Sep 30, 2022 - Politics

Political Pulse: Takeaways from the first governor's debate in Colorado

Colorado Republican gubernatorial candidate Heidi Ganahl. Photo: Marc Piscotty/Getty Images

Colorado Republican gubernatorial candidate Heidi Ganahl. Photo: Marc Piscotty/Getty Images

The first debate in the Colorado governor's race left much to be desired.

What happened: Rather than a dialogue on competing visions Wednesday in Pueblo, Gov. Jared Polis and Republican challenger Heidi Ganahl chose a snippy, seed-spitting contest, goaded by their supporters in the crowd.

Between the snide interjections and often misleading attacks, here are three themes that emerged:

1. Ganahl's dark outlook: In the GOP candidate's eyes, all is wrong in Colorado. She blames Democratic rule. But her repeated (and exaggerated) digs at the state left a sour note.

  • "Everything is not wonderful across Colorado," Ganahl said, referring to the energy industry. "Our cities are unlivable now," she said of the increase in homelessness. "Kids can't read, write or do math," she added about education.

The other side: Toward the end of the debate, Polis pounced, noting that Ganahl "paints a bleak picture" of Colorado. He rallied behind state pride to dismiss her criticisms, retorting: "Her only real mission is to take Colorado backwards."

2. Polis stands on his record: The rose-colored view of the Democratic incumbent came through repeatedly as he touted his achievements, namely delivering full-day kindergarten and part-time preschool.

Between the lines: Polis isn't one to look back or acknowledge he did anything wrong. He's prone to making misleading claims about his opponent and avoiding topics he doesn't like to discuss. But, collectively, the tactic can make him come across as arrogant.

  • Ganahl quipped that the governor "lives in fantasy land."

Of note: On a question about why he supported a 2019 law to make possession of small amounts of fentanyl, heroin and cocaine a misdemeanor instead of a felony, the governor had essentially no answer.

  • He repeated a pledge to take Colorado from 21st to 10th lowest in violent crimes without saying how he would do so. Then, he took a side track to talk about mental health counseling and outdoor equity programs for children.

3. All about income tax: Ganahl's support for eliminating the state's income tax claimed the spotlight for much of the debate. The move would put a $12 billion hole in Colorado's budget β€” reducing about 70% of annual discretionary spending. But the candidate has offered few details about how she would slash the budget.

  • Polis β€” even though he also supports eliminating the personal income tax β€” used ambiguity to note that it could lead to cuts to state law enforcement agencies and schools.

Yes, but: Ganahl suggested she would spur the state's economy to greater heights, generating more revenue for the government, by encouraging more energy production and drawing new businesses. She also said she would provide vouchers to parents to send their children to any school, cutting down on costs of education. Still, neither is enough to cover the cost of her cuts.

πŸ—³ Political Pulse is a new regular feature from Axios Denver to help you catch up quick on Colorado politics.

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