Opinion

HUDSON | Neither heat nor much light in gubernatorial debate

Author: Miller Hudson - June 21, 2018 - Updated: June 17, 2018

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Miller Hudson

You know your life has arrived at some considerable misfortune when you spend a lovely Saturday evening watching Colorado’s Republican and Democratic gubernatorial debates back to back.  Surely there must be better things to do with one’s time: mow the grass, clean out the garage, or smoke some of Colorado’s finest? The first thing I noticed, however, was that Channel 9’s dynamic duo of Brandon Rittiman and Kyle Clark offered two young men convinced their mothers’ sons had turned out quite well. Smug hardly begins to capture their preening self-confidence.

Nonetheless, the notion of “speed debating,” presumably patterned after speed dating, may have sounded like a good idea in theory. In practice, not so much. Limiting responses to 45 seconds, interspersed with frequent requests for candidates to raise their hands Yes or No to inquiries curtailed rather than fostered understanding. Asking Republicans whether they would sign a bill sent to them from the legislature outlawing AR-15s drew four refusals. Whether that was the same as a readiness to veto such a proposal remained unclear. All four Democrats promised to approve such a ban.

Winter Olympic promoters could hardly have been encouraged. Not a single candidate was willing to contribute a dime of public money and they all insisted that the proposed public vote should be determinative, not advisory. Swiss voters just turned down their country’s third Olympic bid in the last six years. There seems little reason to believe Colorado taxpayers would vote differently.  Only Victor Mitchell expressed any enthusiasm for a Colorado Games in 2026, and even he insisted it should be an entirely private affair.

Republican candidates were also unanimous in their desire to repeal the issuance of drivers’ licenses to undocumented Colorado residents, nor were they fans of sanctuary cities.  They were agreeable, however, to dispatching the Colorado National Guard to protect our promised border wall. Their support for legal recreational marijuana also seemed muted and leaned towards scheduling a re-vote. There is little reason to believe an initiative that passed in all but a handful of Colorado counties, and which is now generating more dollars than problems, would be reconsidered. In 2012 a lot of Republicans must have been tired of seeing their kids thrown in jail for inhaling. That probably hasn’t changed.

The Democrats evidenced a similar unanimity of thought, although the format prompted them to grumble more than their Republican counterparts that it was nearly impossible to provide a nuanced answer to whether they supported the business community’s transportation sales tax initiative. It felt like there were several missed opportunities among the Democrats. Donna Lynne was well positioned to argue that Colorado’s prospects are bright and the economy humming after 12 years of Democratic rule, thank you very much. Rittiman and Clark could have thrown a challenge to the Republican aspirants with, “Why do we need a change?” but whiffed that opportunity.

Mike Johnston talked about fixing the “worst parts” of TABOR so that Colorado can pay teachers what they are worth despite the fact that most of them are committed to voting for Kennedy. A better argument would be that Colorado promises a uniform system of education to all its students yet half our school districts are currently operating just four-days a week. Parents, who have to find day care or worry about what their kids are up to on that fifth day, are far more likely to prove persuadable about finding the dollars to restore a five-day schedule. Cary Kennedy was the only candidate to raise any concern that the state’s runaway growth might be producing something other than butterflies and lollipops.

After the June 26 primaries narrow the field to just a pair, voters will need debates that permit each candidate to more fully explain their policy preferences and the political philosophy that shapes them. Hopefully, that will include substantial distancing from the base baiting postures that energize partisan zealots.

Miller Hudson

Miller Hudson

Miller Hudson is a public affairs consultant and a former state legislator. He can be reached at mnhwriter@msn.com.