DENVER—In their first appearance together, Colorado’s three major gubernatorial candidates on Tuesday agreed that jobs and the economy are the dominant issues in this year’s election. Republicans Dan Maes and Scott McInnis championed the oil and gas industry in the state and decried regulation. Democrat John Hickenlooper said the ongoing British Petroleum oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico– already the worst environmental catastrophe in U.S. history and as devastating to Gulf state industries as it may prove to be to BP– demonstrated that smart regulation meant simply ensuring “best practices” for the oil and gas industry in the state.
Speaking at the Denver Lions Club all of the candidates agreed that “the economy has got to be front and center.”
Maes, the Evergreen businessman who outdrew six-term Congressman Scott McInnis at the Republican delegate state assembly two weeks ago, said the state government is failing and needs to be fixed. He said he would cut the size of state government, not only for budget reasons but because he believes it is the right thing to do. “You don’t downsize government just to balance the budget. You downsize government because that is what our founding fathers wanted for us,” he said.
Like so many self-declared reformers before him, he said he would strip out unnecessary or redundant government programs and offices. “I will find the fat and waste and get rid of it,” he declared.
He said the second thing he would do is “beg forgiveness from the energy industry that we chased out of the state.”
McInnis took square aim at the Colorado State Legislature, saying the recent session was the worst in years in terms of its effect on business.
Like Maes, he said government has gotten too big and that the state’s treatment of oil and gas industry is counterproductive. In fact, he said, he decided to run for governor largely because of what he thought was happening to the oil and gas businesses under the administration of current governor Bill Ritter.
“We have to have a state government that does not continue to grow when people are losing their jobs. “We have to size the state government appropriately,” he said.
Hickenlooper talked to the crowd of mostly older white men about how he built the Wynkoop Brewing Company into a national business by opening similar restaurants all across the country.
He said his business experience was instrumental in terms of how he has governed as Denver mayor, cutting the number of employees by more than 5 percent while improving many services.
On the subject of oil and gas, he said some regulation is needed. “Looking at what is happening in the Gulf Coast, you can’t tell me we don’t need some regulation.” He said the vast majority of current regulations are simply a reflection of the industry’s best practices.
The first question he was asked after speaking was why he was running as a Democrat instead of as a Republican.
He said he gets that question a lot, and talked about his belief that people should work together to solve common problems. At one point, he said then-Governor Bill Owens was having some problems “and people told me to let him flounder.”
He said he thought that was crazy. “Our job was to help him succeed. I’m not so much a Democrat as I’m a Coloradan,” he said.
He has often claimed during this campaign that he not bipartisan, but rather non-partisan. “Someone asked me, ‘If you’re so non-partisan, how many Republicans have you appointed to senior positions?’ I said I had no idea. I never discuss politics. When we are trying to find solutions and bring people together, we don’t discuss politics. Then my chief of staff, Roxanne White, she pipes in and goes ‘I’m a Republican.’ No one knew.”