Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper came to Colorado Springs Saturday to grapple with his two gubernatorial opponents over Colorado’s top issues.
The Democrat was disappointed.
“I felt like a third wheel,” said Hickenlooper.
Hickenlooper, who has a 20-point lead in polls, was a spectator for much of the hour-long debate while third-party hopeful Tom Tancredo and Republican Dan Maes continued their bloody battle for second place.
The gubernatorial match-up was the feature attraction at a day of debates sponsored by Action 22, a group that promotes southern Colorado communities. The debates also brought together rivals for Colorado’s attorney general, secretary of state and treasurer jobs.
Tancredo and Maes lived up to the top billing as they traded haymakers.
“What are you today, a fraud, a liar or a statesman?” Maes asked Tancredo at one point.
“You can’t count at all,” Tancredo told Maes during an exchange over fiscal issues.
The rancor between Maes and Tancredo serves a political purpose for each. They’re going after the same pool of conservative voters, which is at its deepest in Colorado Springs.
“I have to get 65 percent of the Republican vote,” said Tancredo, a former Republican congressman who jumped into the race under the banner of the American Constitution party after claiming Maes can’t win.
Maes, an Evergreen businessman, is trying to reclaim defectors, Republicans who abandoned his long-shot campaign as state party leaders worked to force him off the November ballot earlier this month.
“We didn’t give the mayor a free pass,” he said.
Here’s where they stand on top issues.
• Economy: Hickenlooper wants to cut red tape and draw businesses to the state through an aggressive marketing campaign.
Maes would cut business taxes and loosen drilling regulations to drive the oil and gas industry to new heights.
Tancredo would also make oil and gas the state’s economic centerpiece.
“There are no jobs in the green economy. There are plenty of jobs in taking oil and gas out of the ground,” Tancredo said.
• Immigration: Maes wants to force businesses to check the citizenship status of employees they hire. Tancredo wants Arizona-style immigration laws that would give police broader authority to check the immigration status of those they contact.
Hickenlooper said the federal government needs to fix immigration laws and enforcement with methods including improved identification cards.
“The successful countries that use immigration properly are the ones that thrive,” Hickenlooper said.
• Medical Marijuana: Hickenlooper supports the state’s existing program to regulate the medical marijuana industry but not full-blown legalization.
Tancredo said the drug should be fully legalized and heavily taxed.
Maes said the industry needs tighter controls and took a swing at Tancredo with this barb: “If we can legalize it and tax it, how about we prostitute our teenage daughters and tax it?”
• Education: Hickenlooper wants to ensure schools get adequate funding and is out to kill the Colorado Student Assessment Program of standardized tests.
Maes would promote options outside public schools and work to ensure the state gets a return on its education investment before more money is poured in.
Tancredo explained his stance this way: “We have to end the government monopoly on the school system to the extent possible.”
• Budget and taxes: Hickenlooper said he would look to make state government more efficient, but opposes three ballot measures that would cut taxes and stop state borrowing for projects — Amendment 60, Amendment 61 and Proposition 101.
Tancredo would downsize government and supports two tax-cutting ballot measures — Amendment 60 and Proposition 101 — but opposes one that would halt state borrowing, Amendment 61.
Maes said he would cut the state budget and is backing Amendment 60, a measure that cuts property taxes that now go to schools, while opposing the other two.
“Gov. Bill Ritter mugged you on the alley next to the capitol,” Maes told the audience, referring to state fee increases and moves to impose sales taxes on business.
Other Saturday debates
• Attorney General: Republican Attorney General John Suthers defended his decision to sue the federal government over this year’s health care reforms. Suthers, of Colorado Springs, said requiring people to carry health insurance violates the Constitution. His Democratic rival, Boulder County prosecutor Stan Garnett, said Suthers overstepped his bounds by drawing the state into a partisan fight and called for more emphasis on consumer protection in the office.
• Treasurer: Incumbent Democrat Cary Kennedy said she’s worked to invest the state’s money wisely and has increased transparency by opening her ledgers to the public. Republican opponent Walker Stapleton said he would bring business experience to the office and would serve as an advocate for taxpayers to make sure their money is well-spent.
• Secretary of State: Republican hopeful Scott Gessler said the state needs to do more to fight voter fraud and questioned a move to all-mail elections. Incumbent Democrat Bernie Buescher said mail elections would increase turnout and said voter fraud hasn’t posed a major issue in Colorado.