Trail Marker: Stapleton on the ‘Stapleton’ name. Polis and Johnston duel over guns record

Fundraising reports are behind them. Their ads are on the air. Now is the time when the candidates start engaging each other in person— and in front of voters— as the forum-and-debate season tumbles into the end of springtime in the Rockies.

It’s also when the ground game heats up. There might be people at your door, texts on your phone, leaflets on your windshield— all urging you to vote for this candidate or that.

Now, to the week that was…

Walker Stapleton talks about the ‘Stapleton’ name

In his first major public comments about the controversy surrounding his great-grandfather, Walker Stapleton told us he feels it should be up to the Stapleton community to decide what it wants to call itself. In 2015, The Colorado Independent reported, “Stapleton was named after Benjamin Stapleton, a five-term mayor of Denver during the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s. Stapleton was a Southern Democrat and a well-known Klansman who denied his membership during his campaign. Once he got into office, he appointed Klan members to run the city and the police department.”

In recent weeks, groups and associations in the northeast Denver neighborhood have chosen to take the word “Stapleton” out of their names. Last month, we reported how the Stapleton Development Corporation voted quietly to call itself SDC, instead. This week, on May 15, local residents voted on whether to change the name of the Stapleton United Neighbors neighborhood association to Central Park United Neighbors. The vote needed 66 percent to pass, and received 58 percent (268 votes), so the association name will stay the same.*

“I absolutely condemn racism and I’ll leave it to others to opine on what happened in Colorado 100 years ago,” Walker Stapleton, the current state treasurer who is running for governor in a four-way Republican primary, told The Colorado Independent when we asked him about the latest news on the day of the May 15 vote.

“I think that whoever lives in that community, whoever has a business in that community, whoever is involved in economic development in that community, whoever is involved in nonprofits in that community— that community should decide,” he added.

In a 2009 video during his campaign for treasurer, Stapleton spoke about his great-grandfather’s legacy in Denver, which he said included “building the first civic center in Colorado, helping reinvigorate the Denver parks system … and building Colorado’s first municipal airport, Stapleton Airfield.”

He said in his current campaign, he’s not shying away from the new controversy surrounding his extended family member, but that his campaign is focused on what’s going to happen in Colorado’s future. “That’s what the campaign is going to be focused on,” he said.

Johnston vs. Polis over their gun-safety records in a Saturday forum

As rain pattered on a tent roof in a forum among the four Democratic candidates for governor in Colorado Springs on Saturday, sparks flew for the first time between two candidates person-to-person in this year-long campaign. The issue was guns, and it pitted former state Sen. Mike Johnston against Boulder Congressman Jared Polis.

“We agree on a lot of things on this panel— this is not one that we agree on,” said Johnston, who has staked a major part of his campaign on ending gun violence. “In 2013 after the Aurora theater shooting I did stand to ban high-capacity magazines. Jared, you opposed the assault-weapons ban at that stage. I think that’s significant. We were fighting to ban magazine limits and you were standing [with] the NRA to support them, and I think that matters about where you are on issues that are hard and moments that are hard.”

Polis countered that he was the only Democrat on the stage to actually sponsor an assault weapons ban. “Mike, you never did,” he said. “You talked about the magazine limit, I supported what we did there.”

To which Johnston replied: “Jared, you sponsored that assault-weapon ban after you started running for governor.”

Johnston added, “We fought at the state level to pass a ban on high-capacity magazines. There was a proposal at the federal level the same year to ban those high-capacity magazines and Jared opposed it. And so that is a very clear issue that had a big impact on Colorado and that’s a different record at a very important moment in time.”

Polis reiterated that he supported the state ban and now supports an assault weapons ban. “Mike was in the legislature eight years, never introduced it, never put his name on it,” Polis said of an assault-weapons ban.

