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Center on American Politics Hosts Gubernatorial Primary Debates

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Lorne Fultonberg


Lorne Fultonberg


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Republicans and Democrats Vie to Become Colorado's Next Governor

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Republican Gubernatorial Debate

All eyes in Colorado’s political sphere gazed upon the University of Denver this week, as the institution’s Center on American Politics hosted Republicans and Democrats vying to become the state’s next governor.

On June 18, Democrats Mike Johnston, Cary Kennedy, Donna Lynne and Jared Polis squared off in a primary debate in Sturm Hall’s Davis Auditorium. The following evening, Republicans Greg Lopez, Victor Mitchell, Doug Robinson and Walker Stapleton took the stage. Registered voters will pick their favorite candidates in the June 26 primary election. The winners will debate at DU once more in October, before they face off in November’s general election.

Both events, co-sponsored by Denver7 and The Denver Post, streamed live on Facebook, where thousands of people tuned in each night, leaving comments and questions for the candidates to answer.

Rewatch the Republican and Democratic debates

Seth Masket at the Gubernatorial Debate
Seth Masket, director of the Center on American Politics

“One of the real goals for the Center on American Politics was that we make this University more of a place where important political things happen,” said Seth Masket, a professor who chairs the Center. “Part of the Chancellor’s strategic plan was to put us more on the map so we can be seen more as a place for serious research, for serious engagement with the community, for involvement with the public good.”

Each night, moderators Anne Trujillo and John Frank grilled the candidates on a range of issues from immigration reform to campaign finance to whether Denver should pursue a bid for the Olympic Games.

At the onset of the Republican debate, much of the focus was on each candidate's alignment with President Donald Trump. Only Mitchell did not vote for Trump in the 2016 election, though he says he supports what he has done in office. Robinson most clearly distanced himself from the president's controversial policy separating young illegal immigrants from their families. Lopez took issue with the tax bill that passed Congress last December. Stapleton aligned himself with the president but said he would be willing to stand up to him if it was in Colorado's best interest.

In the Democratic debate, the candidates discussed the state of higher education and how to make it more affordable. All four onstage agreed they would prioritize colleges and universities and support tuition freezes. Polis, a U.S. congressman, favors a loan forgiveness program. He and Johnston, a former state representative, also placed an emphasis on vocational training. Lynne, the lieutenant governor, meanwhile stressed closing what she called the “equity gap” in education. Kennedy, a 1995 graduate of the Sturm College of Law, promised to permanently reform the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights (TABOR) to adequately fund the education system.

DU students in attendance said they appreciated the discussion of higher education, in addition to the simple opportunity to hear from candidates across the political spectrum.

“When the University advertised it to us they encouraged us to come to both [debates] if we were going to come to any of them,” said Andi Schlut, a senior political science student. “I think it’s really important for us to expand our views and to get to listen to people from both sides of the aisle. It’s really valuable.”

Other students, like senior Owin Orr, marveled at an atmosphere that doesn’t always come across when watching on TV. Still, the business major made it clear the substance of the debates and their greater value was not lost in the excitement.

“I think it’s great that DU is inviting the community to the campus,” he said. “Especially with IMPACT 2025, the changes that are happening, information and literacy in this day and age are more important [than ever].”