Politics 360: Jared Polis and Walker Stapleton discuss why they should be Colorado's next governor

DENVER – Colorado will elect a new governor in less than three weeks, and the top two frontrunners, Democrat Jared Polis and Republican Walker Stapleton, have made clear they are very different candidates.

With ballots in people’s mailboxes already, we’re taking looks at many of the candidates and ballot measures Coloradans will be voting on.

In this Denver7 political 360, we asked the same questions of both Polis and Stapleton to show where the two agree and where they split on various issues in the race to be the next governor. Their responses can be read below:

On which two issues voters talk to them about most

Walker Stapleton: Health care and school funding

“I think voters care a lot about the future of health care in Colorado.  We’ve spent $10 billion of federal money right now, mainly on the expansion of Medicaid, and I think a lot of people are frustrated. Young people in western Colorado are paying more for their health insurance than for their home mortgages, in many cases. We still have still have 14 counties that have one choice of health care provider, so the future of health care is going to be important to all Coloradans. And making sure we provide better access, better affordability, better competition in how we deliver health care. I think education is really important. As the parent of three school-age kids, I want to make sure that every dollar I’m spending as a parent is getting into the classroom where it belongs for our students, for our teachers, to improve student-teacher ratios. That’s not really happening right now and I think it should, and it needs to. So those are two big umbrella issues, I think.”

Jared Polis: Education and health care

“Education. How can we improve our schools? Families that have young kids struggle with high costs to pay for preschool, pay for kindergarten. We’re focused on what many states, like Oklahoma, already have – which is giving every kid the opportunity to go to free preschool and kindergarten. The other is big one health care. ‘I’m paying too much for prescription drugs. My insurance has gone up 15 percent a year.’ So we have a 100-day plan to address that to save families money on health care at PolisForColorado.com.”

On why voters should trust them to be a present and active governor

Jared Polis

“I’m proud for being rated the most effective member of Congress of all the Colorado representatives. I think my attendance record is 96 percent; his is 53. There’s a big difference between an A- and an F. And of course, I’ve started companies, I’ve built companies from the ground up. I started as a superintendent of a school. I chaired the state board of education, the most effective representative of Congress, according to the non-partisan institute, and you know, I’m going to be an effective governor for all Coloradans.”

Walker Stapleton

“Well I think there is a lot of political muckraking that goes back forth, but the fact of the matter is Coloradans know that I’ve been an advocate, a fierce advocate, for the taxpayers of Colorado ever since I started as treasurer – whether it be the pension system or whether it be the co-chairman of efforts, like I was with Governor Ritter, on a bipartisan effort to defeat a single-payer state-run health care system that now my opponent supports even though the costs are more expensive. I trust Coloradans to judge me on the record that I put forward in the treasurer’s office over the last 7-8 years.”

On how middle-and lower-income Coloradans trust that they will be in touch with their ideals and needs when both are wealthy individuals

Walker Stapleton

“I think Jared is in a stratosphere that I am not in. He has spent nearly $20 million of his money so far. He spent more money in the primary than was spent by Republicans and Democrats combined in the last election for governor. He has spent approximately 20 times more than I have spent in this election, so I wouldn’t say we are on an even playing field as far as spending is concerned. I would say that’s a challenge. It’s a challenge for us to get the message out. But my policies, I believe, will win the day. His policies will have the people who can least afford it paying the most and that’s true with health care, it’s true with energy and it’s true with education. The last thing I want to do is make a bunch of empty government promises that lead to mountainous debt and harder times, struggling for middle class Coloradans who are struggling to hold down a job, put food on their table and for the educational outcome for their kids.”

Jared Polis

“This is about how Colorado can work for everybody. Look, I hear from so many families that while we have low unemployment and you got a 3 percent raise, what does a 3 percent raise mean if your rent has gone up 8 or 10 percent or you can’t save enough to get a down payment for your home? You can’t keep up with the high cost of preschool or kindergarten? Look, Walker and I can afford preschool or kindergarten for our kids – why should our kids start out at an advantage over families that can’t? That’s not fair and that’s not our Colorado.”

