6 takeaways from the final Republican debate in the Colorado governor’s race

The final showdown among the four Republicans running for governor of Colorado started with a question about separating children from their families at the Mexican border and ended with an admission about farting at the family dinner table.

Primary ballots have been out for about a week and Election Day is June 26.

On Tuesday evening, former Parker Mayor Greg Lopez, former investment banker Doug Robinson, state Treasurer Walker Stapleton and businessman Victor Mitchell each took questions for 90 minutes at the University of Denver in a debate moderated by The Denver Post’s John Frank and Anne Trujillo of Denver7.

Here are six takeaways

Who supports Trump’s policy of separating children from their parents at the Mexican border?

What a grim question. But in Trump’s America, that’s what Republican candidates in state elections are having to answer.

Responding, Mitchell said, “I think the president is on the right track when it comes to comprehensive immigration reform,” and, like Trump, he blamed Democrats for not reforming federal immigration policies he said led the current administration to have to yank children away as their moms and dads are being processed and incarcerate them in a renovated WalMart.

Lopez said parents have a moral responsibility to keep their kids safe. Asked if he supports the policy, he did not give a direct answer.

Robinson stood apart by answering the question — and flatly saying he does not agree with the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy. “These scenes from the border are heart-wrenching,” he said. “And this is not who we are as Americans. It’s not who we are as Republicans.”

Stapleton, who has just launched a new TV ad saying he stands with Trump on getting “illegal aliens who commit crimes deported,” said he agrees with Trump’s call for Congress to “fix our broken immigration system.” He didn’t say whether he agreed with the zero-tolerance policy, punting responsibility to Congress “to fix this policy.”

REMINDER: Read our in-depth profiles of all these candidates

How do they differ from Donald Trump?

All but Mitchell say they voted for Trump for president. Colorado went for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election by about 5 percentage points and in that year’s GOP primary was a hotbed of the #NeverTrump movement.

Robinson said he disagrees with the president on issues that are bad for Colorado — like a potential trade war with China and Trump’s tariffs on aluminum, which could hurt the state’s booming brewery industry.

Stapleton said he had concerns about tariffs and an escalating trade war with China, which could impact Colorado’s meat exports, and he said Tump’s stance on the J1 visa program could potentially impact Colorado’s ski industry.* He said it’s helpful for a governor to work with a president and noted he was “one of the first” to support Trump’s tax bill. That’s progress for a candidate who in a previous debate defended a false claim in one of his ads saying he was the “only” treasurer to support the tax plan.

Mitchell, who voted for former CIA officer Evan McMullin as president, spoke about what he likes about TrumpLife: A booming economy and conservative judges. But he said he worries about a trade war with close U.S. allies. “I think his approach on healthcare was wrong,” he said, adding Trump should have pushed for a flat-out repeal of Obamcare.

Lopez called Trump a “true leader” and said he would never have passed the latest federal budget. “I think he didn’t show true leadership” there, he said. “Beyond that, I think he’s doing a wonderful job.”

Do they agree with Trump that media are the enemy of the people?

Stapleton, who is the least accessible candidate in the GOP primary and delegates contact with reporters to a spokesman, said he feels there’s a left-leaning bias in the news media and has at times been frustrated by coverage. “I know there’s a lack of resources … these days,” he said, adding that calling journalists enemies of the people goes a bit too far.

Mitchell, who gives his personal cell phone number to reporters, makes himself accessible to them and answers every email, said the media is not an “enemy” in any way shape or form. “I think all candidates should be incredibly accessible,” he said, adding, “We work for you, not the other way around, and that’s the type of governor I’ll be.”

Lopez, who also gives reporters his personal cell phone number, said he does not believe members of the media are the enemy of the people, but he understands journalists are coming under more scrutiny in the credibility department. “Perception is reality,” he said. “And I think too many people are truly questioning the media because they don’t truly balance the stories.”

Robinson, who also gives reporters his personal cell phone number and invites conversations rather than just interviews, says he has found the Colorado press corps to be professional and fair, even though it’s shrinking. “I’ve tried to be as accessible as I possibly can,” he said, adding that he hopes that helps him convey his conservative vision to the public.

How would they assure Coloradans that their interests will come before oil-and-gas interests?

Lopez said he doesn’t think Colorado needs to extend setbacks between drilling sites and homes more than the current requirement of 500 feet.

Robinson said 500 feet is adequate in most cases. “We have to support the oil-and-gas industry in Colorado,” he said. “I support oil and gas.”

Stapleton inaccurately said every Democrat running for governor supports a proposed ballot measure to increase setbacks to 2,500 feet. During Monday’s Denver Post/Denver7 debate when they were asked, none of the four Democrats said they supported that distance. Stapleton said he would balance oil-and-gas industry interests with environmental protection. Then, the presumed frontrunner who in recent weeks has been putting his own money into his bid, made a public plea for more campaign money from the oil-and-gas industry. 

Following Stapleton’s unusually public plea for special-interest cash, a moderator asked if he as governor would be a puppet for the industry. Stapleton said he would actually come out with safety regulations and standards for the industry such as capping wells and making fracking more efficient when it comes to water use.

Mitchell said he supports the current 500-foot setback requirement. He popped Stapleton for taking money from the oil-and-gas industry and said candidates should not be indebted to a single industry. And he re-created this “Snapshot II” from our recent profile of him.

Only one of these Republicans doesn’t believe in man-made climate change

And that’s Greg Lopez.

Stapleton and Robinson both said they believe humans are contributing to climate change, while Mitchell said he probably does though he’s “not a scientist.”

What’s their most annoying trait?

Asked what their spouses would say irritates them most, things got personal.

Mitchell said he works too much.

Lopez said his wife would say that, because he has poor hearing, he sometimes doesn’t let people finish their thoughts because he tries to guess what they’re saying.

Stapleton said he might forget to put the toilet seat down in the middle of the night.

Robinson took the too-much-information prize of the evening with this answer: “I’m not sure if I should say this on television but I will: Farting at the dinner table.”

Watch the full debate below:


Photo via YouTube, Denver7