Trail Marker: The week that was in the Colorado governor’s race

The past week saw the Republican ballot set for the June 26 primary (though it took one candidate going to court), the announcement of a former presidential nominee hitting the campaign trail, and the first big public break between Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper and Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne, who is running to replace him. Also — and maybe this is a first— a governor’s race tattoo.

On the ballot as Uncle Mitt comes to town… 

On Wednesday we learned retired investment banker Doug Robinson will be on the ballot when a judge ruled he had enough valid signature petitions after the Secretary of State’s office said he hadn’t gathered enough of them to qualify.

From our story:

If Robinson lost any momentum from bad headlines in the past five days, he might hope to make it up with a high-profile campaign event in the swanky Cherry Hills Village on May 8 featuring his uncle Mitt Romney. Invites are set to go out today, a spokesperson said. 

This could be fascinating and set up a true showdown between national establishment Republican figures. Robinson’s main rival in the race is State Treasurer Walker Stapleton — who is a cousin to George W. Bush and Jeb Bush. Are we going to see a proxy Bush vs. Romney war play out in a state that was a hotbed for the #NeverTrump movement?

Here’s something to look out for in the meantime: I wouldn’t be surprised if Team Stapleton sets up a competing fundraiser for the same day — with, imagine, say, a Stapleton supporter like John Elway— to see who can have the biggest draw and haul in the most cash.

On the Dems and the teachers…

On the Democratic side, the end of the week saw thousands of school teachers walk out of their classrooms and flood the state Capitol calling for increased education funding in Colorado. Cary Kennedy and Mike Johnston showed up to support them, with Kennedy giving a speech from the Capitol steps. “Your voice matters,” she said to loud applause. “Your union matters.” She touted her endorsement of the state’s largest teachers union and said as governor she would “get TABOR fixed.” Johnston, who also mingled with the crowd, said what he saw at the Capitol was “courage in action.” Teachers, he said in a statement, “are speaking out— for their students and for themselves— and as governor, I will stand shoulder to shoulder with these hard-working educators to get them the resources they need to be successful, starting with higher paychecks.” Congressman Jared Polis was in Washington, D.C. on Thursday where he did a Facebook live in support. His campaign said if he got back early enough on Friday he would show up, but he ultimately wasn’t able to. “As governor, I will work tirelessly to improve teacher salaries in all our school districts,” he said in a statement.

All four Democratic candidates oppose a law proposed by Republicans in Colorado that could potentially send striking teachers to jail. Only Republican gubernatorial candidate Greg Lopez, the former mayor of Parker, responded when Westword checked in on the GOP side. According to a spokesperson, Lopez feels that “ultimately, teachers fail students when they walk off their jobs, and the school system fails teachers and parents when they tacitly endorse teachers walking off the job. Moreover, it sets a terrible example to abandon the students, when the students have no authority to resolve the grievances of the teachers. It’s nothing more than ‘pre-planned collateral damage’ to the students.”

A death penalty punt … to 2019 

In 2014, when Hickenlooper was running for re-election against Republican Bob Beauprez, it seemed at times the single biggest issue in the race was the fate of Nathan Dunlap, a convicted killer whom Hickenlooper gave a temporary reprieve from execution and whom Beauprez promised to put to death if he won.

In 2016, death penalty abolitionists in Colorado hit the snooze button, as we reported then, on any big effort to try and scrap capital punishment, largely because it was an election year. This year, too, it seems candidates for governor won’t have to run alongside a big statewide effort to abolish the death penalty in the fall. The nonprofit group Coloradans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty has re-launched, but its focus on abolition efforts will be after the 2018 election, I’m told.

By then, “We’ll have a new governor,” its director, David Sabados, told me this week, and the group is looking at tackling abolition through the legislature. His hope is that a new governor— whoever it is— will offer a fresh set of eyes on the issue.

The Colorado Independent has asked the candidates running for governor whether they would support ending the death penalty if they won. On the Republican side, Greg Lopez, Victor Mitchell, and Doug Robinson each said they would not support efforts to abolish the death penalty if they become governor. Stapleton did not answer our questionnaire.

