Republican gubernatorial candidates Heidi Ganahl and Danielle Neuschwanger shared a sharp exchange over Neuschwanger’s arrest record during Tuesday’s candidate forum, hosted by the Douglas County Republican Women. The exchange took place after a moderator asked candidates Ganahl, Neuschwanger, and Greg Lopez who they would vote for if they were not personally in the race.

“Heidi,” said Neuschwanger. “Girls got to stick together.”

“Actually, I’d vote for Greg,” said Ganahl. “Danielle, I don’t know how you’re going to get past working around the issue of the arrests and some of the stuff that you just mentioned in a primary or a general election. Democrats are brutal, and they’re going to come after you on that.”

Neuschwanger responded by citing recent polling from The Rocky Mountaineer. “I’m not really worried about it, considering I’m the highest polling Governor candidate in Colorado right now,” she said.

Polling from The Rocky Mountaineer.

The jab at Neuschwanger’s arrests followed an earlier question, dubbed the “drunk driving question,” which asked candidates about their past. Neuschwanger shared that her three arrests stemmed from an abusive relationship she was in with a law enforcement officer.

“Every time I tried to break up with him I ended up in the back of a cop car,” she said.

Ganahl suggested that people who wanted to know about her past read one of her books, SheFactor and Tales From the Bark Side.

“Everything that’s out there has been out there before,” said Lopez, who has been open about his past run-ins with the law, including a 1993 domestic violence arrest. “There’s really nothing I could add except that the Department of Justice decided file a lawsuit on me five days prior to the five year statute of limitation expiring, over a phone call I made to the United States Small Business Administration, and they wanted to say that I influenced a decision, so let me you this; I did settle the lawsuit. They wanted $167,000 for a phone call and an email. I settled for $15,000. … I know what it feels like to have the justice system falsely accuse you of something, and I know what it feels like when you have government try to squeeze you for everything you’ve worked hard for. … At the end of the day, we all have things that we’ve learned from. These are the types of things that build character. These are types of things that a governor needs to make sure people understand how you get beyond them.”

In her opening statement, Ganahl took a surprisingly aggressive position on a hot-button issue she has largely glossed over in the past: abortion. She’s mostly limited her previous public statements to saying she is “pro-life,” and moving on without commenting on specific laws or policy proposals. In this speech, however, she addressed the state bill of the hour, Democrats’ Reproductive Health Equity Act, directly. Ganahl called the bill, which will ensure Colorado women’s access to abortion care even if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, abhorrent and disgusting before ripping a copy of it in half to cheers and applause.

“I will protect the unborn,” said Ganahl. “What’s happening in the legislature in Colorado right now is abhorrent- it has to stop. If that bill comes to my desk I will do one thing with it! It’s disgusting and it will not happen on my watch as governor.”

The moderators also asked candidates their thoughts on the 2020 election and their plans for actually winning the governor’s race against Jared Polis, should they win the Republican nomination.

“Let’s be real, it’s not about money, it’s about strategy,” said Neuschwanger. “I don’t care how much money you have in your bank account, you cannot buy yourself an election unless your name is Governor Polis. For me, I have four endorsements and they all have one thing in common — General [Thomas] McInerny, General [Paul] Vallely, General [Michael] Flynn, and Captain Seth Keshel, all of them are military intelligence. For the last year, we have been crafting a plan for how we can outwork the Democrats and not waste your hard-earned money. That means we have bigger ROI — return on investment — practices than any other candidate. Currently, I am the fastest growing candidate in Colorado for the least amount of money, using social media because the largest voting pool in Colorado are millennials, who spend six to eight hours on social media. I am also the top polling Governor candidate in Colorado right now. We don’t need money, you need a strategy that can win, and I’ve got it.”

Ganahl highlighted her experience fundraising during her race for University of Colorado regent, and suggested that the party needed to “Make it fun to be a Republican again.”

Ganahl also noted she was working with the same team behind Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin’s campaign, who had helped her recruit her own group of campaign volunteers and boosters she called, “Ganahl’s Gals.”

Ganahl wants to make it “Fun to be a Republican again.”

When asked if Donald Trump won the 2020 election, and if they would seek Trump’s endorsement, Lopez responded, “It’s very interesting what happened to our election in 2020. With COVID, they changed the rules, they moved the goalposts, they really looked at it from a totally different perspective, so when we see they’re blocking windows, they’re pulling suitcases out in the middle of the night and they’re kicking people out it really makes you wonder, ‘Was this election fair?’ Was it truly counted correctly? I don’t know that we’ll ever know. I don’t know if we’ll ever know if it was done correctly or not. I can tell you in Colorado, I believe our voter registrations need to be cleaned up. I truly believe, at the end of the day, if it ever comes out, I fully believe President Trump did win the election. I am going to ask and seek President Trump’s endorsement because he is a strong leader.”

