Republican state Treasurer Walker Stapleton spent parts of Colorado’s second-to-last gubernatorial debate trying to turn a 1999 police incident involving his opponent, Democratic Congressman Jared Polis, into a scandal.
Several times during the debate Wednesday evening at Colorado State University, Stapleton ignored questions posed by moderators and called attention to a 19-year-old Boulder police report, unearthed last month by the conservative news outlet The Washington Free Beacon, about an altercation Polis had with a female employee at the Boulder office of JPS International LLC, a company he ran at the time.
Over and over, Stapleton highlighted Polis’s admission to police that he pushed the employee, Patricia Hughes.
What Stapleton failed to say is that Hughes was found by police to have been stealing business information from Polis on her last day of work, when the incident occurred. He didn’t mention that Hughes was hitting Polis with a bag when he pushed her off of him. And he omitted the fact that police did not find Hughes credible when she claimed that Polis injured her or prevented her from calling police.
Hughes, who died in 2014, was charged with and pleaded guilty to stealing trade secrets from Polis’s company.
Yet Stapleton seemed hellbent on depicting Polis as the aggressor rather than as the victim of a crime.
9News newsman Kyle Clark, Wednesday’s debate co-moderator, has in recent in weeks repeatedly noted on air the intellectual dishonesty of ads, funded by a super PAC supporting Stapleton, attacking Polis for his run-in with Hughes. Clark asked Polis about it during Wednesday’s debate, which was sponsored by his station and The Coloradoan newspaper,
“Was it morally and ethically alright to push that woman?” he asked.
“She hit me, and (the push) was a reaction of self defense like I think anyone would have,” Polis said. “I think the fact that this is even brought up is a sign of desperation, and, frankly, it’s sad. It wasn’t fun to be the victim of a crime. … I don’t think it’s relevant politically.”
Polis added, “When somebody’s swinging at you, and you’re pushing back — no prosecutor found any fault with it. No police or courts found any fault with it. Obviously, in retrospect I wish we would have prevented that confrontation from even happening.”
But Stapleton wouldn’t let the issue drop. Instead of answering a moderator’s question about Democratic state Rep. Jovan Melton – whose 1999 arrest and guilty plea related to domestic violence against his then girlfriend has recently made headlines in his election bid – Stapleton immediately veered back to the Polis police report.
“It is indisputable that he forcibly pushed a woman,” he said. “My wife is here. … I am the father of two young kids, and I ask Congressman Polis —”
Polis and the moderators both started cutting him off during the statement. Polis called Stapleton’s assertions about the police report “conspiracy theories,” adding that, “I think it’s completely inappropriate for you to politicize me being the victim of a crime.”
After the dust settled, the moderators asked a question about Colorado’s Civil Rights Commission, which has made headlines recently for inspiring the Masterpiece Cake Shop case at the U.S. Supreme Court.
Stapleton opened his response by returning, once again, to the police report.
“He doesn’t view pushing a woman as doing anything wrong, and I do,” he said, before the moderators assured him he’d made his point and encouraged him to answer the question they’d posed.
Issues beyond the police report
Though Stapleton’s focus on the police report dominated portions of Wednesday’s debate, moderators and Polis did manage to steer the conversation to other topics. When asked to weigh in briefly on climate change for the first time this debate season, Polis said he’d support a carbon tax and Stapleton said he’s worried about any vehicle emissions standards that threaten the viability of SUV purchases in Colorado.
Polis was asked about his ties to Bernie Sanders, who will come to Colorado Oct. 24 to campaign for him. He tried to distance himself ideologically from the senator from Vermont, who identifies as a democratic socialist.
“I believe in the power of a free market. I’m a capitalist,” Polis said, adding later, of Sanders, “He’s an idealist, and I think people admire that in him.”
“I have to work as a pragmatist,” Polis said. “And of course if he inspires people of any age here in Colorado to vote for me, then we’re glad to have him here.”
Stapleton, for his part, was asked about President Donald Trump, who weighed into the race Oct. 10 by tweeting the following: “Walker Stapleton is running as the highly respected Republican Candidate for Governor of the Great State of Colorado. His credentials and talents are impeccable. He has my complete and total Endorsement!”
9News’s Clark went to some length to lead Stapleton to condemn sexist, racist and otherwise offensive remarks by President Donald Trump, who Tuesday referred to Stormy Daniels as “horseface.”
“I’m curious,” Clark began. “What you think about the way your ally, President Trump, talks about women and minorities, calling his black critics dumb and low-I.Q., referring to Mexican immigrants proudly as rapists, bragging about his ability to sexually assault women, yesterday calling a woman horseface. Take the politics out of it; why align yourself with somebody who treats people like that?”
Stapleton said, “President Trump’s personality has nothing to do with who will be Colorado’s next governor.”
“I’m not going to sit here and defend President Trump’s personality, because I don’t really know President Trump well enough to defend his personality. I will defend President Trump’s policies, which by and large I think have benefited Coloradans.”
Clark told Stapleton he was pivoting and avoiding the question about “your ally’s misogynistic and frankly racist remarks.” “Why not just say, ‘Don’t treat people like that?” he asked.
Stapleton never took the bait, refusing to condemn Trump’s speech.
“As grating to some as (Trump’s personality) may be — or others may actually find it amusing or appealing — but the thing is, what are the policies?”
Clark tried once more, but Stapleton stayed the course.
Though Stapleton was too preoccupied with the issue of Polis’s 1999 run-in with his employee to answer the question about state Rep. Jovan Melton, Polis did address the controversy.
The Denver Post broke a story last week detailing the 19-year-old arrest and conviction history of Rep. Jovan Melton, a progressive from Aurora who serves as the Democratic majority deputy whip in the state House. Melton’s girlfriend at the time told police that he pushed her so hard that her tailbone was broken. Polis was asked Wednesday why he has not joined with some of Melton’s colleagues in calling for him to resign.
“He was convicted and he served his term. As a person of faith, I believe in redemption. I also believe in consequences,” Polis said. “He should look himself in the mirror, consider resigning or coming clean, but ultimately these decisions are up to the voters.”
“I think it’s important for Jovan Melton to be fully open with people so they can make an informed decision about whether to forgive him. He committed a crime, he paid his price to society. But if there’s more that needs to be talked about in terms of him coming to terms with the harm that he caused victims … then he needs to be fully open. And (voters) need to make the decision about whether they forgive him or not.”
Stapleton addressed the Melton controversy Oct. 11 when he told Colorado Public Radio, “Violence against women is never acceptable and Jovan Melton needs to take responsibility for his actions and resign. I urge Congressman Polis to join me in calling for Rep. Melton’s resignation and to condemn violence against women in any circumstance.”
Colorado’s final scheduled televised gubernatorial debate before Election Day will take place Wednesday at the University of Denver, and will be hosted by The Denver Post and ABC 7.