Here’s the context: In 2013, Polis dismissed a proposed federal law that would have banned more than 100 different assault-style weapons, saying doing so would “make it harder for Colorado families to defend themselves and also interfere with the recreational use of guns by law-abiding Coloradans.” That same year, Colorado and its Democratic majority in the legislature passed a package of gun laws that included a ban on gun magazines that hold more than 15 bullets— not a full-on ban of the weapons themselves. Five years and more mass shootings later, Polis became an original sponsor this March of a new bill in Congress to ban assault-style weapons that include AR-15s, AK-47s, and shotguns with pistol grips or revolving cylinders, among many others.

Speaking of the gun violence issue, which has become a dominating force in the midterm elections following a string of mass shootings— the most recent just last week in Santa Fe, Texas— Johnston’s record is getting some scrutiny. A pro-Johnston political group backed by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is stuffing mailboxes around Colorado with glossy advertisements that say Johnston “led the fight to pass universal background checks and put limits on high-capacity magazines.” But Johnston, who was a state senator in 2013, was not one of the seven Senate sponsors of the magazine-ban bill, and he added his name as a sponsor to the other two gun bills later in the process.

At Saturday’s forum, a moderator asked, “How does that qualify of standing up to the NRA? Isn’t that really just jumping on the bandwagon?”

Johnston said he was the first Democrat who spoke on the floor of the Senate to fight for the bills. “The way the bills get introduced a certain member decides to carry it— in this case, the Senate president carried several of them— so once they get introduced you don’t get to add yourself as a co-sponsor often until after the vote, and so that was when I did that. But there was no doubt on where I stood. I fought early and hard and effectively, I think, to get those passed and I’m very proud of it.”

The forum was hosted by The Gazette and the El Pomar Foundation, moderated by Joey Bunch of ColoradoPolitics and talk-show host Aaron Harber. The Republicans also took part earlier in the morning. Find video clips here.

What’s up with Republican Doug Robinson and Colorado’s red-flag law?

A dispute over gun legislation wasn’t just on the Democratic side this week.

Speaking on Randy Corporon’s talk-radio show on May 16, Republican Doug Robinson was asked about his stance on a proposed red-flag law in Colorado that died in the GOP-controlled Senate. As we reported, the bill would have allowed family, roommates and law enforcement officers to ask a judge for a so-called extreme risk protective order, or ERPO, to take guns away from someone who is suspected of acting violently. After a week, the gun owner would be able to petition a court to get his or her guns back.

On the show, Robinson said his stance on the issue had been “misreported.” He said “we’ve got to keep guns out of the hands of certified crazy people,” but said the bill was brought late in the session and there wasn’t time to put enough due process protections in it. He said he thought it was “right” not to pass the bill.

That surprised another talk-radio host, Craig Silverman, who tweeted this:

So, what’s the deal? Is this some I-was-for-it-before-I-was-against-it going on here?

Robinson’s spokeswoman, Brett Maney— the spokesperson cited in the above email— says Robinson used the term misreporting when he should have used the term “misinformation” about some things floating around social media. She said the candidate does support red-flag laws and was even supportive of the bill introduced in Colorado. But he “wanted to see a couple changes made to it” that didn’t happen so he “wasn’t necessarily upset that it failed.” She said he talked to Silverman and apologized.

Meanwhile, Walker Stapleton talked about guns on national TV

State Treasurer Walker Stapleton scored some national TV airtime this week. Here’s the hit from FOX News:

Fact-checking the candidate TV ads 

Denver’s TV market has been known for years as a place with a kind of cottage industry for fact-checking candidate TV ads. Denver’s CBS4 has its Reality Check segment. KUSA 9News does a Truth Test. Denver’s Fox31 has a Truth Check segment.

Now that gubernatorial candidate ads are filling the airwaves, reporters at these outlets are shooting up flak and making some hits. This week, 9News blew a hole in Republican Walker Stapleton’s fuselage by proving false his claim of being the only state treasurer to support Trump’s tax plan. (The campaign says it got the stat from a White House news release.) The station also trained its Truth Test on Democrat Jared Polis’s new TV ad in support of full-day kindergarten, explaining what a governor can actually do about such a plan where input from the legislature or a vote from the people might be necessary. (CBS4 did a Reality Check, which also revealed Polis’s son goes to private school.) In examining former Democratic State Treasurer Cary Kennedy’s new pro-teacher ad, CBS4’s Shaun Boyd said in a Reality Check segment that “Kennedy sent her kids to private school until eighth grade” (one later went to George Washington High School and another is a senior there) and the next governor “will have no control over teacher pay or teacher evaluations” but could use the bully pulpit to influence local school boards, which have local control over such issues.

