Aug 11, 2022 - Politics

Colorado GOP candidates' ties to law enforcement influence campaigns

Illustration of a political lawn sign shaped like a police car

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

In an election in which public safety is a prominent issue, the Republican ticket holds a distinct advantage.

  • Both Joe O'Dea in the U.S. Senate contest and Heidi Ganahl in the governor's race come from law enforcement families.

Why it matters: The intimate connection gives the GOP contenders a unique vantage point to address the issue at a more personal level.

  • And those ties influence their policy positions, both candidates told Axios Denver.

What they're saying: "The pendulum has swung too hard toward the criminal," O'Dea told us. "I think we've shifted some liability onto the cops."

  • "My desire to have the backs of law enforcement officers … comes from [my upbringing] probably," Ganahl added. She said, "I have a different viewpoint than [Gov. Jared Polis]."

Meet the candidates: O'Dea's late father, Edward "Doc" O'Dea, worked as a Denver police officer, and rose to lieutenant before he died of a heart attack in 1989 while working an off-duty job.

  • O'Dea describes his upbringing as "law and order on steroids. The expectation was you're not going to do anything stupid that's going to embarrass your dad."
  • O'Dea said his father didn't want him to become a police officer. "He said, 'If you want to serve, go be a fireman. They don't shoot at you.'"

Ganahl's father, Harvey Haight, worked as a reserve officer for agencies in Southern California before the family moved to Colorado, where he was a volunteer officer with the Palmer Lake agency.

  • For him, it was about service after growing up in a military family. "Law enforcement was his pivot," Ganahl says.

Details: When it comes to policy, both Republican candidates argue that Democratic policies aimed at reducing incarceration and increasing rehabilitation are the wrong approach.

O'Dea supports tougher mandatory sentences for crimes, including car thefts and fentanyl possession. "We need to hold people accountable and get them off the street," he says. "If you've been arrested three or four times for stealing cars, you need to go away for a while."

  • He describes himself as a "Second Amendment guy," and opposes red flag laws that let judges take guns from potentially violent people.
  • But he supported the current Democratic administration's policies in Colorado to use non-law-enforcement teams to respond to people in crisis.

More: Ganahl, a CU regent and the only statewide elected Republican, echoes the sentiment.

  • She would support policies to make it harder to post bail. "I would have a much lower tolerance for people breaking laws and getting out of jail as quickly as they are," she says.
  • She also supports tougher penalties for people caught dealing fentanyl, pledging to "stop the flow" across the state's border.
  • If elected, she says it starts with replacing the leadership of the parole board and state public safety agencies because they don't "share my passion for protecting our neighborhoods and keeping us safe."

The other side: Bennet unveiled legislation in July to expand existing state programs that pair mental health clinicians with first responders and train crisis workers to respond to service calls.

  • Polis promised to make Colorado one of the 10 safest states in the nation, and proposed adding $113 million to public safety in the next two years.

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