On the one thing they would change about their respective party’s platform or leadership

Jared Polis

“I’m willing to take on both parties to get things right. I’ll stand up to President Trump, and I’ll stand up to any president of either party, to put Colorado first. I think we need to, nationally, look at cost of decreasing the cost of prescription drug approval through the FDA that gets passed along to people. To save people money on prescription drugs we need to use our negotiating leverage as a state, which is our plan here. But I would love to see Democrats and Republicans in Washington reduce the approval cost of $1 billion, which ultimately gets passed along to consumers. … I think we need new ideas on both sides of the aisle to be able to tackle the challenges we face. I think it’s important that we have leadership that’s willing to think outside of the partisan box to focus on practical solutions that actually improve the quality of life for Colorado families, and that’s always my North Star.”

Walker Stapleton

“I’ve said many times that I think an election for governor is an election for someone who is going to make life better for Coloradans. That individual should work with the federal government to make life better for Coloradans and when the federal government advocates polices that would make life more difficult for Coloradans then it’s the responsibility for that leader to stand up and push back. I have said repeatedly that I will support the president’s plans when it comes to economic policies that I think have benefitted Colorado, but I’ve also said that when it comes to tariffs or cutting back on visa programs that I think are really important for our outdoor industry and our ski industry in particular, then I will stand up and fight back. And that’s what Coloradans should expect in a leader.”

On their plan to protect Colorado’s economy in the event of another downturn or recession

Walker Stapleton

“One of the reasons why I was one of the earliest supporters of the federal tax plan is that I knew it would be beneficial to Colorado and I think it has been. More than 70 percent of Coloradans are benefiting from a reduced federal tax bill. If you make $60,000 in Colorado, your federal tax bill has gone from $1,700 to $100. The federal tax plan repealed the individual mandate for health care. Last year we had more than 130,000 Coloradans have to pay a tax because they couldn’t afford health insurance. Eighty percent of them have a household income of $50,000 or less. That provided relief for those people who got a phantom federal tax, so I supported it. And I would argue that that’s the main reason why our economy is humming along as it is. I think it’s even more important that Coloradans elect somebody who is going to be fiscally responsible in the future. My opponent has unapologetically promised about $100 billion of costs or spending. The state budget right now is $20 billion from us Coloradans in the form of state income taxes and sales taxes and every other annoying fee the DMV assesses, and $10 billion from the feds.  If you’re promising to quintuple or quadruple the size of state government, I can tell you as state treasurer there is not a lot of ways to pay for it. You either jack someone’s personal income tax through the roof or else you bleed it out of the business community in the form of regulations and fees.  Either one of those options would make Colorado a very difficult place to live and work for future generations and I don’t want to see that happen. So, I have a very different plan for responsible spending, for accountability and responsibility when it comes to our health care spending or education spending and our energy spending and I’m very concerned that Congressman Polis’ plans will bankrupt the state of Colorado.”

Jared Polis

“It’s not a matter of if, it’s a question of when. The economy always runs in cycles. We need to do a better job of having a rainy-day fund. I oppose Walker Stapleton’s support of Initiative 109 that would create $3 billion of debt for our state without any way to pay for it in a recession, without devastating our schools or cutting them even more. So, I think we need better long-term planning and a diverse and robust economy so that a downturn in one sector doesn’t drag down the whole economy.”

On which living president they would like to have come campaign for them in Colorado

Jared Polis

“Barack Obama is somebody that I worked with to replace No Child Left Behind, with the Every Student Succeeds Act to expand health care to thousands of Coloradans. While I may not agree with Barack Obama on every single issue, I think he was a competent, thoughtful president and I would be honored to campaign alongside him as I have in the past.”

Walker Stapleton

“I really respect Abraham Lincoln and his ability to forge compromises and agree with people who may have had differing opinions. I think that we’ve lost the spirit of cooperation in politics and it’s really important that we find a way to get it back. Coloradans want to elect someone who has a track record of bipartisan work, which I have in the treasurer’s office, by the way, from setting up the first land trust investment board for our K-12 education fund, to passing debt consolidation – all of our major initiatives that we’ve passed without any legislative authority have had broad bipartisan support and Coloradans want to elect somebody who puts forward the spirit of collaboration and cooperation and puts Colorado first in everything they do. … Living president, I’m biased but I would say President Bush 41. He’s an American hero, the youngest fighter pilot in the Pacific to be shot down at 18. A record of service his entire career.  I think a record of being able to work with people with opposing viewpoints. So President Bush 41, hands down.”

