This was the second debate between incumbent Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper and his Republican challenger, former U.S. Rep. Bob Beauprez.
Political polls show the race for the state’s top job as a toss up with millions of dollars funneled into both campaigns as the Nov. 4 election draws closer. Just this week, the Republican Governor’s Association bought $1.25 million in ads through October. Meanwhile, Hickenlooper continues to outraise his opponent.
That was the backdrop for Tuesday night’s debate and it brought out the political spark in both Beauprez and Hickenlooper as well as showed the difference in their styles.
Economy top concern
The economy was a key debate point with Hickenlooper stressing how the state has rebounded from the depths of the recession despite wildfires and flooding.
“Colorado, four years ago, was 40th in job creation and now we’re fourth," Hickenlooper says.
But the Republican challenger, Beauprez, argued areas like Colorado Springs, Grand Junction and Pueblo, haven’t experienced economic growth. He blamed Hickenlooper.
“On his watch, household income has decreased by over $4,000 in the last four years. So that’s how well the citizens are doing,” Beauprez says.
Beauprez said to boost the economy, government should get out of the way by reducing regulations on businesses. Hickenlooper responded by saying he’s reduced state regulations but some government rules are needed to reign in the small group of bad actors in all industries.
The state’s economic growth is leading to increased tax revenue. If that continues, in a few years, taxpayers could see refunds as part of Colorado’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights. Beauprez said he’s committed to refunds since he believes taxpayers will spend the money better than government.
Hickenlooper said he suspects the public will want refunds, but he also noted some support more money for schools and economic development in struggling counties.
Beauprez: Governor waffles on issues
During the debate, Beauprez consistently returned to his campaign theme that Hickenlooper has been indecisive.
“Leadership has requirements and among those is being willing to make the tough decisions," Beauprez says.
“John talks a lot about his desire to collaborate. I think that’s a euphemism for kicking the can down the road,” Beauprez said, referring to Hickenlooper's creation of a commission to explore a compromise on oil and gas regulations this summer.
He also took aim at Hickenlooper’s shift on the death penalty, which the governor supported four years ago. Last year, Hickenlooper issued a temporary reprieve to death row inmate, Nathan Dunlap, but didn’t grant full clemency.
Hickenlooper said he issued a reprieve for Dunlap to start a discussion about the death penalty. He says when he reviewed the case, he learned Dunlap was severely bipolar, something jurors didn’t know when they convicted him.
“Do you really want to support executing people who have mental illness? It’s a valid question to be asking,” Hickenlooper says.
Hickenlooper pointed to his response to last September’s massive flooding as an example of his leadership and described Beauprez leadership style this way:
“It seems to speak first, make an attack, take a hard stand and worry about the details later," Hickenlooper says.
Women's health issues
Hickenlooper asked Beauprez whether he supported using state money to reduce abortions and teenage pregnancy. The governor touted a state program that he says has reduced the abortion rate by 40 percent and teenage pregnancy by 35 percent over the last four years.
Beauprez replied that he's opposed to the personhood amendment, which is on this year's ballot. But he said taxpayers should not fund abortions -- and that he considers intrauterine devices (IUDs) to cause abortions.
"I have no problem with people using contraception," Beauprez says. "I have a big problem with publicly funding contraceptions that are actually abortifacient."
"[An] IUD is an abortifacient, John," Beauprez says.
Pledge to keep campaigns positive
In a moment of political theater, Hickenlooper stepped from behind his lectern and got Beauprez to shake hands and agree that both campaigns would stop airing negative ads.
Hickenlooper has disavowed negative campaigning in his political career. But even if both campaigns stay positive, outside groups are likely to continue airing attack ads against both candidates in the lead up to election day.