On one side of the room in CSU Pueblo’s Occhiato Student Center, where the Democratic and Republican candidates for Colorado governor faced off in their first debate on Sept. 28, a man wore a T-shirt with the name of the candidate he’ll be voting for in the midterms.
On the other side, a man in a T-shirt with the statement, “Trump Won.” He wore an “Ultra MAGA” baseball cap and chatted with the Republican candidate for Pueblo County Council.
Outside, in front of Republican gubernatorial candidate Heidi Ganahl’s white RV, people whooped as Chrissy Ruckus of the Pueblo County Patriots praised Republican state representative Stephanie Luck for leading the “longest filibuster on the House floor in Colorado history.”
Luck was trying to block a bill that codified the right to make reproductive health-care decisions without government interference – including the right to use contraception and terminate a pregnancy. But Democrats hold a sizeable majority in Colorado’s statehouse and, despite the 25-hour filibuster, the bill passed.
The contrast between the two parties was also striking during Pueblo’s gubernatorial debate.
In comments that seemed to hark back to Trump’s “American carnage” inauguration speech, Ganahl painted a picture of a Colorado laid to waste by drugs, rampant crime, and big government, where teens take their own lives and schools teach nonsense.
She is the right person to get Colorado back on track, she said. She’s a problem solver, a voice for Colorado, an entrepreneur and survivor who would “be a warrior for small business owners, for our kids, and make sure we can afford to live here,” Ganahl said.
Under Democratic Gov. Jared Polis, Colorado had become an unwanted leader in car and property theft, fentanyl deaths, cocaine, inflation, and more negatives, she said. Polis is destroying Colorado by signing laws that are soft on crime and big on bureaucracy, she said, urging voters to “hold him accountable” when they vote on Nov. 8.
Polis, meanwhile, touted himself as a governor who gets things done despite huge challenges such as deadly wildfires, the COVID pandemic, and global inflation.
Under his leadership, he said, Colorado has reduced health care costs, introduced free kindergarten, and grown into “one of the strongest economies in the nation.”
“When my opponent talks about my record, I’m happy to talk about a record number of jobs here in Colorado,” about record property tax cuts and a record surplus, he said.
His administration has delivered over $150 million to improve public safety, he said. The state had the ninth lowest COVID death rate in the U.S. and one of the shortest economic shutdowns in the nation.
“We didn’t just talk about it. We got it done,” Polis said, pledging to keep fighting for Colorado if reelected – which, as of the day before the debate, was looking likely.
Polis had a 13.5 point lead over Ganahl in a FiveThirtyEight.com poll on Sept. 27. Polls in previous months by other organizations put Polis at least five points ahead of the Republican.
The two continued jabbing at each other over issues including water, inflation, and energy.
Ganahl said she would “act and get (water) storage done” instead of conducting more studies about it – implying that’s all Polis has done.
She said she would “fight to protect what’s ours” and “neutralize any negotiations on the Colorado River compact,” which Colorado “stands to lose in.”
Polis noted that water has “never been a partisan issue” in Colorado, and shouldn’t become one.
“We cannot pit one set of Coloradans against the other,” he said, vowing to “build out the infrastructure we need and storage to ensure Colorado’s water future.”
When the discussion turned to energy, Ganahl said the governor was moving “too far, too fast with renewable energy,” and “decimated the energy industry here,” meaning the fossil fuel industry.
Then, the focus shifted to electric vehicles – specifically Ganahl’s Tesla.
“Don’t expect a single mom of three working two jobs to buy a Tesla or rely solely on public transportation. It’s too far, too fast,” she said.
“I thought you drive a Tesla,” Polis responded.
She does, said Ganahl. It’s one of three cars she has. She got the Tesla so she could “walk the talk,” she said, but it was “unrealistic to get people who make $80,000 a year” — way above the average salary in Colorado – “to buy an electric car, put the charger station in and figure out how to maintain it.”
“Not everyone can afford a Tesla like my opponent,” he said. “I drive an internal combustion engine car.”