Over burgers and beer in a historic fort in Weld County’s gas patch Monday night, seven Republicans running for governor largely agreed on issues ranging from random drug testing of welfare recipients to their support for President Donald Trump.
The heavily secured forum marked the first time the GOP’s broad slate of candidates met since Attorney General Cynthia Coffman leapt into an already crowded race on Nov. 8 and high-profile District Attorney George Brauchler ditched the governor’s race to run for AG a few days later. Coffman was out of town and didn’t make the event, which was organized by the Republican Women of Weld and drew about 120 guests.
For two hours, State Treasurer Walker Stapleton, former Congressman Tom Tancredo, former Parker Mayor Greg Lopez, retired investment banker Doug Robinson, entrepreneur and one-time lawmaker Victor Mitchell, Larimer County Commissioner Lew Gaiter, and Trump’s Denver co-chair Steve Barlock took questions from a moderator.
Tancredo, noting a police checkpoint at the gate, quipped, “Usually I don’t get any bomb threats until I get nominated— that’s when all hell breaks use.” He ripped right into immigration policies, noting the recent news of an MS-13 gang member and murder suspect who was arrested in Fort Morgan County for allegedly stabbing a woman with a screwdriver. “We have cities in this state that provide sanctuary,” Tancredo said. “They are providing sanctuary for people who kill people, who maim people, who rob people.”
Stapleton received the warmest welcome in the room, winning the evening’s straw poll with 42 votes out of 85 cast.
— The Colorado Independent (@COindependent) November 14, 2017
Below are six takeaways from the forum.
Doug Robinson’s ‘Romney nephew’ moment
As a first-time candidate for public office, Robinson of Denver has to introduce himself to the state’s Republican faithful. But he understands if they might already know one thing about him.
“Most of you simply know me — because this is the way the media has covered me — as Mitt Romney’s nephew,” he told the crowd to knowing chuckles. But Robinson used the opportunity to set himself apart from the former Republican presidential nominee in a personal way. “I love and respect my uncle a great deal. I lived a different life than him,” he said. “You see, when I was a teenager my father left our family. My mother, either out of embarrassment or shame, didn’t share the extent of our circumstances with others. So I went to work and I worked my way through college — often put groceries on the table — made a success of myself through my own hard work and my life, and that gave me a profound respect for the underdog, an ability to innovate, to take risks, to take chances.”
They all pledged to support the eventual GOP nominee
Following a scorched-earth GOP presidential primary and a #NeverTrump opposition movement among some Republicans that bubbled up around the 2016 nominee, Monday’s moderator wanted to know whether each candidate would pledge to support whoever wins the June Republican primary in Colorado.
All of them said they would.
Typically that could be a no-brainer, but with Tom Tancredo in the mix, the question could have scrambled things. He has run for governor twice before and even once left the Republican Party to do it. In 2010, he sought the governor’s seat as a member of the American Constitution Party, earning 37 percent of the vote — more than Dan Maes, the Republican candidate that year. In some Republican circles, Tancredo is viewed as a spoiler or a gadfly and establishment Republicans are likely to try to consolidate support around a candidate they think can take him out in the primary, fearing he could be too controversial and too far to the right to win a general election in Colorado.
Some of them think legal weed is causing mental health problems
Here was the exact phrasing of a question to the candidates: “Do you believe that mental health issues have increased while our resources for treatment have deteriorated since the legalization of marijuana?”
The seven Republicans were split.
“Mental health? Yes, it is a manifestation of legalized marijuana,” said Stapleton, who also used the opportunity to tear into Colorado’s system for regulating legal pot, calling it a “broken regulatory environment.” It’s easier for an 18-year-old to get a medical marijuana card in Colorado than it is to get a six-pack of beer, he said. He said Coloradans are taking advantage of “fraud and abuse” surrounding medical cards. “The idea that medical marijuana should be tax-free is completely bogus,” he added. “It’s called a sin tax.”
Tancredo, who supported the Amendment 64 ballot measure to legalize recreational marijuana, said, “I do not think there is empirical evidence to the extent necessary to make that kind of determination as to exactly how much marijuana is the cause of mental illness — certainly it may play a role.”
“Logic would lead you to conclude that the answer is yes,” said Lopez. “With the use of marijuana there is some connection, and I can’t tell you specifically what that might be.”
“I suppose the answer to your question is yes,” said Gaiter.
Robinson, who formed SMART Colorado, which calls itself “the only non-profit organization focused on protecting the health, safety, and well-being of Colorado youth as marijuana becomes increasingly available and commercialized,” said as governor he would require a medical marijuana card recipient to obtain one only through his or her existing doctor rather than a “pot doctor.” He did not say whether he thought legalized marijuana is linked to increased mental health issues.
Mitchell used the opportunity to talk about how his oldest daughter, who just graduated college, “almost lost her life five years ago to mental health.” He said, “I think we’re conflating marijuana and mental illness — they’re very different.”
Barlock said because he’s not a doctor or psychiatrist, “I have no idea.”
Two candidates had something to say about cars
Since he announced his latest run for governor, Tancredo has made immigration the centerpiece of his campaign, which isn’t surprising given it’s been his signature issue for years and the reason he briefly ran for president in 2008.
But he has also been hammering on another issue: Cars. He loves them. And he wants you to be able to drive them.
“I’m all for bike paths and hiking lanes and all that stuff,” Tancredo said, his voice rising. “But, hey, roads are the problem. We need more. People want to drive their cars. That’s what we are supposed to do as public servants is respond to that, and you know why? It’s because the state and many cities don’t want you in your car. They want to figure out ways to move you out of your car and onto their bike paths or whatever the hell. No way, no how. I drive a car. I like the car, OK? Roads, roads, roads.”
For his part, Barlock likened Colorado’s future to a car.
“I look at it like a car race,” he says. “Right now we are on an empty tank and bald tires. If we don’t take the time to see what’s wrong and show others what’s going wrong with our state we will crash and burn. We could hurt others on the way. … Take the brake, put some new tires on, fill the tank, make adjustments, and all be able to have an enjoyable life.”
They would all randomly drug test welfare recipients
All seven candidates said Coloradans accepting public assistance should undergo random drug testing.
“If you are on the government dole, absolutely you should subscribe to random drug testing,” said Stapleton.
Barlock wondered about marijuana since it’s legal. “It’s a slippery slope,” he said.
Who voted for Donald Trump?
Out of the seven candidates, only one, Mitchell, said he did not vote for Donald Trump for president, instead casting his ballot for former CIA officer Evan McMullin who ran as a third-party candidate. “I just couldn’t get there with Donald Trump the way he talked about and treated women,” Mitchell said.
Gaiter avoided the question, saying he doesn’t answer it because it is divisive.
All seven said they currently support the president.
Tancredo said, “It was a thousand times easier to vote for Donald Trump than it was to vote for John McCain,” adding that he thinks Trump will turn out to be “one of the greatest presidents.”