PUEBLO — Walker Stapleton is mad as hell and not just because he’s losing in the polls to Jared Polis. He’s mad — red-faced mad, sweaty-brow mad, yelling-into-the-mic mad — because Coloradans seem not to understand how dangerous the “radical and extreme” Polis would be as governor.
And it’s not because Stapleton doesn’t keep telling them. In fact, it’s pretty much the only thing he keeps telling them. By one journalist’s count in the Monday night debate in Pueblo, Stapleton used “radical” 13 times to describe Polis, and if that’s not a drinking game for the rest of the debate season, then I don’t know Colorado.
I went down to Pueblo for the debate, the third debate in four days. It drew only about 250 people, many of whom, by the way, didn’t seem angry at all. It was a pretty quiet hall for the debate on the campus of CSU-Pueblo. Hardly any students attended. I didn’t see any protesters of any stripe inside or outside the building. There was a mariachi band, however. The musicians did not seem particularly steamed either.
But Stapleton, in warning of the dangers of a man who actually, like most Democrats in Congress, voted 94 percent of the time with Nancy Pelosi, is so serious about warning Coloradans that he compared himself to a latter-day Paul Revere, if only Revere had shouted “the self-funding radical socialists are coming.”
But, folks, I’m here to tell you — actually Stapleton is there to tell you wherever he goes — not only is Polis filling your head with “empty promises,” not only would Polis bankrupt the state, his policies would — and I’m not making this up — kill people. At some point I wasn’t sure if this was a political debate or a Colorado trip through “Night of the Living Dead.”
See if you can understand this point. Polis wants us to move toward universal health care, which is more or less what most Democrats, radical or otherwise, say these days. He’s not calling for immediate universal health care, because it’s a losing proposition. But he does want to expand Medicaid and wants to look into a multi-state health care initiative and is looking for a way for Coloradans to buy drugs more cheaply, say from Canada.
This, Stapleton said, would kill Coloradans. Let me quote him. Here’s a warning from me: You probably should turn down the volume while you read this.
He starts, of course, with calling Polis’ plan “radical and extreme” and “an empty government promise.” And then he really gets going:
“I would love to offer universal health care. How are we going to pay for it, Congressman? Please explain how we’re going to pay for it. There’s no way to pay for it … This is not compassionate. It is cruel. It is an empty government promise that will be taken out on Coloradans who can least afford it, who will wait longer for less quality care. And if they have a critical … life-threatening illness, they won’t be able to get drugs to save their lives and they will end up dying.”
He says that’s not the future he wants for Colorado, and I think we can all agree we don’t people dropping dead while waiting in line to see a doctor or a pharmacist. And even if the plan could work, Stapleton says, the state would go bankrupt.
For Polis, the game plan is simple, to walk though his policy ideas, many of them mainstream liberal ideas, while trying not to seem radical or unhinged or firing back too hard at Stapleton, knowing that Stapleton’s anger seems less like real anger and more like an act. Stapleton has had to do something to shake up the race, which is in danger of being swamped by the expected midterm blue wave. Meanwhile, most of the major issues — health care, immigration, kids not being locked in cages — seem to favor Democrats.
The debate could be summed up in just two lines.
Polis: ”The time for name-calling is passed.”
Stapleton: “If you will tell these people how you will pay for it, I’ll stop calling you a radical.”
Polis is not a radical. He’s a progressive, although you rarely hear him mention that since the primary season. As he told me the other day, he doesn’t have to say he’s progressive much, because Stapleton says it for him every day.
And, at each debate turn, Polis will hit back against the extremism charge by charging toward the middle — saying that if supporting the opportunity for five-day school week seem extreme, count him in. And then he’ll note -as he does in every debate – that Oklahoma has all-day kindergarten and asks whether you’d call Oklahoma radical.
And occasionally, Polis would sort of hit back, as he did at the debate. “Walker is such a Debbie Downer. It’s like, no, we can’t do this. Here’s why we can’t do that. My motto when I first ran is dream, dare, do …”
Of course, you can translate “dream, dare, do” to “spend, spend, spend.” Unfortunately in Colorado, we have that TABOR thing, which puts huge limitations on both dreaming and spending.
But the one thing you have to concede about this race is that since the candidates disagree on nearly every topic, it should be easy to figure out which one to support. The real challenge, apparently, is to be able to cast your vote without dying on the way to mailbox.