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Stapleton takes Club 20 limelight alone in governor’s race

Author: Joey Bunch - September 8, 2018 - Updated: September 10, 2018

StapletonIn this June 19 photo Colorado Republican gubernatorial candidate Walker Stapleton responds to a question during a televised debate in Denver. (AP Photo by David Zalubowski/file)

Republican gubernatorial nominee Walker Stapleton got a gift from his Democratic rival, Jared Polis: the lone spotlight on a high-profile stage.

“I’m disappointed Congressman Polis chose not to be here,” Stapleton said in his opening at Club 20’s gathering in Grand Junction Saturday night.

He identified himself as a “proud member” of Club 20, the venerable coalition of business and civic groups from the Western Slope counties.

Energy jobs, roads and water are political red meat on the Western Slope, and Stapleton brought his support for both to the Grand Junction gathering. Polis has pledged to move the state to 100 percent renewable energy by 2040. He has said a healthy economy with oil and gas and a clean, healthy environment aren’t mutually exclusive.

“I believe we can fix our infrastructure challenges for the long term,” Stapleton said. “I believe we can invest in the future of our transportation system and attainable housing — whether it’s on the Front Range or here in Western Colorado — for our young people. But we cannot do it by driving the energy industry out of Colorado. We cannot do it by taking 230,000 jobs and $32 billion in annual economic impact out of Colorado.”

The sitting state treasurer noted that the taxes the oil and gas industry pays supports water projects across the state. He said if politicians and regulations kill the industry, it would mean the end of water conservation efforts.

Rural broadband — faster speeds for people out in the sticks — is also a big issue outside the Front Range. Stapleton said Colorado needed a governor who would negotiate with the big telecoms to finally get it done.

Stapleton said roads and bridges need a specific source of revenue, rather than rely on the whim of the legislative budget writers. He also said he would put an engineer, not a political appointee, in charge of the Colorado Department of Transportation.

On Twitter, Alan Salazar, a former right-hand man to Gov. John Hickenlooper, noted that CDOT’s executive director is Mike Lewis, “a nationally recognized civil engineer.” He got the job in December after his predecessor, Shailen Bhatt, took another job after three years at CDOT. Bhatt was not an engineer.

Stapleton used most of his answer to a question about making health care affordable to talk about how unaffordable he deems Polis’ Medicare-for-all universal health care proposal.

“It will lead to rural doctors leaving Western Colorado communities, and they’re already in short supply,” Stapleton said. “There is no way to pay for it. We need to be working with innovators in the private sector. We need to be working with nonprofits.”

Much of the focus of Club 20 this year was not about the issues debated, but about who was and wasn’t there in a region that takes offense to bias toward the Front Range, which feasts on its diverted water and tourism mojo.

Besides Polis, Republicans also verbally hammered incumbent Sen. Kerry Donovan for skipping Saturday night’s debate with her Republican challenger, former Delta County Commissioner Olen Lund. Donovan said she had a volunteer walk with Planned Parenthood Saturday in Salida, but noted she attended Friday night’s Club 20 steak fry.

Polis decided to skip the event, a 30-year tradition that typically kicks off the final spring to Election Day. Instead, Polis will is scheduled to debate Stapleton in Grand Junction on Oct. 6 in a televised debate put on by the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, Rocky Mountain PBS and Mesa State University.

RELATED: Polis’ plan to skip Club 20 debate kicks up a fuss in western Colorado

Club 20 took deep offense at Polis’s decision.

His campaign has pointed to his other visits to the western half of the state, including opening his first field office in Grand Junction. Over Labor Day weekend, Polis made 13 campaign stops, mostly meet-and-greet events. His campaign has noted that Saturday’s debate wasn’t televised and Club 20 charged a registration fee to watch the debate. Club 20 would not allow live-streaming by campaigns, either.

Instead on Saturday, Polis was in Greeley, and he had a family commitment after that, his campaign said.

“Jared has been in West Slope communities from Gunnison to Rifle, from Grand Junction to Steamboat where he has heard stories from families worried about Washington’s plans to sell off our public lands, the rising costs of health care, and schools moving to four-day weeks,” said his spokesperson, Mara Sheldon.

“Jared’s running for governor to put all Coloradans first and tackle the rising cost of living so all Coloradans can thrive. Treasurer Walker Stapleton’s plans are focused on giveaways to his special-interest donors at the expense of hardworking Colorado families, which is why he is resorting to a negative, idea-free campaign. While Jared wishes he could attend every debate, he is glad that Mr. Stapleton has accepted 6 of the 13 debates Jared challenged him to. Jared looks forward to debating Mr. Stapleton in a free, televised debate in Grand Junction on Oct. 6.”

Polis’s Twitter accounts and schedule listed no public events Saturday in Greeley. Greeley City Council member Rochelle Galindo, a candidate for the Colorado House, sent out tweet indicating he was campaigning with her in Greeley Saturday afternoon.

Polis’s running mate, Dianne Primavera, had stops in Cortez, Telluride and Paonia Saturday, after visits to Durango and Pagosa Springs Friday.

The state Republican Party sent out a mid-day press release Saturday calling into question Polis’s whereabouts and noted he didn’t speak at the annual Club 20 event when he was the congressman for the 2nd Congressional District, which includes portions of Eagle, Grand and Summit counties.

“Western Coloradans see Jared Polis’ so-called ‘scheduling conflict’ for what it really is: a lie designed to shield him from questions about his refusal to support Jordan Cove and his plans to socialize health care,” Colorado Republican Party chairman Jeff Hays said in a statement. “The truth is that Jared Polis doesn’t care about rural Colorado.”

Jordan Cove is the liquefied natural gas pipeline and Oregon export terminal that’s pending before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and could greatly benefit Colorado’s large supply of natural gas deposits. Polis hasn’t dismissed Jordan Cove on the campaign trail, but the advocate for 100 percent renewable energy told Charles Ashby of the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel in August that he’s concerned about the drilling that would be needed to supply $9.8 billion project.

Polis and other congressional Democrats have sought to block legislation, such as the North American Energy Security and Infrastructure Act in 2015, that would benefit such efforts.

Stapleton is a strong advocate of the Jordan Cove project.

“I’m going to be a governor who keeps Western Colorado in my head and my heart each and every day I’m in the governor’s office,” he said Saturday night.

Note: This story was written from the reporter’s home office using audio from the event in Grand Junction.

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.