State Treasurer Walker Stapleton bested three other candidates for governor this week for the Republican nomination, garnering nearly half of the vote. But Stapleton couldn't rest on his laurels for long: The primary election immediately gave way to the general as Stapleton and Rep. Jared Polis took their respective stages that night.
Stapleton spoke to Colorado Matters by phone Thursday morning, as he travels the state with his fellow candidates on a “Republican Unity Tour."
On his first 100 days in office:
"I think Priority 1 and 1A would be fixing our infrastructure for the long term, not just incrementally as we've done so the last two years, but really for the economic future of Colorado, we have to find an infrastructure solution for the next decade plus. I'd say 1A would be affordable housing because affordable housing for a young person moving to Colorado, and to the metro area specifically, is an indispensable part of economic development for the future of this state. Right now, if you're a millennial and you're moving here, and you're being asked to plunk down $75,000 on average for your first down payment for a house, that makes it unaffordable for most young people. If you can't afford to buy a house, you're paying nearly 50 percent of your take home in rent, and that is unaffordable, and unsustainable to the economic future of Colorado."
Ryan Warner: Walker Stapleton, thank you for being with us.
Walker Stapleton: Good to be with you, Ryan.
RW: What would you like to accomplish, let's say in your first 100 days as governor?
WS: I think Priority 1 and 1A would be fixing our infrastructure for the long term, not just incrementally as we've done so the last two years, but really for the economic future of Colorado, we have to find an infrastructure solution for the next decade plus. I'd say 1A would be affordable housing because affordable housing for a young person moving to Colorado, and to the metro area specifically, is an indispensable part of economic development for the future of this state. Right now, if you're a millennial and you're moving here, and you're being asked to plunk down $75,000 on average for your first down payment for a house, that makes it unaffordable for most young people. If you can't afford to buy a house, you're paying nearly 50% of your take home in rent, and that is unaffordable, and unsustainable to the economic future of Colorado.
RW: We've talked about transportation in past conversations. There are any number of ways to achieve spending on that, through bonding. Of course, there is likely to be a measure on the ballot, perhaps raising taxes for that. What power, though, does a governor have in the affordable housing arena?
WS: Well, I think the governor has the power of pointing out that the reason that we haven't fixed it has been state government's inability to fix construction defects litigation. And, construction defects litigation, particularly for the trial lawyers, who made tens of millions of dollars on construction defects lawsuits in Colorado, is a reason we don't have the supply that we need of residential housing in the metro area. This is ultimately a supply and demand problem. You know, Ryan, before I ever ran for treasurer, I ran a publicly traded real estate company, so I have some experience in the real estate world. I can tell you that there has been a chill of residential development because if you're building a big condo project, chances are there might be a wire that's misplaced in a bathroom, and unless we actually have a right to cure for developers over a 90 or 120 day period, we are not going to get the supply of housing we need to solve what is fastly becoming a crisis in Colorado of affordable housing.
RW: Of course I'm sure there are some who would say it's much more serious than just a misplaced wire, that perhaps-
WS: Absolutely, but the fact of the matter is we need to have a right to cure for developers.
RW: I want to ask you about something your opponent in this race Democrat Jared Polis has said, basically that you are beholden to President Trump. You're running in a state that went for the Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election. I'm wondering, where do you differ from the president?
WS: Well, first of all, I find that assertion laughable because I've said I will be a strong supporter of supporting the president when he makes life better for Coloradans, and I'll stand up to the administration when they don't. This is more a 10th Amendment issue. An election for governor should be a referendum on our 10th Amendment, which is electing a strong chief executive at the state level.
RW: Tenth Amendment, meaning state's rights?
WS: To solve our problems with Medicaid expansion. To solve our infrastructure needs. Washington is not going to solve any of those challenges that Colorado is facing, but a strong executive in the governor's house will.
RW: Where do you differ from the president?
WS: I am concerned about the president's policies on tariffs, particularly with respect to China, because we have more than a billion, about $1.2 billion of Ag exports going to China right now. Close to about $650 million of those are meat exports, and if we get in an escalating trade war with China, that starts slapping tariffs on meat exports, it will have a very negative impact on our Ag industry. I am also concerned about the J1 Visa program, which is a temporary visa program for students in predominately South American countries, who are coming to the United States for a period of three months, and the ski industry in particular, which is responsible for $5 million of economic impact and 50,000 jobs is very reliant on the J1 Visa program.
RW: Let's take a look back at the primary race. You defeated Vic Mitchell, Greg Lopez, and Doug Robinson handily, getting almost 48% of the votes. There was criticism of your campaign ranging from not participating in some of the debates, to a television ad with a claim that was proven false. You said you were the only state treasurer in the country to support the president's tax cuts. Some of the criticisms of the campaign thus far, have actually come from your own party, former state GOP Chairman Dick Wadhams said this to us this week.
Dick Wadhams: If Walker's going to win this general election he's got to have a much sharper and more disciplined campaign.
RW: What's your reaction?
WS: Well look, I think I have a demonstrated track record of winning swing counties that a Republican needs to win in order to win this state, in order to get the support Independents and pragmatic Democrats and everybody else involved in our campaign, under a big tent. And what happens during a political campaign, particularly a statewide race is you end up becoming a human piñata from all sides, and we were taking incoming fire from all sides, which I think is a mark that you're actually gaining ground in this business, which is kind of the craziness of all political campaign.
But we run this race on my record as Treasurer of Colorado on stopping the largest tax increase in Colorado history, Amendment 66, because the money wasn't going to end up in our kids' classrooms where it belongs. Partnering with Bill Ritter, former Democratic governor, to defeat a Bernie Sanders style single payer healthcare system that Jared Polis is a full throated supporter of, and being the largest voice for fixing our pension system which for years, and during my time as treasurer, was the biggest debt that we had in state government. And that is what is going to ultimately determine whether I get elected Governor of Colorado, not all this background noise.
RW: Is that your message for unaffiliated voters, in particular, to swing them?
WS: Absolutely, we are going to have an inclusive message of economic opportunity for Republicans, Democrats, Independents, that Colorado can be the state where they can all prosper and we can prosper, and one of those things that I've always said is I'm running for Governor for three important reasons, my children. I've got a ten-year-old, a six-year-old, and a four-year-old, but not just my kid, every child in Colorado and the economic opportunities that I want to have in abundance for the future of this state.
RW: I want to ask you a question we asked of Jared Polis. What is a strength that Jared Polis brings to the race? And we obviously asked him what you bring to the race.
WS: Well, I think he's made a lot of money in his business career for himself, which has allowed him to spend an unprecedented amount of money just to win a contested race on the Democratic side and get 46% of the Democratic vote. He spent 4.5 times what we spent and we got a higher proportion of the Republican vote on our side than he got on his side of the aisle. And so he literally is trying to buy this race and I think that most Coloradans will find that to be particularly unseemly.
RW: Walker, thank you for being with us. And we look forward to talking ...
WS: Thank you, Ryan and I appreciate you.