“I called for the abolition of the death penalty five years ago,” said Democrat Mike Johnston. “It does not serve as a deterrent and is unevenly applied in criminal cases. It is time for Colorado to move beyond it.” Cary Kennedy said she does not support the death penalty, and she does not believe the state should “take a life.” Jared Polis said, “It’s time to abolish it, and I would sign a bill to do so.” Donna Lynne said she is opposed to the death penalty and would want to have a statewide conversation about it, something Hickenlooper proposed and critics say hasn’t come to fruition.

Speaking of Lynne…

When the governor’s second-in-command announced last fall she was running to replace the term-limited Hickenlooper, we wondered aloud— and asked her— if her candidacy wasn’t Hick 2.0. When asked if the two ever diverged on policy, she told us, “I can’t think of an issue that we’ve differed on, honestly.”

That changed this week when Lynne made her first (that I can recall) major public break with her boss in a story we reported about how the Democratic candidates for governor would have handled a Trump administration push to allow drilling near the Great Sand Dunes National Park. (Spoiler: they all oppose it. Hickenlooper hasn’t publicly opposed it. All the Democrats in the state Senate publicly oppose it.)

Here’s the notable line from Lynne in our story:

“As governor, I would take a different approach, making sure I talk to the appropriate elected officials and community members before making a decision,” Lynne told The Colorado Independent. “At present, I am in agreement with Democratic members of the General Assembly who oppose drilling in such close proximity to a national park.”

Read what the other Dems who want Hick’s job had to say here.

About that tattoo…

As The Denver Post reports, Lynne got her third tattoo recently — the “C” logo from the Colorado state flag on her left arm near her shoulder as cameras rolled for a potential TV commercial. “Determined to show her devotion to Colorado and the job she wants to win, the 64-year-old may be the first major-party candidate for a top office to get a tattoo as part of her campaign,” the Post wrote.

Here’s a salient line:

And the move — what some may label a political stunt — recalls the campaign of the man she wants to replace, Gov. John Hickenlooper, who showered in a business suit to grab attention in his 2010 race.

“Lynne’s campaign is mum about plans for the video footage,” the paper reported. “The campaign wanted to keep the tattoo secret — Lynne didn’t even tell her husband or children, let alone the governor, about her plans.”

5280 magazine comes out with a big package about the governor’s race…

The latest edition of Denver’s magazine comes with a big package on this election, including the topics dominating the race, useful stats about the state’s political topography, and charts and graphs about voter registration.

Some interesting factoids: Jefferson County has the state’s largest pool of unaffiliated voters. Washington County has the highest percentage of active Republican voters, while Costilla County has the largest percentage of active Democratic voters. San Juan County has the highest percentage of active unaffiliated voters.

Here’s what Colorado political analyst Eric Sonderman told the magazine:

Democratic dominance in the governor’s office is the result of an array of factors. During the past five decades, Democrats regularly have put forth the more compelling candidate and mostly avoided messy, contested primaries. Meanwhile, Republican nomination contests have often resembled spirited games of bumper cars. The mix of egos, ambitions, and warring factions of conservatism served more than once as a lead weight on the ability of the GOP nominee to appeal to the more centrist-minded, suburban independents who continue to determine elections in Colorado.

Find the landing page here.

The S-word…

As Susan Greene reports for us today, another Denver group has scrapped the racially-charged “Stapleton” from its name. That’s in reference to Ben Stapleton, who served as Denver’s mayor from 1923 to 1931 and then from 1935 to 1947. Stapleton was a Ku Klux Klan member who won office with Klan support and appointed several fellow klansmen to top city positions.

More from Greene:

Questions about Ben Stapleton’s legacy likely will persist this year not just in the community named after him, but also in the political realm should the former mayor’s great-grandson, Walker Stapleton, snag the Republican Party’s nomination for governor in the June primary election. When running for treasurer in 2009, the newcomer proudly touted his great-grandfather’s civic contributions. But this election cycle, as Ben Stapleton’s KKK allegiances have become far more widely known and controversial, the candidate has stayed mum on the issue.

