For Colorado Democrats, the election, even a primary, cannot come fast enough. They think they’ve got two candidates who have a great chance to send Republican Cory Gardner back to his home on the state’s eastern plains as a one-term senator. Of course, until the primary, there will be a contentious, muddy battle between former Denver Mayor and Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper and former Colorado Speaker of the House Andrew Romanoff.
Hickenlooper, a brew pub entrepreneur, and geologist before turning politician, served two terms each as Denver Mayor and Colorado Governor. Romanoff rose through the ranks in the state legislature completing his tenure as top Democrat in the House. His most recent job was CEO of Mental Health Colorado.
The current social unrest in the country has often times lowered, though not replaced, other important issues at the top of campaign stops. Each man has been challenged to assure voters that the time for action is long overdue.
Hickenlooper uses the issue to talk about his time as Mayor when 15-year-old Paul Childs, an African-American, was shot and killed by police in the hallway of his own home. “I went to the funeral and began a relationship with the ministerial alliance, and we created an office of independent monitor,” he said. The office worked on oversight and review in how police did their job. “We made sure every cop got crisis training,” he said. It also created a new discipline matrix by which police conduct was done. Chokeholds and no-knock raids are now banned, and body cameras are standard police equipment.
Romanoff has struggled with and apologized for a piece of controversial immigration legislation he helped pass as Speaker. It was compromise legislation with former Governor Bill Owens on immigration rules in 2006. But, as the son and grandson of immigrants, he owns it and regularly promises to keep the issue a priority as a U.S. Senator. “My commitment to comprehensive immigration reform hasn’t changed,” he said. “I will continue to fight to press the federal government to pass a path to citizenship.”
Both men are avowed climate change evangelists. But in politics few lines are either clear or straight on any subject. While Hickenlooper, also a former geologist, actively touts his work as mayor and governor on the environment, including enacting rules to reduce carbon emissions, he has also been the target of detractors who say, as Governor, he was too cozy with oil and gas interests.
Hickenlooper says bipartisan criticism of his environment record in this billion dollar Colorado industry proves that. “We’ve sort of found that sweet spot to make everyone a little bit angry,» he said in answering his critics.
Romanoff also holds high his green record and agenda as often as possible. “I do think we need to shift as rapidly as possible from fossil fuel to clean energy,” he often says. “We’re a decade behind where we should have been.” He also says that any jobs lost in a shift from fossil fuels to clean energy should go to workers caught in the transition. “I don’t want to treat anybody like collateral damage.”
Less dependence on oil and gas, the dueling candidates say, cannot be done with a senator like Cory Gardner representing the state. Their argument is that Gardner is a vest-pocket vote for President Trump, a man who ran on bringing back coal jobs. Gardner has voted almost uniformly on the President’s issues. He also voted to acquit Trump when he was impeached. Gardner, who is often described as ‘the most vulnerable Senate candidate in the country,’ got a payback trip aboard Air Force One last spring when the President held a Colorado Springs rally.
“Cory has been a loyal soldier in Trump’s army,” said Romanoff, of Gardner’s votes with the President on climate, immigration and gun control. He has also voted consistently with Majority Leader McConnell’s judicial nominees. Romanoff also rails against Gardner’s lock-step support of Trump’s desire to kill the Affordable Care Act---Obamacare---despite having no ready replacement.
Hickenlooper takes his view on Gardner even farther. “He supports Trump one hundred percent of the time and is proud of it,” he said. “That means Cory Gardner has not done the job.” He’s “injurious for Colorado.” The former governor also pilloried Gardner for voting to kill the ACA.
Both Hickenlooper and Romanoff have repeatedly emphasized their unique backgrounds in the race for the Senate. Hickenlooper said his experience as a former small businessman will play an important role in the Senate. “If I go to Washington, I would only be the sixth small businessperson” there. Small business, he said, is “our heart and soul…I see how it interacts with local and state government.”
A constant in Romanoff’s run is mental health and the importance of making it more of a national priority. He often shares the poignant and painful story of a close friend and relative who could not overcome her depression and ended up taking her own life.
Mental health, he said, needs to be treated as seriously as cancer or other life-threatening illnesses. Mental health, generally, and suicide as a result, he said, is too often air-brushed and euphemized as ‘sadness’ or ‘the blues.’ It is not, said Romanoff. Suicide, he tells audiences, doesn’t end the pain. It merely transfers it.