Election 2018FeaturedNewsWestern Colorado

Club 20 won’t allow lieutenant governor Lynne to debate for Jared Polis

Author: Joey Bunch - August 10, 2018 - Updated: August 13, 2018

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Club 20Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne, second from the right, plays an elimination game with Club 20 members at the organization’s spring meeting in Grand Junction. (Photo by Joey Bunch/Colorado Politics)

Club 20, the venerable Western Slope coalition of government and business leaders, said Friday that Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne won’t be allowed to stand in for Democratic nominee Jared Polis in next month’s political debate in Grand Junction.

When Polis announced which debates he would accept last week, Club 20 didn’t make the cut. Instead, his campaign chose a debate led by the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, as well as televised debates on the Front Range. The campaign said Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne, who lost to Polis in the primary, would serve as his surrogate at the Sept. 8 face-off with Republican nominee Walker Stapleton.

Polis spokesperson Mara Sheldon touted his upcoming visits to the Western Slope and expressed dismay at Club 20’s decision to turn away Lynne.

“We’re disappointed in Club 20’s partisan reaction to a scheduling conflict, and nobody benefits from their decision to deny their club members the opportunity to hear from the sitting lieutenant governor, Donna Lynne,” Sheldon said.

“Jared looks forward to debating Walker Stapleton at a free and open televised debate in Grand Junction on October 6th. Jared is in Basalt today, and he is excited to meet with Coloradans over Labor Day Weekend, which he will spend in Grand Junction and other Western Slope communities.”

The Western Slope debate is a 30-year tradition, and Club 20 says it’s never had a major party nominee decide to skip it, so the situation is unprecedented. Club 20 noted in its statement Friday that the organization only learned of Polis’ snub through a press release, not through negotiations.

RELATED: Polis’ plan to skip Club 20 debate kicks up a fuss on the Western Slope

“We expect the next potential governor of Colorado to represent all of Colorado and campaign vigorously throughout the state to learn the issues impacting rural communities,” Club 20 board chair Cindy Dozier said in a statement. “Congressman Polis’ decision not to honor the citizens of Western Colorado by participating in our debates is simply outrageous, and we continue to ask for his reconsideration.”

Polis’ campaign did not have an immediate comment on Club 20’s decision, but Stapleton’s did.

“It’s incredibly arrogant that Congressman Polis decided not to attend the Club 20 debate himself and assumed sending a surrogate would suffice,” said Stapleton spokesman Jerrod Dobkin. “Rural Colorado expects more than a stand-in governor. Walker looks forward to partaking in this important Colorado political tradition to discuss Western Slope issues.”

Club 20 Executive Director Christian Reece said the traditional debate, watched closely statewide, is an opportunity for Western Slope folks to see and hear the candidates in person.

“These debates are widely attended by more than 500 people with varying political perspectives and have been scheduled since April of 2017,” she said.

The agenda for the day still includes debates for major party candidates in eight Western Slope legislative races, two congressional contests, as well as candidates for attorney general. The debates don’t include statewide races for state treasurer or secretary of state. The full agenda is available by clicking here.

The Club 20 Executive Committee met on the Polis matter Friday and released a joint statement: “Club 20 is unable to allow a surrogate to participate in our debates on September 8th. While we have the utmost respect for Lt. Governor Donna Lynne and greatly appreciate our close relationship with her and her office, we cannot allow candidates to send someone in their stead due to a scheduling conflict when our debates have been scheduled for more than a year in advance.”

Editor’s note: This article was updated at 2:45 p.m. Aug. 10 to include a statement from Polis’ spokesperson.

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch is the senior political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has a 31-year career in journalism, including the last 15 in Colorado. He was part of the Denver Post team that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2013 and is a two-time Pulitzer finalist. His resume includes covering high school sports, the environment, the casino industry and civil rights in the South, as well as a short stint at CNN.