The 2018 Colorado governor's race thus far has been a sleepy affair. The eight candidates, for each party's nomination, have mainly made news as they struggled to get a place on their party's primary ballot, either by selection at a state assembly or petitioning on to the ballot. And some of them have attracted attention with their prodigious fundraising.
In brief, the bulk of what has been written about the candidates to this point has been about the mechanics of the election process rather than where the candidates stand on state issues.
It astonishes us how little the public has been told about those who would be our next governor. The better financed candidates have advertisements on local TV, but these early ads are typical fluff pieces or out-of-date wheezes about abolishing Obamacare in Colorado.
Three things are notable about this year's race for Colorado governor. First, there are more major candidates running than anyone can remember. Second, there are an unusual number of wealthy candidates on the ballot, in both parties, who are helping to finance their own campaigns. Third, unaffiliated voters as well as Democrats and Republicans will be sent mail-in primary ballots in early June. Election Day is June 26.
The Gazette and the El Pomar Foundation are sponsoring a major debate Saturday between the candidates of both major parties. And there will be subsequent debates elsewhere - the more the better. Here, based on our four decades of watching Colorado politics and writing two books on our state's political parties and policies, are a number of questions we hope debate audience members - particularly the moderates - will ask of the potential nominees for Colorado governor:
- How do you conceive of the Colorado governorship as a leadership office? How will you keep citizens informed, and how will you go about educating Coloradans about the major challenges facing our state? What will your "gubernatorial style" be?
- Former governor Bill Owens (a Republican) once noted "that Coloradans have a long history of liking their governor yet not following their governor's lead on issues." Will you work to overcome this problem by being a strong persuader and agreement-builder on necessary, but controversial state programs?
- In what ways would you be different from our current popular two-term - yet allegedly easygoing - Gov. John Hickenlooper?
- Former Govs. Richard Lamm (a Democrat) and Owens told us that "the hardest but most necessary thing to do in politics is to be able to say 'no' to your friends." Owens added that "you sometimes have to go against your base - because some things are good for the state but not for you politically." Can you share with us a situation or issue on which you might be guided by their counsel?
- Some of Colorado's recent governors have not been able to work well with the state Legislature. How would you work effectively with state legislators of each party?
- Former governors of Colorado say it is easy to become isolated and arrogant in the Governor's Mansion. "Arrogance" said former Gov. Roy Romer (a Democrat) "is what does us in. ... The Achilles' heel of most people in power is arrogance." How would you avoid becoming arrogant, narcissistic, and isolated?
- Hyper-partisanship is not as bad in Colorado as it is in Washington, D.C., but is growing in our state. What will you do to encourage the type of bipartisanship, decency, and civility that U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has urged the nation to develop?
- What will you do to provide for more gun safety and for protecting underage populations from the negative effects of marijuana?
- What new ideas do you have to protect and preserve Colorado's precious water resources?
- What solution do you favor for improving Colorado's worn out and overcrowded highways? In order to really solve this problem, what taxes would you raise (state income, state sales, or state gasoline taxes)?
- What will you do to gradually upgrade Colorado's public university system from the bottom quartile to the top quartile? Will you work to lower tuition at public universities and try to free the graduates from the damaging effects of higher education debt?
- What would you do to restructure Colorado's complicated fiscal and budgetary requirements?
- Do you plan to cooperate with the policies of President Donald Trump or will you oppose the president when you judge his programs are not in Colorado's best interest?
- Recent Colorado governors have become divorced in office. One retired after just one four-year term in office. A few governors have said they did not enjoy living in Colorado's sprawling, old Governor's Mansion. Are you certain you are emotionally prepared for the pressures of this office and all the grief that comes along with some glory?
- In light of what we have learned about top state officials in Missouri, Alabama and New York this past year, is there anything in your personal background which might lead voters to question your leadership qualifications?
- And exactly why do you want to be governor of Colorado?
We understand that many of the candidates will try to evade answering these questions. Most candidates get elected by dealing in vague generalities rather than specific proposals. But these are the questions they should be answering so voters can assess the character and quality of their candidacies.
Colorado College political scientists Tom Cronin and Bob Loevy are the co-authors of "Colorado Politics and Policy: Governing a Purple State."