DENVER – John Hickenlooper and Andrew Romanoff squared off in a Democratic U.S. Senate primary debate Tuesday night ahead of the June 30 primary.
The debate was hosted by Denver7’s Anne Trujillo, Colorado Public Radio’s Ryan Warner and The Denver Post’s Justin Wingerter.
You can watch the full replay of the 90-minute debate in the player embedded below or in the player at the top of this article.
Below, you can find chronological updates from the Denver7 Team from throughout the debate.
The debate wraps with the panel giving each candidate the ability to say something nice about one another. Both mentioned they had been friends for more than 20 years and pledged that would be the case after the June 30 primary. They both also said they would support whichever of them ends up being the candidate to face Gardner. Hickenlooper praised Romanoff’s work surrounding mental health in the state and said Colorado was “better off because of his work.”
Romanoff and Hickenlooper were asked why Colorado should have two Democratic senators. Romanoff said he supports proposals opposed by Senate leadership like Medicare for All and that he wanted to push back on leadership and Republicans, saying that Democrats too often negotiate against themselves because they start negotiations “on the 50-yard line.” Hickenlooper said that he believes the Rocky Mountain West states – some of which already have two Democratic senators – are becoming “a voice for responsible government.”
Both said that the Great American Outdoors Act, which Gardner sponsors, is good legislation. But they both questioned why Gardner hasn’t stood up to Trump on moves within the EPA that Colorado as a state has opposed regarding public lands and waterways or on other natural resources legislation or moves by the administration. Hickenlooper asked why Gardner wouldn’t support the CORE Act, of which he is a supporter. Romanoff praised Gardner as well for action surrounding marijuana and financial institutions, but said that he broke his promise to be “a new kind of Republican.”
Hickenlooper said that he wants “to make fracking obsolete” but pointed to a state supreme court ruling that found a ban to be unconstitutional. But he says Colorado should continue to transition away from fossil fuels and move to renewable energy while converting jobs in the process. Romanoff points out that the state Constitution could be changed to allow for a ban, but said he maintains his proposal to ban fracking.
Both candidates pledged to hold town hall meetings in their first year as senator if they are elected – something Gardner has been continually lambasted for not doing often during his tenure in the Senate. Romanoff said he will hold “hundreds of events” online or in person. Hickenlooper said he will hold dozens of town halls and events as well.
Both said that they think Americans need another round of federal stimulus money that is more focused on small businesses rather than publicly traded companies, some of which received money in the initial round.
Regarding their faith, Romanoff said that a Jewish teaching central to his faith and personality is the notion to heal the world – that the world is a broken place and our jobs are to help repair it. Hickenlooper says he was raised Episcopalian and also discussed his Quaker ancestry, which he said he was proud of.
The candidates were asked about whether Attorney General William Barr should be “held accountable” for allowing the National Guard to tear gas peaceful protesters for the president’s photo op at a church. Hickenlooper floated an idea of the Senate and House re-examining the role of the attorney general, which Romanoff said he believes Barr should be removed from office.
They were also asked how constituents know they have a spine as a senator. Romanoff says he is not beholden to the Democratic Party officials and that he will vote his conscience or for his constituents, and against his party, when he feels it’s the fight thing to do. Hickenlooper said the senators need to be a check and balance on the other branches of government.
Regarding rural issues in Colorado they would like to address, Hickenlooper said that while he was governor and growing the state’s economy, he was focused on making sure he didn’t leave rural Colorado behind. He lauded a broadband expansion program still underway. Romanoff said he has spent years traveling the state and would be focused on making sure rural Colorado has the best access to education, health care, broadband and jobs.
The candidates were then asked about whether they supported reducing the defense budget, with so many military-based jobs based in Colorado. Romanoff says he believes the budget should be reduced and put toward diplomacy instead. He said that he would want to provide training and support to defense-related employees to move into other fields, as he supports with those working in the fossil fuel industries. But he also said he doesn’t want to treat anyone in the military or fossil fuel industries as “casualties.”
Hickenlooper said he believes the defense budget is “long overdue for a comprehensive analysis.” Hey said he agreed with Romanoff on some of his points and a time to negotiate with everyone and changing budget priorities.