In a FOX31 Truth Check of an ad by a pro-Mike Johnston PAC, the station’s reporter accused it of “misleading claims,” like stating that as a high school principal Johnston helped “every student” get accepted to college. “According to the Colorado Department of Education — only 36 percent of students graduating in 2009 went to college –– that’s the year Johnston became a state Senator,” the station reported. “Data from the Colorado Department of Education also shows 76 students at the start of the [class of 2008 junior year] — there [were] just 46 students when that class began [its senior year]. That suggests a high drop out rate.” FOX31 also called a claim in a TV ad by Republican Victor Mitchell that he’s “not a politician” misleading because Mitchell served a term in the state legislature.

Colorado’s current governor backs a big push for anti-gerrymandering reform

This week Colorado’s current Democratic governor, John Hickenlooper, threw his weight behind two statewide ballot measures that, if passed by voters in November, would change how political lines are drawn and give unaffiliated voters more of a voice in the process.

We reported on what these measures would do in an in-depth piece, and we’ll be checking in with the eight candidates who want Hickenlooper’s job to see if any of them oppose the plan on which a statewide campaign called Fair Maps Colorado has been launched.

The measures carry the support of Colorado’s Democratic speaker of the House and Republican Senate president. Kent Thiry, the wealthy CEO of the Denver kidney dialysis company DaVita, is backing it, too. He considered a run for governor as a Republican but decided against it. He has styled himself as a champion for getting the state’s 1.2 million unaffiliated voters more involved in the political process.

Pension tension

At a campaign swing through Grand Junction this week, former State Treasurer Cary Kennedy got some local coverage by saying about a recently-passed pension system reform bill, “I think it’s an important deal to make sure we can meet the obligations in that pension fund long-term. … Folks who paid into it their entire lives can rely on those benefits for their financial security and retirement.”

Meanwhile, Stapleton, who leans on his calls for reforming the state pension system in his campaign for governor, caught some coverage from Denver7 that questioned the extent of his involvement on the bill in question, which was backed by the governor and the state’s teachers’ union and passed in the waning days of the legislative session. One of Stapleton’s GOP rivals, Doug Robinson, has questioned Stapleton’s leadership in the process.

Stapleton told The Colorado Independent that he had a consistent dialogue with leaders in the House and Senate about the legislation, but says he stayed out of it publicly because he is running for governor and felt it would become a political issue. He was disappointed in the outcome, he said.

Fun fact: If Kennedy and Stapleton become their respective party’s nominee for governor, it would be a statewide rematch of 2010, when Stapleton unseated Kennedy as treasurer during a good year for Republicans when those yellow tea party flags still waved at rallies across the nation.

Follow the message

Now that we’re approaching Memorial Day and full-on campaign season, if you’re interested in seeing the campaign messages candidates, their allies, enemies and supportive and non-supportive PACs are putting out, data journalist Sandra Fish is collecting them here. And if you get any that you don’t see on the site, send them her way by submitting them here.

Fish has been combing through the campaign and PAC spending for us and posting what she’s found at The Colorado Independent. On that front this week, we reported who is doing all that spending, how much, and on whose behalf.

See the candidates for governor in person yourself 

On May 22, our managing editor Tina Griego will moderate a candidate’s forum about work and working families at East High School at 6 p.m. All the Democrats have committed except Polis who will be in Washington, D.C. and is sending a surrogate. Robinson and Stapleton declined, and we’re still waiting to hear from Mitchell and Lopez. It’s free, but register here so we know you’ll be there.

On May 31, the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless has invited each of the gubernatorial candidates to explain their plans for affordable housing, living wages, and the state budget. It’s free, but RSVP here because space is limited.

*This story has been updated since it was first posted with new information. 

Photo by Corey Hutchins