The Five Best (Worst?) Moments Of Wednesday's Gubernatorial Debate

Gubernatorial candidates Jared Polis and Walker Stapleton faced off at their second-to-last debate on Wednesday, October 17.
Gubernatorial candidates Jared Polis and Walker Stapleton faced off at their second-to-last debate on Wednesday, October 17. 9News

Democratic Congressman Jared Polis and Republican State Treasurer Walker Stapleton sparred Wednesday night, October 17, in what was the pair's second-to-last debate. Both gubernatorial candidates brought their talking points; Polis brought his bright-blue running shoes. Despite the platitudes, there were several mentions of the general fund and even a few detailed plans, thanks to questions from 9News moderators Kyle Clark and Marshall Zelinger. There were also a few key entertaining moments, which we're handily recapping for you here.

1. The moderators
Clark and Zelinger were tough on the candidates but also brought their usual wit and humor, and it honestly made the debate a lot more fun to watch. "Both of you have made big promises, and we haven't really heard solid plans to deliver on them," said Clark at the start of the debate. If Stapleton or Polis answered with a talking point, they were promptly called out and pressed harder. When asked whether Stapleton would take away funding for roads and infrastructure from so-called sanctuary cities, Stapleton veered off about how he was endorsed by the Colorado Farm Bureau, supports H2A temporary worker visas, and what defines a sanctuary city. Clark responded: "You made no attempt to answer the question."

2. The amount of time spent talking about Filing Cabinet-Gate
If you haven't already, go read this explainer on what actually happened between Polis and one of his employees in 1999. To summarize, Polis's former female employee was stealing documents from the company, she hit him with one of her bags, and Polis pushed her into a filing cabinet. No charges were ever filed against Polis; in fact, charges were filed against the employee. This unfortunate incident seems to keep coming back around to bite Polis, and Stapleton brought it up every chance he had.

"Yeah, uhhh, I would love to make college free. I don't know how that works."

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To be fair, Clark noted that Polis was the victim in said altercation when he asked whether Polis thinks it was morally or ethically right to have pushed the woman. Polis answered that he was defending himself and no police or courts found any fault with his actions. "I defended my property, which is my right in Colorado," he said. The moderators then moved on to other pressing matters, like how Stapleton would fund roads projects by taxing sports betting when it's not yet legal in Colorado.

But later, when Clark asked the candidates about State Representative Jovan Melton, who's been asked to step down after the Denver Post revealed that Melton was arrested twenty years ago on domestic-violence charges, Stapleton brought it up again.

"It is indisputable he forcibly pushed a woman into a filing cabinet...I will link it to Jovan Melton in a second!" Stapleton defiantly pressed on, despite moderators' interruption. "It is never okay to forcibly push a woman, Jared. It isn't! You should have never done it."

Moderators moved on to a question about the U.S. Supreme Court decision that ruled in favor of a Colorado cake baker who refused to bake a cake for a gay couple. "I'm sorry, I'm going to have to return to this because Polis doesn't view pushing a woman as doing anything wrong, and I do. I do. If I pushed a woman, I wouldn't be living in my house anymore!" Stapleton said, then responded to the question that was asked, saying he thinks the LGBTQ community should have the same protections as the cake baker.

3. Stapleton refused to condemn Trump's sexist and racist rhetoric
When Clark asked Stapleton what he thinks of the way President Donald Trump talks about women and minorities, Stapleton didn't really answer. He said Trump's personality has nothing to do with who will be Colorado's next governor. He admitted he supports some of Trump's policies, like the tax plan passed last year, but basically said the president's behavior is otherwise irrelevant. Some people might find Trump's personality "grating," while others might find it "amusing," Stapleton said. When asked what is so amusing about racism, Stapleton responded that he wasn't talking about any one specific incident.

4. Generally a lot of fear-mongering
The fear-mongering was kind of out of control Wednesday night, and a lot of it came from Stapleton. He had quite a few outbursts over how Polis would tax everyone to death and destroy capitalism.

"Everyone from Pizza Hut to Merrill Lynch will no longer be doing business in Colorado, and all these kids here at CSU won't have a job," Stapleton said at one point while sparring over whether or not Polis wants to double income taxes, as one of Stapleton's campaign ads claims. Polis said the ad is inaccurate.

Stapleton argued that Polis supports women "being able to abort a baby a minute before she's born" when discussing whether they would defend a woman's right to have an abortion if protections were jeopardized at the federal level.

Also, when asked by a Fort Collins Coloradoan reporter if either candidate supports making college free for middle-class Americans, Stapleton responded: "Yeah, uhhh, I would love to make college free. I don't know how that works." Then segued: "We won't have any money for higher education under Congressman Polis's budget."

5. Both candidates responded the same when asked about the Martinez case
The case heard by the Colorado Supreme Court just this week asks whether the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission should consider safety first and foremost when permitting new oil and gas development, rather than a balance of the industry's needs and the public's needs. Clark asked about the case and whether health and safety should be the primary concern of the COGCC, and both answered yes, without any hesitation. This was a little surprising, considering that Republican Attorney General Cynthia Coffman is the one who appealed an appeals court decision that initially ruled against the COGCC.
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Paige Yowell joined Westword as a staff writer in 2018. Born and raised in Nebraska, she previously worked as a business reporter for the Omaha World-Herald.
Contact: Paige Yowell