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Stapleton picks Rep. Lang Sias as GOP running mate

Author: Joey Bunch - July 11, 2018 - Updated: July 12, 2018

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From left: Republican gubernatorial candidate Walker Stapleton and state Rep. Lang Sias, his running mate. (Photo by Joey Bunch/Colorado Politics)

With a backdrop of military aircraft and heroic leadership as a setting, Republican gubernatorial nominee Walker Stapleton announced a state legislator and former Navy Top Gun pilot, Rep. Lang Sias, as his running mate.

Stapleton revealed his choice at the Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum in Denver on July 11, honoring Sias, a pilot who still flies for FedEx.

“Lang will help spread our message of economic opportunity across Colorado,” Stapleton told reporters at the morning press event. “He will help me implement our agenda for Colorado on day one.”

Sias said he and Stapleton are running for the same three reasons: They each have three children.

He then pivoted to campaign mode, assailing Democratic gubernatorial nominee Jared Polis’ platform on universal health care and renewable energy. Polis is a sitting U.S. representative who has supported more regulation on oil and gas, with a campaign promise to move the state toward 100 percent renewable energy.

“Jared Polis would take us backward, killing off all the great energy jobs that we have worked so hard to create in this state, jobs we have created, by the way, while working very hard to protect our environment,” Sias said.

On health care, Polis supports a health care plan that ensures accessibility, but not a government-run single-payer program.

“Congressman Jared Polis wants to reach into the pockets of hard-working Coloradans,” Sias said. “He thinks the government should get more and you should get less, In Washington he’s working to raise your taxes and repeal the tax cuts that have put more money in your pockets.

“And if he’s elected governor, he’ll do the same thing here in Colorado.”

He added, “And Jared Polis wants to turn your health care over to the government into a single-payer system. It’s single-payer, alright. You’ll be the payer through higher taxes and the quality of your care will decline. What a deal!”

Sias is a former Democrat who switched parties in the early 2000s. He has clashed with the far-right base of his party in previous campaigns for Congress and state Senate, and says that 85 percent of the legislation he’s carried has been bipartisan.

Democrats cited what they deemed his “extreme record” of supporting a Republican platform on reproductive rights, energy, and gay conversion therapy for minors. The state party characterized Sias as Stapleton’s “fellow Connecticut elitist” and a three-time election loser.”

They linked Sias to Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

“On Monday, Donald Trump unveiled a Supreme Court pick committed to taking away Americans’ health care and eliminating women’s health care rights,” state Democratic Party chair Morgan Carroll, a former state senator, said in a statement.

“Today, Trump supporter Walker Stapleton followed suit, nominating a Lieutenant Governor candidate committed to taking away Coloradans’ health care and eliminating women’s health care rights. This out-of-touch ticket from Connecticut would be a disaster for Coloradans — especially the 2.3 million Coloradans with pre-existing conditions and women who don’t want to see their rights taken away by anti-choice crusaders.”

The abortion-rights group NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado noted that Sias got an F on its most recent legislative scorecard.

“Anti-choice Walker Stapleton naming anti-choice Lang Sias means the Republican ticket is 100 percent anti-choice and stands in opposition to Colorado voters and values,” stated executive director Karen Middleton, also a former legislator.

The state Democratic Party provided a statement from Marcia Kohler, a Colorado cancer survivor, along with her daughter Grace.

“Under the Stapleton-Sias agenda, I’ll probably lose my health care, and so will my daughter, and so will thousands of other Coloradans who have preexisting conditions,” she stated. “That prospect is beyond terrifying — my daughter’s doctors said she should never go a single day without insurance.”

Stapleton said he interviewed other candidates but had been talking to Sias about the job for more than a month.

Sias said he switched parties because “I thought, probably foolishly, that the Democratic Party (still) had room for people with the views of, say, a John Kennedy. I found out, frankly, that was not the case.”

Sias completes the combatants among the major parties. A week after the June 26 primary, Polis  picked former state Rep. Dianne Primavera of Broomfield to be his lieutenant governor.

