GRAND JUNCTION - Gov. John Hickenlooper had his feathers ruffled a little Saturday night when Bob Beauprez brought up some of the governor's recent gaffes.
But the Democratic incumbent fired back strong in regards to his opponent's questions about Hickenlooper's statements to sheriffs about gun control measures he signed into law last year.
In the first gubernatorial debate of the season, Hickenlooper painted Beauprez as a partisan politician picking unnecessary fights rather than seeking real solutions.
The debate Saturday night in Grand Junction was hosted by Club 20, a lobbying organization that focuses on issues of interest to 22 western Colorado counties.
Questions in the debates for governor and U.S. Senate focused on issues important to a more rural and historically conservative part of the state.
Early polls in the governor's race show voters are split evenly between the two starkly different personalities.
Hickenlooper markets himself as a somewhat quirky geologist turned brewer who operates outside of politics. Beauprez sells an image of a conservative Coloradan who successfully turned around a struggling bank and still owns and operates a ranch.
On water rights issues, Hickenlooper supports increasing capacity of existing storage while Beauprez wants to reduce regulation to speed the construction of new water storage.
On the conflict between urban and rural Colorado, Hickenlooper touted growth in agriculture exports and a bill to improve access to broadband Internet in rural areas. Beauprez went negative in his response.
"Why would 11 rural counties want to leave this great state if it's going so great?" Beauprez asked, referencing an unsuccessful secession effort that was driven in part by voters in 11 rural counties over gun legislation.
On the state's health care exchange that was set up to comply with the federal Affordable Care Act, Beauprez said Colorado has more canceled insurance policies than sign-ups for new ones.
Hickenlooper noted the number of uninsured residents in Colorado has had one of the largest decreases in the nation.
"That's really one of the national models of how to do it right," Hickenlooper said, calling it a bipartisan Colorado effort.
When the candidates were given a chance to ask each other questions, the issues became about political minutia and talking points, some of which went over the heads of audience members who haven't followed the political blow by blow.
"Why did you let a staffer decide whether or not you would sign the gun legislation? That's what you told the sheriffs," Beauprez asked.
"Don't distort the facts; that's the Washington way," Hickenlooper responded. "Let's take the real facts. I think there were mistakes in the process, but there was no decision made by a staffer."
When Beauprez pushed the issue and asked why Hickenlooper lied to the sheriffs about talking to Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York and founder of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, Hickenlooper said he misstated.
"I haven't been in politics, Bob," Hickenlooper said, drawing boos from the Republican side of the crowd.
There are several third-party candidates in the race for governor, but they were not invited to participate in the debates.
Contact Megan Schrader: 286-0644