Election 2018Jared PolisNewsTrending

INSIGHTS | Overheated politics baked this election

Author: Joey Bunch - November 5, 2018 - Updated: November 21, 2018

AP18291152063032-1280x853.jpg
Colorado gubernatorial candidates, Democrat Jared Polis, left, and Republican Walker Stapleton participate in a debate, Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018, at the Lory Students Center on Colorado State University’s campus in Fort Collins, Colo. (Timothy Hurst/The Coloradoan via AP)

Politics is always rough business, but this year, “anything goes” has left its mark on Colorado.

And in two years — or, more realistically, the morning after this year’s election — we’ll do all over again. The rough politics of this election is like marking the height of a child on the door, except this time the measurement is downward.

I know the positions of Republican Walker Stapleton and Democrat Jared Polis well after a long slog on the campaign trail. Some of the most well-traveled broadsides against either candidate are not true.

  • Stapleton won’t take money out of schools and put it into prisons. That’s a one-time quote taken out of context from his first run for office.
  • More women won’t die and HIV rates won’t soar if Stapleton is elected. A governor doesn’t have substantive control of either of those things.
  • Polis, Jewish and gay, won’t impose Sharia Law. Seriously, that’s been alleged with campaign money behind it.
  • Polis didn’t assault a woman in 1999, unless assault means defending himself.

Besides loosely tethered connections to truth or fairness, all of those claims have something else in common: None of them tells us what kind of governor either candidate would become.

Character assassination doesn’t have to make sense, however. It only has to work.

Stapleton ad
The state Democratic Party sent out a flier alleging Walker Stapleton intended to cut funding for schools to put more money into prisons. (Photo by Joey Bunch/Colorado Politics)

Take that first bullet point. If Stapleton wanted to cut education to fund prisons — he doesn’t — he couldn’t simply wave his gubernatorial scepter and make it so, as the political allegers would have you believe.

That would have to happen in the legislature through the state budget, which the governor doesn’t write. The governor only makes non-binding suggestions and pleas. Stapleton could refuse to sign it, and force a special session on the issue, and that would never — read my lips — ever happen.

> RELATED: Six things we’ve learned from the Stapleton-Polis debates

For the suggestion to hold any water at all, Republicans would have to control both the House and Senate, which is unlikely to happen this year. But if the GOP held the legislature, enough of its members then would have to be willing to cut schools for prisons to sustain a majority in both chambers and in a slew of committees.

That will never happen. Enough Republicans are in competitive districts, and they won’t be eager to figuratively sign their exit papers from the General Assembly.

But, boy, cutting schools for prisons sure makes Walker Stapleton sound like a jerk.

Similarly, Stapleton and his folks charge that Polis will raise your taxes to pay for his pipe dreams of universal health care and all-day pre-school, all while driving out the oil and gas industry with regulations.

Polis couldn’t do that, even if he wanted to. The state’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights requires that tax hikes must be approved by voters, and Coloradans aren’t easily swayed into obliging, if electoral history serves.

Democrats pounced when Stapleton delivered a regrettable retort in an Oct. 8 debate in Pueblo. After Polis spoke about marijuana taxes supporting education, Stapleton replied, perhaps attempting a joke, “Does that mean you tell your kids to smoke weed for schools?”

Polis’ kids are ages 7 and 4.

Democrats howled like a kicked dog and called it a low point in all the campaign season.

Just a few days later I received a mailer depicting an adorable baby in a stripped prison suit under the words “Walker Stapleton’s Education Plan.” The sender? The state Democratic Party. The low road had a rush hour that week.

> RELATED: Denver TV station pulls GOP ad attacking Jared Polis

The Polis campaign gets worked up in a hurry about any question or suggestion that he assaulted an older woman who worked for him in 1999, a fresh political allegation that emerged a month ago.

Back when it happened, Polis told police the ex-employee went to his business and was in the act of taking files and making threats. Polis said he tried to stop her from leaving before the cops arrived. She came at him, he said, and he might have tussled with her. She was left with a bruise on her thigh that resembled the key sticking out of a nearby filing cabinet.

Polis was never charged with anything. In a state where a lot of Republicans believe in stand-your-ground laws, it’s hard to see how that qualifies as assault, especially if the cops vouched for the story nearly two decades ago.

His campaign has pushed back hard on the story. At a Bernie Sanders rally for Polis at the University of Colorado on Oct. 24, press aide Mara Sheldon pushed back physically on a conservative activist who was shooting video near the press area.

She told him to knock it off, after he told a supporter wearing a “feminist” T-shirt that Polis had assaulted a woman. Sheldon later told The Denver Post he was putting the camera in her face, and she was pushing it away. The video and a photo captured by the Post indicated Sheldon lunged at his phone.

No charges were filed,  but Republicans used it to further their campaign narrative that Democrats are a rough crowd.

Jeff Hays, chairman of the state GOP, of course, called for Sheldon’s firing for harassing “a citizen exercising his rights in a public space.” Hays needs to stand in the press area of the next Trump rally if he wants to see harassment.

“That’s unconscionable and demonstrates Polis’ unfitness for office,” Hays stated.

That’s the kind of election it’s been.

Check back with ColoradoPolitics.com Tuesday night for coverage of election results.

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch is the senior political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has a 31-year career in journalism, including the last 15 in Colorado. He was part of the Denver Post team that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2013 and is a two-time Pulitzer finalist. His resume includes covering high school sports, the environment, the casino industry and civil rights in the South, as well as a short stint at CNN.