Editor’s Note: Stapleton initially did not hear the “living” part of the question and was asked a follow-up. Both answers are included in full.

On when they’ve crossed party lines in order to get the right thing done

Walker Stapleton

“I think Senate Bill 200 [this year’s legislative PERA deal] – I was an announced candidate for governor. I purposely took myself out of that process because I didn’t want to politicize the issue of being an announced candidate for governor, and I allowed Republicans to assume a leadership role that led to that bill being signed and getting done, which is in the best interest of the state, in the best interest of our credit rating – it’s in the best interest of all the public employees who we owe a promise to, to deliver on their retirement security. Did I like every aspect of the bill, probably not, but I recognized it was more important to act than to not act. It would have increased the cost of the pension system by $1 billion or more, according to PERA’s board chief, and I had meetings scheduled with ratings agencies on the Monday following the end of the legislative session and I think we could have gotten Colorado’s credit to be downgraded and the cost of borrowing would have gone up all across our state agencies.”

Jared Polis

“I’m always willing to take on the leadership of both parties to do what’s right because too often both parties are co-opted by the special interests. And I think both parties have been handcuffed on health care, and I’m willing to take on the prescription drug companies, the insurance companies, as you know I will, to save you money on health care. Both parties nationally have shown great irresponsibility fiscally – trillion-dollar deficits, and that’s in strong economic years, Republicans doing unfunded tax giveaways, agreeing with Democrats to spend even more.  Our country spends more on our military than almost every other country in the world combined, and that’s simply money we cannot afford. And at this stage it makes us less secure rather than more secure, by making us economically beholden to countries like China and Saudi Arabia.”

On how each candidate believes President Trump is impacting the governor’s race

Walker Stapleton

“I don’t think that this governor’s race is going to have much to do with what’s going on in Washington. I think Coloradans recognize that they should make a choice between Walker Stapleton or Jared Polis and I think Colorado voters are intelligent and they will judge me based on the work that I’ve done in the Treasurer’s Office and the policies I’ve advocated to keep Colorado fiscally responsible, keep our budget in check and defend taxpayers every opportunity I’ve had. And I think an election for governor should be an election for a leader who is going to advocate polices that are going to make life better for Coloradans. And push back against policies from Washington that aren’t. I spent zero of my career in Washington and Jared Polis has spent 10 years as a congressman in Washington, so I think that’s a distinction that I’m happy to have. … [Trump] has a busy schedule.  I think his primary concern is campaigning for Congress, to hold Congress. No matter who shows up here in Colorado, make sure that voters understand this election is between myself and Congressman Polis and our very differing views for the future of Colorado.”

Jared Polis

“Donald Trump endorsed my opponent, which is no surprise, because Walker Stapleton is a Donald Trump yes-man. I’m willing to take on this president and any president to show an independent Colorado. I’m not going to be beholden to anybody, any special interest or any president of either party. I’m always going to put the bottom line – how does it affect Colorado families?  Does it give you a little bit more money in your pocket every month to enjoy the Colorado you love? Then I can get behind that idea, whether it is from the left or the right.”

On what their 30-second pitch to undecided voters would be

Walker Stapleton

“I’m going to work with the best innovators we have to make health care more affordable. I’m going to find a solution for the long-term for our infrastructure needs, to make housing more attainable all throughout Colorado. And I’m going to make sure, as the parent of three school-aged kids, that we’re going to keep more dollars in the classroom and my opponent is going to bankrupt the state of Colorado.”

Jared Polis

“I’ve built businesses from the ground up, I’ve created hundreds of jobs, met payroll. I’ve started schools, and I was the superintendent of a school that served at-risk youth. I’ve shown I know enough about the political process by getting Democrats and Republicans to work together to get things done. I’m ready to roll up my sleeves and work for you to make sure that you aren’t just struggling to get by in today’s Colorado, but that you can thrive and get ahead, save money for retirement, afford college and be able to make sure this 21st Century economy can work for you and your family. I’m Jared Polis and I’d be honored to have your support.”

Denver7 and The Denver Post are hosting a debate between Polis and Stapleton on Tuesday, Oct. 23 starting at 6 p.m. MT.

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