Friday, May 15, 2020

Hickenlooper, Romanoff share Senate platforms in first forum featuring both

Posted By on Fri, May 15, 2020 at 9:32 AM

click to enlarge Andrew Romanoff sought to distinguish his more progressive platform from Hickenlooper's. - FAITH MILLER
  • Faith Miller
  • Andrew Romanoff sought to distinguish his more progressive platform from Hickenlooper's.

Andrew Romanoff, Colorado's former House speaker, has repeatedly criticized former Gov. John Hickenlooper for skipping forums and debates among candidates for Republican Sen. Cory Gardner's U.S. Senate seat.

On May 14 — one week after the Secretary of State's Office finalized Colorado's June non-presidential primary ballot — Romanoff finally had his way, as Indivisible NOCO, a progressive activist group, staged a Zoom forum where both candidates could share their views in real time.

Romanoff made clear, though, that he would have preferred an actual debate between candidates. The ground rules of the forum dictated that the two men couldn't attack one another's viewpoints, but rather answer questions one at a time, so voters could "hear both candidates out on their positions," as moderator Gordon McLaughlin explained.

It was a somewhat anticlimactic meeting for the two remaining candidates in one of the most closely watched races outside of the presidential election. Both had an opportunity to review the moderator's questions ahead of time, with a few audience questions added at the tail end.

Around 800 people were tuned in to the forum, according to Indivisible NOCO.

Romanoff's answers included some thinly veiled jabs at his opponent for not participating in earlier debates and for his more moderate platform. Romanoff, the former director of nonprofit Mental Health Colorado, has made the Green New Deal and Medicare for All central to his own campaign, which has relied on grassroots support mostly from within the state.

Hickenlooper, meanwhile, appeared to be trying to emphasize his support for clean energy and gun safety, both areas in which his policy while governor has been criticized by progressives.

The candidates' answers to a question on health care policy provided one of the most dramatic moments. In his response to a question asking how he'd implement universal health care, Hickenlooper said he'd start with a public option that "would be a version of ... something like Medicare or Medicare Advantage."

"If it's done well and it's successful, it'll grow," he said. "It'll attract more people, it'll get larger, the costs will come down, the quality will'll end up with an evolution that allows people ultimately to get to a single-payer system — but it'll be an evolution, not a revolution."

It was Romanoff's turn to answer the question next.

"I support Medicare for All," he said. "I don't believe this is a time for timidity, and telling folks they have to wait for a slow evolution is heartless."

As he has in the past, Hickenlooper frequently mentioned the state's first-in-the-nation move to regulate methane emissions from the oil and gas industry during his time in the governor's office. (Critics of Hickenlooper's record on fracking say those methane rules cut down on a fraction of the state's emissions, Westword reported last year.)

click to enlarge Former Gov. John Hickenlooper touted his business experience. - FAITH MILLER
  • Faith Miller
  • Former Gov. John Hickenlooper touted his business experience.

He also frequently mentioned his desire to transition the country from coal to renewable energy such as wind and solar.

"We've got to be willing to go to Washington and treat climate change like — well, it's an existential threat to the entire planet," he said. 

In his own answers, Hickenlooper didn't appear to be overly focused on differentiating his platform from Romanoff's, instead aiming his rhetoric at beating Gardner and overcoming Republicans in the Senate.

Hickenlooper skirted a question about whether he supported the Green New Deal in favor of expressing support for "innovation" in the energy sector, citing his actions as governor to accommodate electric vehicles.

Romanoff, on the other hand, took advantage of several opportunities to state, or imply, ways in which the Democratic candidates differ.

"Republicans are going to attack us no matter what," he said in closing remarks. "They're not going to reward our timidity, so you can't triangulate your way out of this fight. You need to stand your ground. You need to defend your principles. You need to show up and answer questions."

A crowded field of Democrats running to challenge Gardner, including Romanoff, battled it out for months before Hickenlooper joined the race in August, after dropping his bid for president.

Originally, Hickenlooper had rejected calls to drop out of the presidential race and run for Senate — which he acknowledged during the May 14 forum.

"I spent 20 years in a small business, eight years as mayor, eight years as governor, learning how government should work in Washington," he said, "and you know, I did say [Washington] was a terrible place for someone like me, but I am more passionate about this campaign and about winning this office than anything I've ever done in my life."

Hickenlooper petitioned onto the ballot by collecting voter signatures, after an informal preference poll conducted at Democratic caucuses in early March showed Romanoff with a lead of more than 24 percentage points. (The Colorado Sun reports Hickenlooper's campaign paid a political firm more than $420,000 to collect those signatures.)

No other candidates collected enough signatures to successfully petition on to the ballot.

Romanoff was the sole candidate who qualified for the June primary through the caucus and assembly process, garnering 85.86 percent of delegate votes at the Democratic state assembly. State party rules require candidates to garner at least 30 percent of votes if they choose a path to the ballot through that process.

Stephany Rose Spaulding, chair of the Women's and Ethnic Studies program at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, came in second with 9.02 percent of the votes.

So far, Hickenlooper's campaign has drawn in a great deal of support from outside the state, and he is the candidate favored by the party establishment. He raised more than $4 million in the first quarter of 2020, while Romanoff brought in $420,000 and Gardner $2.4 million.

Before June 30, the non-presidential primary election day, Colorado voters who are registered with a political party will receive that party's ballot. Unaffiliated voters can save paper by visiting to select their party preference for that election ahead of time.

Otherwise, unaffiliated voters will receive ballots for both major parties, but can only return one ballot. Gardner does not face a primary challenger.

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