Speaking of Stapleton…

A man belonging to a group “known for suing elected officials and government agencies over transparency issues,” is asking Denver’s district attorney for an investigation “into what Stapleton knew about Kennedy Enterprises, the embattled signature-gathering firm accused of hiring out-of-state individuals to collect signatures for candidates.”

“Truth-Testing” Victor Mitchell’s ad slamming California…

In a new TV ad, entrepreneur and former Republican lawmaker Victor Mitchell takes aim at California, characterizing it as a lawless, violent state run by career politicians. But, the bottom line, according to 9News, which put the ad in its “Trust Test” crosshairs this week, is “Mitchell paints California as the worst state in the union as part of an effort to cast himself as a political outsider. But much like his last ad, this one ignores the fact that he’s held elected office before. Mitchell served a term in the Colorado House of Representatives, and he’s running in a primary against the state treasurer and a former mayor.”

Colorado Public Radio rolled out its candidate profiles, starting with…

Mike Johnston and Victor Mitchell.

Water, water, nowhere?

On tap last week for the candidates at one forum was water.

On Thursday in Denver, Democrats Mike Johnston and Donna Lynne joined Republicans Greg Lopez and Victor Mitchell and Libertarian Scott Helker for the state’s first Water in the West Symposium. As we previously reported, the estimated price tag for Colorado’s statewide water plan could be as high as $40 billion. That’s with a ‘B’.

From coverage on that forum:

Candidates discussed how the water plan should move forward, as well as finding the dollars to do it; the future of the outdoor recreation economy; innovation, awareness and citizen involvement; and shortages on the over-appropriated Colorado River. Mitchell said he supports the state water plan. He said he would look for storage solutions to keep water on the Eastern Plains and seek incentives for farmers to grow more water-efficient crops. He also said the state should fully fund the water plan but didn’t offer ideas on how to do that. Johnston said the state should figure out what its top priorities are for the water plan and how to fund it. His platform includes changes to the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights to allow for public investment in infrastructure, which for him includes roads, bridges, and water.

Colorado Democrats don’t look messy in a national look at messy Dem primaries…

On Sunday in The Washington Post, Dave Weigel looked at primaries for governor across the country where candidates battle over what the Democratic Party stands for. In Ohio, he found a stark split between Richard Cordray and Dennis Kucinich over guns. In New York he found Cynthia Nixon saying incumbent Gov. Andrew Cuomo seems to “work for the Republicans.” In Florida, he found candidates arguing over how they would move the state to left. In Michigan, a candidate calls himself “the most progressive Democrat” in the race and supports a statewide single-payer healthcare system.

Here’s Weigel’s analysis on where Colorado stands amid those races:

Colorado has a crowded field, with a congressman, former state treasurer and lieutenant governor all in the race. There, candidates aren’t battling over whether to provide universal health care but how to do it.

As we previously reported, all four candidates have signed the Colorado Democratic Party’s clean campaign pledge. They rarely talk about each other in public, and in the first televised Democratic debate, which included Mike Johnston, Cary Kennedy, and Donna Lynne, they agreed on nearly everything.

Where the candidates will be this week…

On May 1, Mike Johnston will be at 19 S Eudora St. in Denver at 6 p.m, and at William C. Hinkley High School Aurora on May 2 at 7 p.m. for a “Know Your Rights” immigration workshop as part of his campaign’s Spanish town hall.

On May 3, Cary Kennedy will be at Montbello Recreation Center at 5:30 p.m. At the same time on May 4 she’ll be at Coffee at The Point in Denver’s Five Points.

On May 2, Jared Polis will be at the Platform at Union Station in Dever at 6 p.m.

On May 3, Doug Robinson will be at Hilldaddy’s Wildfire Restaurant in Idaho Springs at 8 a.m., and at Randi’s Irish Grill & Pub in Winter Park at noon. On May 4, he’ll be at the Village Inn Restaurants in Longmont at 8 a.m., and Poppa’s Pizz and Grill in Estes Park at noon.