Both candidates said they feel they have the best chance to beat Sen. Cory Gardner in November. Romanoff says he is best suited to defeat Gardner because of the grassroots support he has in the state, his record both in and outside of the legislature and a willingness to stand up to his party. Hickenlooper pointed out that Romanoff has never won a statewide election and hasn’t won an election in 14 years – and noted that he has never lost a statewide election and won in 2014, which he said was a difficult year for Democrats (it was also the year that Gardner was elected to the Senate).
Hickenlooper said he regrets disrupting the independent ethics commission hearing two weeks ago by disregarding a subpoena. Romanoff said he regrets a series of 2006 measures that targeted people living in the country and in Colorado illegally. “I wish I hadn’t done that and I regret it,” he said.
Romanoff was asked about his support for Medicare for All despite the presidential candidates who supported the proposal backing out of the race for Joe Biden. Romanoff says he’s seen some small concessions already from Biden in lowering the eligible age to 60 instead of 65. But he said that big changes that he supports will never happen if people continue to elect candidates that don’t support broader change.
On another round of yes/no questions, both said they do not support legal protections for a health care provider to refuse treatment to transgender people, as the Trump administration is seeking to do. They both said that DACA recipients should receive citizenship. Both said they favor increasing Social Security benefits, though Hickenlooper said he supported that “cautiously.” Neither answered a question on whether the Broncos should have signed Colin Kaepernick.
Hickenlooper is asked about a video of comments he made in 2014 about a slave ship that surfaced in recent days, which he says he acknowledges caused pain. He says he “deeply regret[s] them.” He says that there are reforms needed not only around police, but also housing and health care. On questions about how he had bad-mouthed the Senate before he decided to run, Hickenlooper said that he decided to “get in the ring and be part of the change.” He says he’s “more passionate about this campaign than any campaign [he’s] had in his life.”
On what actions they could take to address climate change soon, Romanoff says the country should end subsidies for oil, gas and coal companies and put them toward solar, wind and renewable energies. Hickenlooper says he believes climate change is “the largest existential threat” the planet has ever faced. He said he supports moving forward with what his and Polis’ administrations have started in Colorado.
Regarding U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Romanoff says that ICE should be disbanded. Hickenlooper called them a “miserable failure.” Romanoff said that ICE should be eliminated, while Hickenlooper says the agency should be reformed “dramatically.”
Both said they have attended protests in recent weeks. Hickenlooper said he went with his son and kneeled for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. He said that was a “profoundly long period of time when you’re in such a solemn occasion.” Romanoff says he recognizes through the protests that “it’s clear I have not done enough, none of us have.”
Asked why people of color should vote for them and how they could have better affected change while they were in office, Hickenlooper says, “We didn’t get far enough.” He says he believes his mayoral and gubernatorial administrations did not get far enough on reform measures. Romanoff said that neither he, Hickenlooper and Gardner are all products of white privilege, notes the number of people of color who have already endorsed him, and pledged to surround himself with different people with different perspectives.
Both Hickenlooper and Romanoff say that the Elijah McClain investigation should be reopened. Romanoff says that he hopes to facilitate the creation of a national database of police officers who have committed misconduct and said that he supports many of the changes made by the legislature in SB 217. Hickenlooper said that he agreed with what Romanoff said and that he supports a bill introduced by Sen. Kamala Harris regarding a different definition of use of force.
The two candidates discussed their differences on health care insurance, with Hickenlooper saying that he supports a path to getting to universal coverage and Romanoff discussing his support for Medicare for All. On yes or no questions, both agreed on nearly every question -- regarding ballot issues on prohibiting abortions after 22 weeks (neither supports); increasing tobacco taxes (both support); moving to the National Popular Vote and eliminating the Electoral College (both support); banning assault weapons (both support); making Juneteenth a federal holiday (both support). On paying reparations, Romanoff supports and Hickenlooper says he supports a study and that there should "definitely" be some sort of reparations.
The first question is about the COVID-19 pandemic and how the state and nation can recover faster. Hickenlooper lauded Gov. Polis' actions so far and criticized President Trump's actions. He said that his priorities would be preventing widespread outbreaks and focusing on small businesses and their having extra resources for recovery. Romanoff discussed an "unholy alliance" of big businesses and focused capital leaving lower-income people "holding the bag." He also said that he hopes a vaccine can be accelerated.
On if they are elected into the Senate and Democrats are still in the minority, Hickenlooper said that he thinks Democrats are going to take the Senate. But if they don't, he said he would bring a collaborative spirit to the Senate. Romanoff said he would work across the aisle to lower health care costs.