Climate change was “No. 1 topic” the public wanted to hear about in Colorado gubernatorial debate, moderator says

Denver Post's Nic Garcia: “What will you do during your first year ... to address this crisis?”

Colorado voters wanted to hear about climate change more than any other topic at the October 23 Colorado gubernatorial debate, according to moderator Nic Garcia. Garcia, a political reporter for The Denver Post, asked both candidates what they would do to address the climate crisis during their first year as governor.

The Democratic candidate, Rep. Jared Polis, affirmed that climate change is a serious problem affecting Coloradans today. He listed a series of policy proposals, including keeping Colorado’s auto emissions standards in place and pushing the state to 100 percent renewable energy by 2040.

The Republican candidate, State Treasurer Walker Stapleton, did not mention climate change in his response. He stated that he supports “alternative forms of energy,” but then said he does not want to mandate what type of energy Coloradans use and launched an attack on his opponent's energy proposals. Denver7 news anchor and debate moderator Anne Trujillo followed up by asking Stapleton what human behavior needs to change to address climate change, and what role the state should play. Stapleton did not address the question. Instead, he expressed his support for Colorado’s hemp industry and again attacked Polis' proposals.

Media Matters is tracking debates in competitive Senate and gubernatorial races and encouraging moderators to ask candidates questions about climate change. So far, only 14 of 51 debates analyzed nationwide have included a climate-related question. See our scorecard.

From the October 23 Colorado gubernatorial debate:

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NIC GARCIA (MODERATOR): When we asked readers and viewers for questions, overwhelmingly this was the No. 1 topic on their mind. A new UN report -- and we're starting with Congressman Polis -- a new UN report says we need immediate and urgent action to curb the effects of climate change. What will you do during your first year -- first year -- if anything, to address this crisis?

JARED POLIS (D): So, yes, climate change, again, is not only an abstract topic. It's affecting jobs in Colorado today, it's affecting our quality of life. I'm excited for Colorado to lead the way, continuing the legacy of John Hickenlooper -- I continued the auto emissions standards that John Hickenlooper signed up for for our state. And we have a plan to get to 100 percent renewable energy by 2040 or sooner. We're going to do that by raising the cap on solar gardens; allowing communities to invest in their own developments; reducing financing costs for home solar through a PACE program that was available for commercial and expanding that to residential; work through the authority the governor has appointing members of the Public Utilities Commission to make sure we focus on keeping rates low, cleaner air, doing our part on climate, and moving to renewable energy. The exciting thing, Nic, is that Xcel will tell you today that new wind energy costs 20 percent less than existing coal. So the sooner we can recognize the benefits of the green energy economy, the greater the savings will be for Coloradan ratepayers.

ANNE TRUJILLO (MODERATOR): And the question was the first year.

GARCIA: Can you do all of that in your first year?

POLIS: If we Democrats win the legislature, I think we have a good chance of getting our agenda at done.

TRUJILLO: Treasurer Stapleton, same question. First year.

WALKER STAPLETON (R): Well, this is the big difference: I support alternate forms of energy, alternative forms of energy. I support the state tax credit program for wind and for solar. I support the federal tax credits, which may be going away. But I'm not going to mandate what type of energy Coloradans should use. Coloradans are a libertarian bunch. We want government out of our lives. We don't want government mandating what power we need to use. And I've spoken with energy experts who tell me that if Congressman Polis' mandate were put into place, it would result in hardworking Coloradans paying more for their electric bills, more to heat their homes. And that's a radical, extreme proposal. I have with me a Mega Millions ticket. Yes, I did. I don't even know if I won because I'm at this debate, but Congressman Polis has promised $90 billion from health care to energy to education, which means he could win Mega Millions tonight and would need to win another 55 times, and would still be short. And the probability of him doing that is the same as the probability of him enacting any of his plans without raising taxes on hardworking Coloradans, from health care to energy, or, alternatively, on the business community. And that's not the Colorado we want. That's not the Colorado we want.

POLIS: If I can respond to that with 30 seconds, because I can tell Walker has been practicing to try to land that line. This $90 billion figure is completely fictitious. It's based on a health care policy, Walker, Amendment 69, which you and I both didn't support. It's based on an energy plan that isn't ours. I am not, and I never have, supported a 100 percent mandate for renewable energy. It's a bottom-up, market-oriented plan to help reach that, and it's based on plans that I don't even support. So, I hope that we can each talk about what our plan for Colorado is. I'm happy to talk about renewable energy all day, happy to talk about saving families money on health care all day, but those simply are not the plans that I support. 

STAPLETON: Can I walk him through it? I'm a numbers guy.

TRUJILLO: No, we're going to move on. We have so many questions to get through. You have said, Mr. Stapleton, that you believe humans are contributing to climate change. If that's the case, what sort of human behavior needs to change, and what role does the state government play in pushing that change?

STAPLETON: Well, I've had the chance to tour some of Colorado's hemp farms, which are really exciting. I took a tour of a 75,000-acre facility in western Colorado, and I support recategorizing hemp from the farm bill and CBD, specifically as a Schedule I drug. And I support the environmentally conscious way that industrial hemp can contribute to something that Coloradans can do tangibly in our state against climate change. But, again, I'm not for empty mandates. And your renewable plan, independent analysis, $45 billion, your health care plan more expensive than the one I defeated with Bill Ritter, $35 billion. Your education plan? A couple more billion. There's no way to pay for this. I've been the treasurer for eight years, and I can tell you the only way to pay for it is by taxing businesses or individuals. And you said you support a payroll tax for health care. Well, Gov. Ritter and I defeated state-run health care two years ago. It feels like last year because it was a 10 percent tax on businesses like your colleague in Vermont. That would drive every business out of Colorado, Congressman. Every one.

TRUJILLO: Thank you. We'll let Mr. Polis have his 30 seconds.

POLIS: You know, again, as you know, Bill Ritter is supporting me, as is John Hickenlooper. Look, my business cards are printed on hemp paper. I'm not sure what that has to do with climate change though. I'm not sure why Walker's answer had to do with hemp. But let me tell you what we can do on climate change. First of all, we need to maintain the automobile emissions standards that Gov. Hickenlooper put in place, that Walker Stapleton said he would repeal. Not only is that about climate, it's about our health, it's about the brown cloud. It's about making sure that we reduce asthma and, yes, even cancer rates, saving our health care money, and ultimately saving lives. We need to make sure that we encourage investment in renewable energy by making sure we can recognize the savings for all of us.