Ganahl did not directly answer whether Trump won in 2020, but said, “It cracks me up that for four years the Democrats freaked out, claiming that Trump was not president because of ‘Russia, Russia, Russia.’ We are not allowed to ask one single solitary question about what happened in this latest election. I don’t think you’re asking the right question. I think you’re asking ‘Why do so many people feel uncomfortable about the election, and how do we restore confidence in the voters of Colorado?’ How we fix this is by mobilizing and being an election judge or a poll watcher, all over the state. Every single locations, and then we’ve got to win. We’ve got to kick Jena Griswold and Jared Polis to the curb and then we’ve got to do some things to make our elections run even smoother. That’s the only way we’re going to get it done. We will win this election in the fall, and then we can roll up our sleeves and see how we can make our elections better going forward. Yes, I would accept President Trump’s endorsement.”

Neuschwanger was resolute in her support for Trump, which was not surprising given her endorsements from some of the biggest names in the election conspiracy sphere. “I believe Donald Trump is my president in 2016, 2020 and he will be again in 2024,” she said. “I absolutely would love Donald Trump’s endorsement, support and wisdom, especially as it pertains to a businessman looking at Colorado like a business model. Perception is everything and I perceive that there is too much fraud in not only the 2020 election, but here in Colorado in the 2021 election, as captured by Dallas Schroeder, the Elbert County Clerk, and that Jena Griswold deserves to be locked behind bars for the rest of her life for the treason she has committed in Colorado.”

Candidates were also asked how they would fix education in Colorado. “I truly believe education is key to the American dream,” said Ganahl, who repeated the oft-heard Republican talking point of school choice. “We have got to fix public schools, and they way we do that is through competition. We’ve got to fund the student, not the system. We’ve got to give power back to parents to take their kids out of schools and put them in situations where it works, whether it is homeschool, microschool, private school, charter schools.”

Lopez repeated the oft-heard Republican talking point that leftists have taken over public education. “I’m here to tell you that the educational system has now been converted into state indoctrination centers,” he said. “They’re not teaching how to read and write. They’re teaching social issues. They’re teaching CRT, critical race theory. They’re teaching sex education that’s beyond the difference between a boy and a girl. They’ve converted our education system into something that’s not teaching our kids how to be successful in life.”

Neuschwanger suggested increased investment in vocational education, a position increasingly supported by education advocates. “We throw blanket money at a broken system,” she said. “Right now in the Colorado budget we are throwing $5 billion every year at public education. We spend about $20,000 per K-12 student, yet $100,000 per homeless person. We have no mile markers for success measurement, so in 2012 we introduced the Colorado READ Act to address the proficiencies or deficiencies in reading, math or writing, but that money was actually used to fund all-day kindergarten, so we weren’t able to go back and see if that program was successful because it was misused. What we need to do is completely reform the educational system by doing a school district postgraduate economic resource development plan. How you fund a school in rural Colorado versus the urban corridor is going to be completely different based on post-graduation economic resources. If we can push vocational trades in rural Colorado that actually support rural Colorado and do the same thing in urban Colorado, the success rate for graduation is going to be much higher. Give them an incentive to be successful in the area that they live and work in after graduation”

Neuschwanger wants to invest in vocational education.

Asked about how they would address transportation in Colorado, Lopez took aim at the fees mandated by last year’s Senate Bill 260. “The poor cannot absorb that,” he said. “Rural Colorado drives a lot farther than we do, just to go to school, to the grocery stores. We must remind people this is not about transportation, this is a real attack on the poor in rural Colorado, and that is just wrong. They love to hide behind all these fees. This is how they get around the Tax Payer Bill of Rights, and we must remind people of that. When it comes to transportation, the governor likes to talk about bold, creative ideas. I’ve got a bold, creative idea — how about we buy E470 and take the tolls off?”

Ganahl suggested Republicans also win the Colorado House and Senate to roll back the bill. “The first thing I’d do is invite Elon Musk to go have a beer,” she said. “It’s pretty simple, Jared Polis is Biden’s point man here in Colorado. This is the new green deal implemented at the state level. This is the experiment, besides California for the new green deal. He wants to decimate our ability to drive, he wants to destroy our roads so we don’t want to get in our cars, he wants to reduce the number of offices in government so people work from home. … First, we’ve got to win the state House and the state Senate to help me roll back a lot of this, so it’s important for us to support all of our candidates.”

Neuschwanger noted the burdens the bill placed on rural Colorado as well. “Senate Bill 260 is a disaster,” she said. “It is one of my hot topic issues. First off, Governor Polis said that $1.5 billion of this bill is going to come from the general fund, but in the history of Colorado, the only time the general fund has ever had money for transportation was in 2015 at $700,000. When you read the language of this bill and see the EPA requirements that rural Colorado and every other city are going to have to jump through just to get funding to put in the energy refill stations, it is absolutely deplorable because no one will ever be able to get through the EPA hoops, especially in rural Colorado where they do not check emissions. Lastly, to get the money from this bill, even to fix roads, it will never happen. We have counties right that have a sales tax, that 1% sales tax goes only to roads and bridges, and they’re mostly dirt roads. We need to check and balance the spending we have because the last three years we have seen a $266 million year-over-year increase in the general fund for transportation where those funds have not been allocated. Stop wasting your taxpayer dollars and get rid of the radical bills.”

Despite the back-and-forth with Neuschwanger at Tuesday’s event, Ganahl seemed optimistic, saying, “Respectfully, I think it’s early on and we’ve all got a long way to go.”