DENVER — Republican challenger Bob Beauprez Tuesday night pitched himself as a gutsy decision-maker in his second debate with Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper. It is the same pitch Beauprez has been making for months, the flip-side to his main criticism of Hickenlooper, whom he says is a thoughtful, pleasant man who seeks to build consensus instead of making the kind of hard calls that mark out a leader.
Hickenlooper pushed back against the charge by being thoughtful and pleasant and arguing for the need to build consensus — making the case that those are exactly the qualities that mark out a leader.
Beauprez made a point of being aggressive and decisive.
It was the second time the men met in debate and this one, hosted by the Denver Post, was a distilled version of the one held last month in Grand Junction by Western Slope lobby group Club 20. The candidates have settled into their positions.
On the controversial gun-control laws passed last year, Hickenlooper said he had no regrets, despite the political challenges they have presented to Democrats.
Before the gun laws passed, Hickenlooper opposed them generally, but he said he changed his mind as the laws were being debated and now he has no regrets.
“You know, in the end, when you step back and look at the facts — take universal background checks… We looked at 2012, and 38 people convicted of homicides, we stopped them; 133 people convicted of sexual assault weren’t able to buy a gun; 620 burglars; 1,300 people with felony assaults; 420 people who had a judicial restraining order not to see their old spouse or their old boss, they tried to buy a gun; and 236 people when they came to pick up their gun were arrested for an outstanding warrant for committing a violent crime,” Hickenlooper said.
“Those are pretty daunting statistics. Passing the gun laws may have been difficult politically, but it makes the state a safer place.”
Beauprez has opposed the laws as an example of ineffective government overreach. “Keeping guns away from violent offenders is good, keeping them away from law-abiding citizens is bad,” he said.
On the death penalty, another hot topic in the race, Hickenlooper explained that he used to support capital punishment, but looking into the issue intensely as the execution date arrived last August for convicted murderer Nathan Dunlap, he saw it as immoral and bad policy.
“I don’t think government should be taking people’s lives. Nathan Dunlap will die in prison. That’s a fact. The information is getting out there now that it costs $18 million in death row appeals. The families of the victims are evenly divided between those who want execution and those who really don’t. There’s no deterrence — capital punishment doesn’t change the level of crime. So we’re spending all this money… to what benefit?”
Beauprez repeatedly has said on the stump that he would have Dunlap executed if he were elected governor. In his closing remarks at the debate, he said Hickenlooper couldn’t “make the tough call,” but that a Gov. Beauprez would be sure to “serve justice.”
Earlier in his career, Hickenlooper, a former oil and gas industry geologist, said he believed the science of climate change was unsettled. At Tuesday’s debate, he said he now believes the evidence is clear that humans are causing climate change and that we can work to reverse its effects.
“Every mathematical model we look at demonstrates that the potential for harm is immense,” he said, noting that he has met with scientists who work at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration offices in Boulder and has learned ways that Colorado will be gravely affected in years to come.
When Beauprez said he didn’t believe humans were contributing significantly to climate change, Hickenlooper gave him a frozen, wide-eyed look from across the stage. With the spotlights on the men and black curtains cascading behind them, the exchange had a vaudevillian quality that brought a sustained laugh from the audience.
“I don’t think we’re the problem,” said Beauprez, suggesting it was beyond our power to alter the planet in any significant way.
“Long-term climate change?” he asked. “The Earth always changes. Can we reduce our impact? Yes, but are we gonna end or alter the path Earth’s evolution is gonna take? I don’t think so. I think the Earth’s already figured that out, powers bigger than us have figured that out.”
Hickenlooper asked Beauprez, who is a pro-life Catholic, if he would support a privately funded program run through the state that has been enormously successful over the last four years in preventing teen pregnancy. The program provides free long-term implant and IUD contraception and has lowered the Colorado teen pregnancy rate by 40 percent and the abortion rate in the same population by 35 percent.
Beauprez said he believes life begins at conception, that he doesn’t support public funding for “abortifacient” contraception and that IUDs abort living humans. He said he couldn’t support the program.
As the media has been reporting all year in stories covering reproductive- and religious-rights cases, the definition of conception is up for debate and IUDs function differently depending on myriad physiological and chemical variables. Sometimes they prevent fertilization. Sometimes they prevent attachment of the egg to the uterus. Nor can scientists pinpoint with certainty the moment “life begins.” Is it when an egg is fertilized or when it attaches to the uterus and begins to thrive? As The Atlantic put it, the question concerns “a complex contraceptive process that not even the best ob-gyns can predict perfectly.”
Still, Beauprez was as certain on the matter as are the members of the Green family who own the chain craft-store Hobby Lobby and who won the Supreme Court case that said they didn’t have to provide insurance policies that covered IUDs for their employees.
“An IUD is an abortifacient, John,” Beauprez told the governor.
If running for governor can be a popularity contest — similar to running for mayor or president — Hickenlooper may have the advantage, just given the campaign narratives the men have adopted and that were on display in debate.
Hickenlooper’s platform is about doing more of what has made Colorado an enviable place to live. Beauprez, on the other hand, says the state is on the wrong track, stumbling compared to the conservative states that border Colorado, and that Colorado needs a decider to make things right. He wants to slash regulations, taxes and fees as a way to “open up the state for business.”
But for large majorities of Coloradans, the economy is doing well. Unemployment is down. And business is thriving under new strict but smart environmental laws written by industry and conservation groups. Arguing that you intend to make the kind of hard calls it would take to turn Colorado into Utah, Arizona, Nebraska, or most dramatically, Tea Party-controlled Kansas — where hardline Republican Gov. Sam Brownback is now trying to explain how his policies decimated the tax base, downgraded the state’s credit rating and set back women’s reproductive rights decades based on bad science and religious conviction — may prove a hard sell.
Hickenlooper and Beauprez will meet again Thursday in Pueblo for a debate hosted by the Chieftain.