that’s refreshing, and I think that’s something some of the other candidates lack. They lack details in their ideas, and I don’t lack details in my ideas. I’m not claiming to have the best ideas in the world, but I do have a plan for all of my ideas, and I will take my plan and my ideas any day of the week versus sound bites and people throwing fluff out there.

click to enlarge Democrat Donna Lynne - COURTESY OF DONNA LYNNE
Democrat Donna Lynne
Courtesy of Donna Lynne
Donna Lynne: I spent twenty years in the public sector and twenty years in the private sector. When John Hickenlooper called me a little less than two years ago and said, “Would you step down from your private-sector position to help with the state?,” I didn’t hesitate. It’s that strong feeling about service.

On education:
Johnston: [The day] I launched [my campaign], I introduced what I call the Lifetime Opportunity Promise, which is the opportunity for any Coloradan to have access, debt-free, to two years of either career training or post-secondary education as a way to get them the skills they need and the opportunity at the jobs they want in industries that are emerging. I think that’s going to be the next economic and social driver of the country over the next ten to twenty years. I think that’s by far the biggest one.

I think the other ones are what we can do to build a world-class education system that will keep up with that, in both the K-12 world and our early-childhood education. And I think the third is how does Colorado harness the infrastructure we need to support that, which is a question of transportation, it’s a question of energy, it’s a question of water, it’s a question of natural resources and the built resources we’re going to need to move people and products over the next thirty years. I think we have a looming crisis in all of those areas.

Lynne: We established through executive order something called the Education Leadership Council. Through that council — and I worked extensively with the governor on this — we established a bipartisan, geographically diverse, expertise-diverse body that included some of our legislators, both Republicans and Democrats. It included superintendents, teachers, parents, other experts in the field of education. We’re working on a multi-year plan that will establish a vision for education going back to early childhood and all the way through our university system.

Right now, I’m the co-chair of something called the Early Childhood Learning Commission, and we spend a lot of time talking about the efficacy and some of the challenges there are in early childhood. But study after study shows that an investment in early childhood pays off in dividends. It’s much harder to remediate somebody years down the road than it is to make sure they’re reading at a third-grade level. And if they’re not in pre-K or a good kindergarten, that’s not going to happen. So from a pre-K standpoint, I think we need to have a conversation about how we would fund pre-K as well as kindergarten.

click to enlarge Courtesy of Cary Kennedy - COURTESY OF CARY KENNEDY
Courtesy of Cary Kennedy
Courtesy of Cary Kennedy
Kennedy: We have a lot of work to do to really support our educators and support our school districts. That includes making sure all kids in Colorado can attend preschool and kindergarten and start with a strong foundation. It includes paying our teachers as professionals. We’re one of the lowest teacher-pay states. And we need a talent pipeline: We want to attract the best and the brightest to come and teach in Colorado’s public schools.

We can do much more in our high schools to give kids employable skills when they graduate. That includes technical and professional and vocational courses we can offer in high school. And we can also make college more affordable.

Polis: I’ve been an advocate for innovative models in education and working to improve schools that aren’t working for kids. I started a couple of charter schools to work with at-risk students, including the New America School, which works with new immigrants, and the Academy of Urban Learning, which works with homeless youth and leads to transitional housing. We need to decide as a state if children and families should be a priority. I think that’s where many voters in this state are. It’s where people in this state are, and we can certainly begin by establishing preschool and kindergarten.

Underwood: We’re in the 21st century. We need 21st century-type innovative programs in school. I’m not saying we can’t still have home economics and wood shop. I’m saying we need to include computer programming and other skills necessary for students to be able to adapt in the world that surrounds them in technology. We have to do that in the urban schools and the rural schools and in every school in Colorado. I want everyone to be on the same foot and the same level in education in Colorado. These are things we need to talk about — 21st-century skills for everyone in Colorado, from kindergarten all the way through high school. We have to do better. We have to innovate in these classrooms to give students the skills they need, so when they graduate from high school, they can either go into the workforce, or they can go to college and enhance the education they need for their careers.

On infrastructure:
Kennedy: My track record while I was state treasurer was to bring the largest investment in infrastructure to rural Colorado that I know of in recent history — over $1 billion in school construction, most of which has gone into small, rural communities. I understand that rural areas of Colorado have unique needs and unique concerns. That’s transportation, that’s broadband, that’s transmission, that’s educational infrastructure. And what I hear is that they want someone in the Capitol to be their partner — someone who’ll listen to them and respect that they know what’s best in their community, and they just need someone in the Capitol who will support them in accomplishing their objectives. That was my track record as treasurer, and that is the type of leadership I will bring to the Capitol as governor.
Democrat Erik Underwood - COURTESY OF ERIK UNDERWOOD
Democrat Erik Underwood
Courtesy of Erik Underwood
Polis: A lot of those planning decisions about growth and how it occurs are made in local communities, and the governor should in no way, shape or form be forcing decisions on those cities and counties about what they want to do in terms of their planning. But certainly, the transportation infrastructure is a statewide issue, and I’ve long been a supporter of expanding rail and multi-modal transit, meaning a bus- and bike-friendly transit system, and making sure we can get ahead of this growth by making sure we don’t sacrifice our quality of life in the name of growth. I really want to focus on preserving what keeps Colorado special, and a big part of that is our open spaces, our parks, our quality of life.

