6 takeaways from Colorado’s first Democratic gubernatorial debate

Former state Treasurer Cary Kennedy, ex-state Sen. Mike Johnston, and Democratic Lt. Gov Donna Lynne squared off for the first time on TV Wednesday night.

The three took questions at the Lakewood Cultural Center in a debate moderated by 9News journalists Kyle Clark and Brandon Rittiman.

Here are some takeaways:

It wasn’t much of a real debate

The three candidates largely agree on policy, and they seem to get along well enough on a personal level— at least publicly.

Because the candidates didn’t speak directly to each other, challenge each other, or even really reference each other, this first debate was more like a standard forum— with some follow-up questions from the moderators. In other words, it was no Bernie-vs-Hillary slugfest. Johnston even called his rivals “my two friends.”

Lynne did say, however, that she had a dentist appointment in the morning that was easier than being on stage that night. 

But Kennedy did give some side eye to Lynne over fracking

Following a question about the level of oil-and-gas regulation in Colorado, Lynne said she wanted to challenge a suggestion from Kennedy and Johnston that when it comes to balancing oil and gas development with public health and safety, the latter should come first. Colorado, Lynne, said, already puts a priority on health and safety and it’s not a balancing act.

“It isn’t something that should be a priority, it is a priority already in this administration,” Lynne said. “That’s our number one lens that we look at when we look at these issues.”

Kennedy shook her head as if to say, you’ve got to be kidding me.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, which is responsible for regulating the oil and gas industry, says its mission is to balance health and safety with development. “We are as committed to protecting public health and the environment as we are to fostering the responsible development of Colorado’s oil and gas resources,” its mission reads in part.

There’s actually a State Supreme Court case pending right now about whether the state should put public health and safety first, as an appeals court ruled. Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper said he did not want the COGCC to appeal that ruling, but Republican Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, a Republican candidate for governor, went ahead anyway.

In an interview following the debate, Kennedy said if she were governor she would have done more than Hickenlooper to block or challenge Coffman’s ability to appeal. “I have said that from the beginning of my campaign.” 

Some daylight— some on whether Colorado should report undocumented immigrants to ICE if they get a DUI

Asked if the candidates would support the state of Colorado reporting an undocumented immigrant who got a DUI in Colorado to the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, Johnston said he would.  

Kennedy said she would have to think about it.

Lynne said if she were governor she would not want a DUI reported to ICE.

In an interview following the debate, Johnston said he hadn’t thought much about the question before. He clarified that he would want felony DUIs by undocumented immigrants, which in Colorado would someone’s fourth DUI, reported to ICE.

Some daylight— maybe?— on banning so-called assault weapons

Kennedy went further than Johnston on banning some guns.

When Johnston launched the first TV ad of the governor’s race, he said in it that he wants to “ban military-style weapons.” But pressed multiple times by moderator Kyle Clark about whether he would ban “so-called assault weapons,” Johnston wouldn’t commit. Instead, he said the focus should be on the size of a gun’s magazine, which is the part of the gun that holds bullets.

In Colorado, magazines are already limited to 15 bullets because of a 2013 law. Republicans running for Colorado governor want to repeal that law. Johnston says there’s a distinction between military-style weapons and assault weapons. He said that if a bill banning either came to his desk as governor, he would sign it, but his focus is more on magazine capacity. 

Kennedy, however, said she would ban “the military-style assault weapons that are designed to kill as many people as possible as quickly as possible.”

They all would have expelled Lebsock and Baumgardner, but not Mayor Michael Hancock

Asked where they each would have come down on the successful legislative vote to boot Democratic Rep. Steve Lebsock from the legislature after an investigation found credible multiple complaints of sexual harassment, they all said they would have voted to expel him. The same with Republican Sen. Randy Baumgardner, whom Senate Democrats tried unsuccessfully to expel after an investigation found a complaint of sexual harassment against him to be credible.

But none of them said they believe there should be “serious consequences” for Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, who faces his own sexual harassment allegations after inappropriate text messages he sent a subordinate became public. “That’s a tough one,” Kennedy said, which earned her a follow-up from Clark. (Kennedy was the chief financial officer of Denver under Hancock, and she has known him since high school.)

“I never saw anything inappropriate by Mayor Hancock,” Kennedy said. “He was a first-rate professional as a boss in all those years I worked with him. So when I saw those texts come out it was a real surprise. I’m saddened. His conduct was clearly inappropriate. And, as you know, I believe he needs to participate in training.”

Who wasn’t there?

Boulder Democratic Congressman Jared Polis. Why? His campaign says he was busy with a congressional work day in Washington, D.C. His campaign says they offered 9News alternative dates, but they wouldn’t budge.

Polis’s campaign said the candidate did not want to debate before Saturday’s state party assembly, Clark and Rittiman said prior to the debate. The campaign bristled at any suggestion that Polis was dodging the first TV debate because conventional campaign wisdom holds that perceived front-runners might feel they don’t need to mix it up with lesser rivals or risk making an unforced error.

Boulder media tech entrepreneur Erik Underwood also wasn’t on the stage. The 9News moderators said they left him out because they don’t see a clear enough path for him to make the nomination. Underwood in 2016 ran for U.S. Senate in Colorado as a Republican, and he earned 0.4 percent of the vote in the March 6 caucuses. He’s going through the assembly where candidates need 30 percent of the delegate vote to get on the ballot. Kennedy has more than 50 percent of that vote locked up, and Polis has another 33 percent, according to their campaigns. So unless Underwood can do the seemingly impossible and convert enough Democratic delegates with a speech at the assembly, he’s toast.

 Photo by Corey Hutchins


  1. How is it that democrats universally fail to understand that it is this idiocy of aiding and abetting illegals that gives cover to the cruelty of Sessions abusing children in the name of “law & order”? If I was arrested for speeding and found out I had 12 million parking tickets they’d have me cuffs in a heartbeat. But if they arrest someone for DUI and find out they are in the country illegally, which necessitates either tax evasion or identity theft or some other fraud…we should overlook that? Come on folks!

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