Election 2018

GOP governor candidates avoid squabbles in forum

Stapleton, Coffman, Mitchell, Robinson jockey to stand out on issues

Posted 2/24/18

Powerful statewide positions and big family names — think Bush and Romney — hover over the Republican race for governor. But political posturing about being an outsider was also on display at a …

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Election 2018

GOP governor candidates avoid squabbles in forum

Stapleton, Coffman, Mitchell, Robinson jockey to stand out on issues


Powerful statewide positions and big family names — think Bush and Romney — hover over the Republican race for governor. But political posturing about being an outsider was also on display at a GOP candidates' forum in Denver that saw four hopefuls discuss energy, transportation and job training.

“I come to you as a family man,” said Victor Mitchell, a businessman from Castle Rock who called himself an outsider. “I've never signed anything but a paycheck.”

Mitchell served in the state Legislature from 2007-09 and had about $2.2 million on hand as of February. And he wasn't the only one to position himself as a common-sense newcomer — Doug Robinson, a former investment banker and a Mitt Romney nephew, stressed his experience in the technology industry.

Walker Stapleton, state treasurer and a second cousin of former President George W. Bush, came out aggressively after the Democratic gubernatorial candidates, drawing a clear line and sounding confident enough to look past his GOP opponents. Cynthia Coffman, state attorney general, sounded some moderate notes, touted her experience in office and even got some laughs along the way. The forum steered mostly clear of personal or even policy-based attacks among the Republican candidates.

Here's what the candidates had to say on transportation, energy and job training at the Feb. 21 forum hosted at the History Colorado Center by the Denver Business Journal and the Colorado Business Roundtable, an organization that advocates for business interests in legislation.

Training for future

Vocational education, sometimes called career and technical education, is necessary in bridging Colorado's rural-urban economic divide, Mitchell said.

“Apprenticeship periods of five years (have) a tremendous chilling effect,” Mitchell said. “We're not teaching vocational classes in schools, especially our rural schools.”

Doing so would “make sure that Colorado is very much open for business,” he added. Stapleton echoed that point, saying the state should be a better partner in making sure companies can fill the jobs they offer.

“We have candidates on the Democratic side that are telling people everyone should go to college and ... be saddled with debt, and the jobs won't be waiting for them,” Stapleton said. Investing in vocational training could come from current state funds, he said.

Coffman supported incentivizing skills training done on the job for employees who are just starting out.

Robinson took the opportunity to again talk up his experience in a technology nonprofit, KidsTek, which provides technology-based education programs, and said businesses should lead on filling the gaps rather than the government.

Roads, bridges and other 'modes'

The candidates offered varying degrees of support for spending on multimodal transportation, or transportation that includes public transport like the RTD light rail.

“I was in the (former Gov. Bill) Owens administration when we did the T-REX project,” said Coffman, who was Owens' chief legal counsel. Coffman said extra money Colorado will take in due to the recent federal tax cuts should be used for transportation spending and that a percentage should go toward the light rail, which she says the state must get more people to use in order for it to be successful.

Other candidates beat around the multimodal question, though.

“Remember that business-school class?” Robinson asked the crowd. “Commerce follows infrastructure.”

Rural roads like U.S. Highway 24, not just Interstate 25, need to be widened, Robinson said. When the moderator asked about other forms of transportation, he added, “Sure, I think you have to do (multimodal) as well, but it's really about our roads.”

Mitchell said that the Colorado Department of Transportation is badly managed and would use the state's Legislative Audit Committee in a performance-based way to evaluate it.

Colorado can't have “a first-world economy with a third-world infrastructure,” Stapleton said, adding that the head of CDOT would be an engineer “when I'm governor.” He stressed roads and bridges specifically and mentioned doing more for rural areas.

Fracking and renewables

The candidates all opposed giving local governments more control over drilling for oil and gas, and also opposed raising the current state requirement that investor-owned utilities generate 30 percent of their electricity from renewable energy by 2020.

“You know where the Democrats stand — they want to put the thumb of government in favor of one kind of energy over another,” Robinson said, adding that “renewables are fine” but should compete in the market without government help.

Robinson implied that fracking doesn't cause pollution, and Stapleton said it can be done safely. The Environmental Protection Agency in 2015 found that fracking has not led to widespread impacts on drinking water, but did find that drinking water was affected in some cases and that fracking fluid has reached surface water and groundwater in some instances. Those cases were relatively few, but the study recognized that its data could be underestimating.

“We all want clean air and clean water,” Mitchell said, but added that renewables shouldn't be subsidized. He and Stapleton pointed to Democratic proposals to transition the state to 100 percent renewable energy use by 2040, which he said would be too expensive.

When asked how to address homeowners' concerns about drilling encroaching on their areas, each candidate didn't answer until pushed by the moderator. Robinson said there should be clear rules on where suburban sprawl can grow; Coffman said people have to accept the risks of building schools or houses where there might be drilling.

Other remarks

In a forum that mostly avoided the Republicans comparing themselves to one another, Stapleton made a point of directing points at the Democrats, tagging gubernatorial candidate and U.S. Rep. Jared Polis (D-Boulder) as “running to end the energy industry as we know it” for his 100 percent renewable-energy proposal.

Stapleton also said Democratic candidates' push for a single-payer health-care system, in which all residents could buy health care from the government rather than private insurers, would send businesses packing.

Coffman praised Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker for implementing one of the nation's “right-to-work” laws, which generally prevent labor unions from requiring employees to pay fees or dues. She wants such a law passed in Colorado.

Robinson said virtual reality and artificial intelligence are coming “in a big way” to the Colorado economy and that workers need to be prepared for the future.

The forum seldom discussed education funding, but Mitchell said he'd push for a freeze on higher-education costs during his tenure if he were to be elected.


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