Lynne: There are...challenges ahead of us. Transportation is one. The funding we got through the hospital-provider fee in this last session gave us some opportunity to fund transportation, but not to the level that communities have identified as needs. And our population continues to grow, and as that happens, we’re going to have additional transportation challenges and housing challenges.

Underwood: I’m definitely going to get my hands around TABOR and lead the effort to repeal the TABOR Amendment. It’s holding our state back financially. How can we improve our roads and our infrastructure in Colorado when we can’t keep much-needed tax revenue for these improvements? So I’m going to lead the charge to free up our hands. We have to repeal TABOR, and I think a lot of people, both Democrats and Republicans, recognize that now. We can do it either in the state legislature, or I would be willing to call a special session to put it in an off-year election vote. I think it’s that important. If I get elected as governor, I’m willing to put that up for a vote, probably in the fall of 2019. In fact, that would be a top priority of mine.
click to enlarge Jared Polis plays softball in his spare time. - KENZIE BRUCE
Jared Polis plays softball in his spare time.
Kenzie Bruce
On the economy:
Lynne: I think we all have to be proud of what this administration has been able to do, whether it’s reducing unemployment from 9 percent to 2.4 percent, to cutting the number of uninsured in half.
We’ve got to make sure that we continue having the best economy in the country. But we also have other challenges ahead of us, and I think I’m equipped to take them on. That means better and more affordable health care. It means dealing with some of our transportation issues. And I think also one that’s emerging more and more, and that people have talked to me more and more about as I’ve traveled around the state, is affordable housing.

Johnston: I’ve been fighting for five years on this issue of Amazon, trying to create fairness between online businesses and other businesses to try to make sure Amazon pays its fair share of sales tax to support local industries. I sponsored that legislation, they sued us over it, we fought over it, we finally won at the Supreme Court. … They’re going to be opening a new factory with 1,000 jobs in Aurora. We found a way to create an economy that works for all Coloradans, and everyone pays their fair share — but also that we see the new economy’s coming and it’s not bringing back old manufacturing jobs. It’s going to bring new distribution jobs and new ways of getting services to people. We want to be at the forefront of that and leading it, not sort of tagging behind it.

Kennedy: I’ve been involved in many of the largest economic-development projects in the state. As CFO of Denver, I helped work on opening up, for example, the area around Denver International Airport for commercial development. And we’ve seen Panasonic [Enterprise] Solutions coming into that transit-oriented development situation.

As we bring companies like Panasonic and others that want to be here in Colorado, they bring high-paying jobs, they bring innovation and technology. These are companies that will support our economic vitality for decades to come. Right now, many of our companies are having to go outside of Colorado to find people to fill those high-paying jobs. So part of the reason our economy is growing is because many of these companies are recruiting from out of state. I want our kids who are growing up in Colorado to have the educational skills and foundation to compete for the jobs that are coming here so they can afford to stay here — so we can keep Colorado affordable. They can afford to live here, and they can enjoy the wonderful quality of life we all have in Colorado.
Polis: What good is a minimum wage that’s so low people are still on food stamps and public assistance and can’t even pay their rent? We need a minimum wage that allows people to live and have some discretionary income, which they then spend, and it goes back into the economy and helps businesses succeed in Colorado.
Democrat Cary Kennedy - COURTESY OF CARY KENNEDY
Democrat Cary Kennedy
Courtesy of Cary Kennedy
On immigration:
Kennedy: Immigration is a federal issue. The failing of Washington to implement an immigration system that works for our families and our businesses — it’s Washington’s failure. For us locally in Colorado, it’s really important that all people here feel comfortable with their local law enforcement. We want everyone to report crimes when they see them, we want everyone to feel that they can report, for example, child abuse or domestic abuse. We don’t ever want to create an environment where people are afraid of their own local police officers. So we need to leave immigration as a federal issue and we need to have our local law enforcement focus on protecting our communities.

Underwood: We have to bring undocumented immigrants into the fold of society. I’m tired of kicking this can down the road. If Washington is unwilling to act on immigration reform, I’m going to act as governor, because it’s the right thing to do. My plan will allow undocumented immigrants to become a legal state resident of Colorado through a process. You pay a nominal program fee, you stay out of trouble, and after two years, you become a resident of Colorado. After completing that, we will set you up with a state advocate to guide immigrants on how to become a U.S. permanent resident or a U.S. citizen.

On criminal-justice reform and drug policy:
Johnston: If you talk to criminal-justice reform advocates in our neighborhood, I’ve actually carried more legislation on criminal-justice reform over the last five years than on education, if you can believe that, [from] a ban on the use of the chokehold by law enforcement, to the CLEAR Act...about reducing disparities in the criminal-justice pipeline, to lots of work on protection of kids from child molesters and felony-DUI legislation.

I think we can take some pride as Coloradans that we helped pave the way when it comes to a sensible, rational drug policy in our state. And in the next decade, there are going to be new challenges, and our state is up for that — particularly as new states follow suit. We want to make sure our state maintains its leadership role in the cannabis industry, and that we have more and expanded job opportunities here in the cannabis industry. We also want to make sure that we have various strategies to counter underage use of marijuana, and we want to be a leader in that, as well.

Underwood: When I was in Denver talking to a group, a couple of people there had been convicted well before marijuana was legal in our state, and they’re still having problems trying to get jobs. So I want to remove that stigma from their record. We legalized marijuana. Now I’m willing to expunge their records, working with the state legislature on nonviolent arrests associated with marijuana convictions.

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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