Walker Stapleton is the Republican candidate for governor of Colorado. He is Colorado State Treasurer. He was elected treasurer in 2010 and took office in January 2011. He was reelected in 2014 to a second term.
He has chosen Lang Sias, a Colorado state representative and former fighter pilot, as his running mate for lieutenant governor.
Stapleton, 44, is a businessman and real estate entrepreneur who graduated from Williams College and earned advanced degrees in business from the London School of Economics and Harvard Business School.
Stapleton manages the State Treasury’s pool of investments, worth about $6 billion. As State Treasurer, he is an ex officio, voting member of the board of trustees of Colorado Public Employee Retirement Association, which provides retirement benefits to more than 560,000 public school teachers and state employees.
Prior to seeking elected office, Stapleton worked in finance and Silicon Valley. He later worked in real estate, including leading several business ventures in which his family has financial interests.
A political scion
Stapleton’s great-grandfather Benjamin Stapleton was a five-term mayor of Denver, serving two stints. The first was 1923 to 1931; the second was 1935 to 1947. The elder Stapleton is credited with building Stapleton Airport and Red Rocks Amphitheater. The Stapleton neighborhood is named for him.
But Benjamin Stapleton was also a member of the Ku Klux Klan, when the hate group was a powerful force in Colorado and Denver politics. Walker Stapleton has distanced himself from his great-grandfather’s racist past, but credits him for spearheading projects that brought jobs to Denver during the Great Depression and World War II and created lasting landmarks.
Walker Stapleton has connections to another powerful political family. His mother is cousin to former president George H.W. Bush. When George W. Bush appointed Walker Stapleton’s father Craig Stapleton ambassador to the Czech Republic in 2001, Walker Stapleton took over his father’s real estate and winery business in California.
A PERA trustee and critic
Stapleton has been a vocal critic of PERA, where he is a voting member of the board of trustees. PERA is woefully underfunded – by about $32 billion – and at risk of not being able to pay out retirement benefits in the future. Stapleton has made PERA reform a component of his campaign for governor, betting it shows his willingness to take on difficult problems.
In December 2017, Stapleton unveiled a reform plan that called for freezing cost-of-living increases for retirees and lowered the assumptions for investment returns to align them with government accounting standards.
Critics said his COLA freeze was too harsh, but allies lauded as a realistic lowering of return assumptions, even as they increased PERA’s unfunded liability to almost $50 billion.
A solid supporter of the 2nd Amendment
Stapleton favors strong 2nd Amendment protections and says he will protect the rights of law-abiding gun owners. He wants to repeal gun control laws passed in Colorado after the Aurora theater shootings, calling the laws “misguided.” He prefers to focus on mental health over restricting access to firearms.
A foe of ‘Sanctuary Cities’
Stapleton is a vocal critic of “sanctuary cities,” arguing that they are a public safety threat and subvert the rule of law. He said cities that adopt policies that protect undocumented immigrants are creating an environment that forces law enforcement to ignore federal immigration law.
Stapleton’s association with strident anti-immigrant activist and former U.S. Representative Tom Tancredo has drawn scrutiny and criticism. Tancredo is perhaps the state’s toughest critic of sanctuary cities and illegal immigration. He’s been associated with a white supremacist group with ties to Colorado.
Tancredo was once Stapleton’s challenger for the Republican nomination for governor, before dropping out and nominating Stapleton at the state Republican assembly in April. The two men attended a political event together in September, forcing Stapleton to say that Tancredo would not have any role in his administration, should he win the governor’s race.
A major contributor to his own campaign
Stapleton has contributed more than $1.5 million of his own money to his campaign for governor, according to the latest data available from the Colorado Secretary of State.
He has contributed a little more than $20,000 to Republican candidates and local political committees since December 2009.