State Rep. Lang Sias, at left, and Republican gubernatorial candidate Walker Stapleton. (Photo by Joey Bunch/Colorado Politics)

That means both major parties have populated the top of their ticket with residents of metro Denver and Boulder.

Stapleton’s announcement ends intense speculation surrounding Stapleton’s choice. Viewed as a business-minded moderate going into the primary — much the same reputation as Sias has — Stapleton embraced former U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo and his strident views on immigration reform, a swerve that some felt might cost him support among moderate unaffiliated voters and Democrats in the general election.

Names that were discussed by GOP operatives — though none of them confirmed and some of them denied by the Stapleton campaign — included Tancredo, state senator and former Weld County Sheriff John Cooke, University of Colorado Regent Heidi Ganahl, state Sen. Kevin Priola, Jefferson County commissioner Libby Szabo, Mesa County commissioner Rose Pugliese, state GOP vice chair Sherrie Gibson, Colorado Farm Service Agency director and former state Rep. Clarice Navarro, and Stapleton’s former primary rivals Doug Robinson and Greg Lopez.

Stapleton said he had been engaged with Sias for more than a month, but acknowledged, in a question from Colorado Politics Wednesday morning, that he had interviewed other candidates.

Democrats have asserted that Stapleton was having a hard time filling the slot since the June 26 primary.

Stapleton pushed back on another emerging narrative Wednesday: his reluctance to debate. He said he was willing to debate Polis multiple times before the general election.

Stapleton also characterized himself as the underdog against the tech industry millionaire from Boulder.

“I hope always to be an underdog,” he told reporters. “I hope to be the beneficiary of low expectations throughout my life in elected office.”

With Sias ending his re-election bid to run for lieutenant governor, a vacancy committee will have to select a new GOP nominee in Sias’ House District 27, where Sias was expected to defend the seat against the state’s first transgender candidate for the legislature, Brianna Titone.

Sias joined the legislature in 2015 when he was appointed to the Arvada-based seat left vacant when Szabo resigned to take an appointment to the Jefferson County Commission.

Sias ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2010 and for state Senate in 2012 and 2014. He has clashed with the more conservative elements of the party along the way.

In 2014, the easy-going Sias lost a bruising state Senate primary fight to Laura Woods, who was backed by the Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, which sought to characterize Sias as weak on gun rights and a liberal Republican. Woods even compared him to an abortion doctor on her Facebook page, with Sias countering that he is decidedly against abortion.

Woods later said she regretted sharing the post that originated with the Colorado Campaign for Life. The conservative group faulted Sias for not returning its survey on abortion and produced a meme with photos of Sias and abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell under the headline “apathetic to the unborn.”

In campaigns and as a lawmaker, Sias has supported education — with three kids in Jefferson County’s public schools — while supporting school choice. He has opposed universal health care, as practically every Republican in the Capitol has; the Polis-Primavera ticket supports universal health care, though not a single-payer government program.

Sias is the ranking Republican on the House Business Affairs and Labor Committee, as well as serving on the Education Committee.

He’s been a supporter of the oil and gas industry and advancing technology on renewable energy, including a bipartisan bill to limit government fees on the installation of solar panels.

In the last session he co-sponsored a bipartisan to have a state collaborative examine health care costs to reduce Medicaid expenses by investing in accessibility to primary care.

He helped pass a bipartisan bill to strengthen accountability standards for schools, as well as bipartisan legislation to expand the K-12 teacher residency program to help with the state’s teacher shortage.

Sias was a prime sponsor of a law that could help businesses comply with government regulations.

State GOP chairman Jeff Hays called Sias “a strong choice.”

“As a fellow veteran, I know Lang is a disciplined fighter who has pledged his life to defend our Constitution and American way of life,” he said in a statement. “I’m confident Walker and Lang will stop Congressman Jared Polis from instituting his radical agenda, which would hurt hardworking Coloradans. Walker and Lang will bring economic opportunity to all corners of our state, and I look forward to celebrating a victory with them in November.”

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.