The three candidates who attended 9NEWS’ pre-assembly Republican gubernatorial debate were largely in agreement about most major policy issues … but sparred about who is actually a political outsider.
The debate was held the day after the Democratic debate and two days before the Republican state assembly, which will determine who ultimately makes the primary ballot.
Former Parker Mayor Greg Lopez is the only Republican candidate that attended 9NEWS’ debate who will vie for the 30 percent of delegates needed at the assembly to compete in the primary.
Former State Rep. Victor Mitchell (R-Teller County) and businessman Doug Robinson also participated in the 9NEWS debate, but will rely on petition signatures to make the primary ballot.
Businessman Barry Farah had initially agreed to attend the debate, but backed out suddenly on Tuesday. 9NEWS’ Brandon Rittiman and Kyle Clark – who moderated the proceedings – kept an empty chair on the stage in his absence.
Frontrunner State Treasurer Walker Stapleton and Attorney General Cynthia Coffman also declined to participate.
Here’s a look at what was discussed by the candidates who did attend. You can watch the debate in full below:
THE DEMOCRATS | What happened during the Democratic gubernatorial debate
Who’s the biggest outsider, really?
While arguably the biggest outsiders were Stapleton, Coffman and Farah since they weren’t actually in the building, the three candidates who were there all characterized themselves as political outsiders.
This was in response to a question that was mainly directed at Mitchell, who took issue with being addressed as a state representative despite his time doing just that. He says most of his life has been spent as an entrepreneur.
“I’m the only outsider in this race, I don’t take any special interest money,” he said. “I’ve also been a successful businessman.”
But, by his logic, Lopez said “I guess I’m an outsider as well.”
And that led Robinson to add in his two cents, saying “I’ve never run for public office before. I don’t see how I’m an insider.”
This was something that Mitchell took issue with. While he was supposed to be responding to an issue about gun control, he took some time to mention how Robinson is Mitt Romney’s nephew.
One point of agreement: There’s no need for a “deportation force”
The top issue for Republican voters in Colorado is immigration reform, and all three gubernatorial candidates who attended the debate agreed that cities should notify ICE if someone here illegally commits an offense that sends them to jail.
While the Democratic candidates were not in agreement about whether a DUI qualifies for potential deportation, Lopez, Mitchell and Robinson were. No GOP candidate at the debate, however, supported a so-called “deportation force.”
The three candidates also agreed the state should crack down on sanctuary cities, but Mitchell was the only candidate who specifically said that there should be legislation that holds the mayors of these cities accountable for breaking federal law.
But, Mitchell was the only candidate who said he would not agree to send Colorado National Guard resources to the Mexico border if President Donald Trump were to make that request. Robinson and Lopez said they would.
The baker has the rights in the Colorado wedding cake case, the candidates say
All three candidates said they believe the religious rights of the baker should prevail in a Colorado case that has gone all the way to the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court is deciding whether Jack Phillips, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, violating the rights of two gay men by refusing to make a cake for them.
When asked if there were specific policies needed to protect religious freedom, Robinson said there’s already protection in the constitution – something Lopez seconded.
Mitchell blamed a “litigious society” on the lawsuit and said forcing people to pay for the other side’s attorneys fees if they lose a case is one solution.
Mitchell calls Lopez “intolerant” for statements about people who are transgender
When asked about comments he made on former State Rep. Gordon Klingenschmitt’s (R-Colorado Springs) talk show about people who transgender being “confused,” Lopez largely stood by what he said, citing his Christian beliefs.
“We need to make sure if God made us a certain way, there’s a reason for that,” Lopez said.
“I have to say that’s very intolerant,” he said, adding that a close friend of his son has two mothers and that he believes what Lopez is getting at is “conversion therapy is effective.”
Lopez said he wasn’t “criticizing them in any way, shape or form.”
Candidates agree on repealing magazine limits
Both Mitchell and Robinson said they support bump stock bans and universal background checks, but if elected, they would repeal Colorado’s magazine limits.
Lopez said the focus shouldn’t be on guns during this debate.
“It’s not the gun that kills: it’s the person behind the gun,” he said.
Leave health care to the free market, candidates say
During their debate, the Democratic candidates largely agreed that Colorado needs a state-wide healthcare system. The Republicans who attended Thursday’s debate disagreed.
Lopez and Robinson both advocated for letting healthcare enter a truly free market where doctors have to disclose their prices. Mitchell pointed to creating a program that gives affordable healthcare to people without insurance across the state.
Let's talk about the people who aren't here!
Clark and Rittiman asked the three candidates about which policy issues they have a disagreement with Stapleton on. This was after Farah previously said he couldn’t name any.
Robinson said he took issue with Stapleton’s marijuana policy as well as his handling of PERA. Mitchell said he disagrees in that he believes local officials who don’t cooperate with ICE should be liable and that Coloradans should get a tax refund back if the state has a surplus.
Lopez didn’t name a specific issue but did say he doesn’t think Stapleton addresses rural Colorado or water rights enough.
Coffman was also a brief topic of discussion. She’s been accused of being too moderate for Colorado’s Republicans, but despite that, all three candidates said they would support her if she were the nominee.
Other moments during the debate
Unlike the three Democrats who took the stage on Wednesday, Robinson said that he does believe that Denver Mayor Michael Hancock should face some sort of punishment for allegations of sexual harassment.
The discussion of the #MeToo movement led to a pointed question for Lopez, who was charged with kicking his pregnant wife in 1993. He says he and his wife have learned from the experience, which happened while he was Parker’s mayor.
“Marriage is not easy, it’s hard,” he said, adding that he’s also come to have a better relationship with alcohol in the years since this happened.
“We all perhaps have had one too many,” he said.
The past mistakes of a candidate who wasn’t in the room were also discussed, albeit briefly. During a question about whether DUIs are grounds to notify ICE, Robinson said he wasn’t too familiar with DUI convictions.
“Walker?” he asked, looking around.
This is likely in reference to Stapleton’s admission that he was driving under the influence in San Francisco in June 1999.
During closing statements, all three candidates got to offer a one minute pitch for their policies. Most of these were predictable, but Lopez took a different approach: the beginning of his was in Spanish.
This will be the first of multiple 9NEWS debates this election season. We will be airing them on 9NEWS and streaming them on 9NEWS.com.