Election 2018FeaturedNews

Club 20 debates kick off general election campaign season in Grand Junction

Author: Marianne Goodland - September 8, 2018 - Updated: September 8, 2018

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Club 20 debates(Niyazz, iStock)

GRAND JUNCTION – Viewed as the unofficial start to the campaign season, the Club 20 debates in Grand Junction Saturday drew heat and humor, but without the marquis matchup hoped for between gubernatorial candidates Walker Stapleton, the Republican state treasurer, and Democratic U.S. Rep. Jared Polis of Boulder. (Polis declined to participate.)

The debates — 17 in all on Saturday — have otherwise gone on as planned.

The format featured four questions followed by “cross-examination” which allowed the legislative candidates to go after each other — sometimes intensely — over issues such as campaign contributions, oil and gas and renewable energy, healthcare/Medicaid expansion and water. In some cases, the debates were the first between some of the candidates.

The morning featured debates for the eight Western Slope House districts. It continued into the afternoon with debates for the three Western Slope state Senate districts, secretary of state and for state treasurer.

The most heavily targeted state Senate race on the Western Slope — for the Senate District 5 seat currently held by Democratic Sen. Kerry Donovan of Vail — featured questions from her opponent, Republican Owen Lund about Donovan’s priorities since she declined to participate. (Donovan campaigned in Salida Saturday.)

“Seems to me that Donovan has taken a page from the Polis playbook,” Lund said in a press release Saturday evening. “Boulder Democrat Jared Polis ignored pleas from West Slope Democrats to attend the Club 20 forum, even their pleas fell flat on Polis’s tone-deaf ears. I would’ve thought Donovan had better sense.”

As the day grew later, the debates got more fiery, such as between incumbent Republican Secretary of State Wayne Williams and Democratic challenger Jena Griswold; and between the two candidates for state treasurer, Democratic Rep. Dave Young and Republican businessman Brian Watson.

Griswold went after Williams’ outside job as an employment lawyer, a job he has continued to hold during his time as Secretary of State. On the other side, Williams challenged Griswold’s lack of experience in running elections and on whether she was asked to leave the Hickenlooper administration when she served as the governor’s Washington liaison (she said she was not asked to leave and continued to work as a contractor for the administration after she moved back to Colorado).

Williams also pointed out his support from Democratic officials on the Western Slope, and chided Griswold for having no Republican elected officials from the Western Slope that support her.

The fireworks continued with the treasurer’s race, when Young went after Watson over nearly a million dollars in delinquent taxes, tax liens and other unpaid bills for both his businesses and his personal finances, issues raised by other Republicans during the primary, Young said.

“I was going to hug him but I won’t now after that introduction,” Watson retorted.

Watson said he would represent all 64 Colorado counties, not just those on the Front Range. They also sparred over the unclaimed property tax fund — which is managed by the state treasurer and now headed for a state audit over claims from people and businesses that they have too much trouble getting their property back — and PERA.

During the cross-examination, Watson targeted Young for being a public school math teacher and a state representative, both on the public dime, as well as supporting increased state spending. As to his financial issues, Watson claimed the recession was the cause, although Young pointed out one of those debts wasn’t paid until right before Watson filed to run for state treasurer. Watson said his debts have all been paid, but Young said he has certified documents showing Watson is still $140,000 in debt.

He also went after Young for a lack of investment experience, which drew a reply from Young that as a member of the Joint Budget Committee, he has had fiduciary experience in managing taxpayer money.

The evening marquis events will feature debates for attorney general, two of the state’s seven congressional House districts and a question-and-answer session with Stapleton.

Marianne Goodland

Marianne Goodland

Marianne Goodland is the chief legislative reporter for Colorado Politics. She's covered the Colorado General Assembly for 20 years, starting off in 1998 with the Silver & Gold Record, the editorially-independent newspaper at CU that was shuttered in 2009. She also writes for six rural newspapers in northeastern Colorado. Marianne specializes in rural issues, agriculture, water and, during election season, campaign finance. In her free time (ha!) she lives in Lakewood with her husband, Jeff; a cantankerous Shih-Tzu named Sophie; and Gunther the cat. She is also an award-winning professional harpist.