[dropcap]L[/dropcap]ess than a week before Colorado’s universal mail ballots will be sent out to voters, former Congressman Bob Beauprez seemed determined to move the needle in the dead-heat governor’s race by taking wide swings at incumbent Democratic John Hickenlooper.
But Hickenlooper had seen them all before and delivered his most confident performance yet in the series of campaign face-offs that has stretched over the last month.
On stage at the student center at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, the candidates didn’t move far off script. Beauprez played the strong conservative leader; Hickenlooper the moderate consensus builder.
In an early exchange, Beauprez championed the death penalty and talked about justice.
Hickenlooper, who granted a controversial reprieve in to Nathan Dunlap just weeks before the convicted murder was scheduled to be executed in August 2013, said he would support repeal of capital punishment, but only if he could win broad support for the move among residents across the state.
Campaign news came roughly half way through the hour-long debate, when Beauprez was asked about the state’s half-year-long, first-in-the-world experiment in legalizing marijuana for recreational use. He paused and said he had recently talked to a doctor about how dangerous pot could be and so, as governor, he would lead an effort to undo the measure that legalized the drug. He said Coloradans “didn’t fully think through the consequences of the liberty they were seeking” when they legalized pot through the ballot initiative process in 2012.
Hickenlooper opposed the initiative when it was introduced and in a debate on Monday he called the vote “reckless” because he thought it came ahead of needed research into the effects of pot use, especially on young people. But he disagreed with Beauprez’s approach. “I wouldn’t go that far,” he said. “I wouldn’t lead an effort to make it illegal.”
In answer to a follow up question, the governor stressed the need to come to agreement with federal authorities so that pot businesses could benefit from regular banking. “Otherwise, it’s a recipe for crime and gang involvement,” he said.
Beauprez, who has railed against “job-killing regulation” and vowed to strip every regulation from the books that “doesn’t enhance freedom, liberty and opportunity,” took an opposite tack with marijuana. He said all the regulations on pot commerce and use must be enforced as strictly as possible.
Beauprez worked repeatedly to paint the governor as soft on crime. The main line of argument Thursday, as it was in Pueblo a week ago, was that Hickenlooper should find a way to continue to detain prisoners who seem to be dangerous even when they’ve served out their sentences.
He also said a strong leader would exhibit greater control over the legislature than Hickenlooper has done. He said it’s the governor’s job to determine which bills pass and which bills fail.
Hickenlooper explained that the examples Beauprez was offering to make his point about leadership concerned topics that were complicated, such as prison sentencing, where laws can’t and probably shouldn’t be bent by any single government official. Hickenlooper argued, as he has in the past, that Beauprez’s forceful accusations of weakness bore the stamp of inexperience.
“If you were governor instead of just thinking about being governor, you’d realize you can’t get everything you want,” Hickenlooper said.
It has been the case for months that, when Beauprez builds steam in attacking Hickenlooper, he sounds more like a conservative-media pundit than he does a governor.
“So you’re leading from behind again,” Beauprez said at one point with exaggerated derision, making reference to President Obama’s statements about NATO-country coalition-building in advance of military operations in North Africa. The line is popular shorthand on Fox News and one Beauprez clearly expected would draw a laugh.
“We need more opportunity in this state,” he said later, arguing that economic recovery has been uneven county to county. “People are wondering ‘Where is this Obamalooper recovery?'”
Hickenlooper rattled off accomplishments that he said attest to his leadership, citing statistics he has drawn on time and again. He said the state went from 40th to 4th in the nation in job growth over the last four years. Unemployment had been cut nearly in half. Business Insider ranked the state’s economy number one in the nation for being highly diversified and fertile ground for entrepreneurs. He also described the resiliency with which Colorado met the historic rash of 13 federally declared natural disasters that flooded and fried the state over the last four years. He mentioned the compromise he brokered between environmental groups and industry representatives on oil and gas and local control ballot initiatives — something most observers thought was well beyond anyone’s power in Denver as positions hardened and months ticked down toward Election Day.
And then Hickenlooper rolled out an ace. In pushing Hickenlooper on leadership, Beauprez has been strident about his own commitment to act and not talk and to get things done, about the need to bend people to your will.
“In the four years you spent in Congress,” Hickenlooper said when it was his turn to ask Beauprez a direct question, “did you introduce any bills that ever passed into law?”
A beat sounded silently. Beauprez stared at Hickenlooper and then came a lot of words about attaching some measure to procure funding for veterans to a larger bill — or something. The answer came off as a “kind of” or as a “well not exactly.”
It was a withering exchange and it took just minutes afterward for Rick Palacio, chairman of the Colorado Democratic Party, to send out a release further detailing Beauprez’s Capitol Hill record.
“In his four years in Congress, Bob Beauprez authored no bills that were signed into law,” it read. “And indicative of Congressman Beauprez’s commitment to a Washington’s do-nothing approach, the very last legislation he ushered through both the U.S. House and U.S. Senate was a resolution providing for an adjournment or recess of the Congress.
“When examining his record, it’s not surprising to learn that the same Bob Beauprez that was ‘very proud’ of his Republican colleagues for shutting down the government last year is the same guy who did basically nothing as a Member of Congress.”
Thursday’s debate was hosted by the Fort Collins Coloradoan, Colorado State University and KUSA.
Clerks mail ballots next Tuesday, October 14. Election day is Tuesday, November 4.