Gubernatorial Candidates Take Political Temperature of State at Saturday Candidates Forum

Students and Colorado Springs residents alike milled around the Kathryn Mohrman Theatre lobby Saturday evening, chatting and rubbing elbows with Democratic 2018 midterm candidates. CC Democrats organized the “State of the State” candidate’s forum in concert with Electra Johnson, chair of the El Paso County Democratic Party. The forum featured Democrats in races at all levels, ranging from State Treasurer to two out of five Democrats making the bid for the Governor’s Mansion.

Around 100 people walked around the lobby in swaths talking to candidates and activists before going in to the town-hall style event, where candidates expanded upon and answered questions about their platforms. Activists outside wore t-shirts emblazoned with “The Resistance” as Colorado politicos, looking to get a jump on the midterm races, chatted up Springs residents in Tevas and weekend wear.

The two biggest names pulled for the event were Cary Kennedy and Noel Ginsburg, both Democratic candidates in Colorado’s crowded gubernatorial race.  Proxies appeared in place of Jared Polis (a sitting Congressman from Colorado’s 2nd District) and Mike Johnston (a former State Senator).  Sitting Lieutenant Governor Donna Lynne had yet to announce her candidacy.

When asked why it was important he attend the CC candidate’s forum, gubernatorial candidate Noel Ginsburg said, “I would say energy and innovation is and the future of our country is vested on these campuses…I’ve had a chance to talk to a couple of CC students here and it is so refreshing, particularly with what’s going on in Washington, to hear kids that are passionate about this state, this country and [that] have a voice. So, why wouldn’t I be here?”

Cary Kennedy echoed those sentiments, saying “I really applaud the leadership here, my son being one of them in the Democratic Party here on campus, for reaching out to the candidates to…provide a forum, so the students can get to know us early in this race.”

The event received light criticism in The Independent and from former El Paso County Republican Party Chair Trevor Dierdorff (Dierdorff resigned Friday), for not featuring any Republican candidate participation. Dierdorff was quoted in The Independent saying,

“’[The student] didn’t email me his request until after hours last Friday…I’m afraid that participation will be very light as he was trying to get a couple dozen very busy candidates to come to an event on Labor Day Weekend with only one week’s notice. He should have been reaching out to campaigns at least six weeks prior.’”

However, in a statement to The Catalyst, Co-chair of CC Democrats Sophia Brown said, “The planning for this event began with El Paso County Democratic Party Chair Electra Johnson…the parties were not contacted on the same timeline.” Brown added, “The original plan was to hold a bipartisan forum with primary candidates from both the Republican and Democratic Parties.” Yet, CC has no counterpart to the CC Dems so the onus of planning bipartisan events falls solely on the CC Dems making things difficult.

Partisan as it may have been, the event provided an outlet to hear from a large selection of Democrats. Ginsburg and Kennedy spoke with The Catalyst regarding their travels around the state in preparation for the gubernatorial race.

Kennedy has been traveling to communities around the state for nearly half the year in advance of announcing her candidacy, in her words, “talking to people about issues in their communities, really hearing their stories.”

Asked specifically about the 18-24 year old demographic in advance of the midterm elections, Kennedy had this to say, “To have the voice of this age group is critically important in our electoral process,” she paused before adding, “we’re not going to elect going to elect good candidates if this age group doesn’t stay active and involved.”

When asked the same question, Ginsburg responded, “I would like to see 18-24 year olds vote in higher numbers than they have been in this state. I believe, because of what’s going on in this country that more will,” adding, “My hope is that kids will not just listen to what we say but research what we say, research what we’ve done so they may be more informed.”

Ginsburg continued, “I mean, I know my own mom, she’ll send me stuff. And I’ll say ‘Mom, this is not true. Here’s the references from Snopes or wherever…’ but I think your generation [is] more attuned to the fact that you just can’t take it at face value. So, we need that demographic and I hope that they’re activated, I hope that they show up, I hope that they’re pushing back …”

When asked about what she’d been hearing from Coloradoan’s in her travels Kennedy emphasized a narrative of affordability: affordability of healthcare, higher education, and housing. Accompanying the inquisition for affordability she noted a current of anxiety around growth, saying,

“But, we really have challenges in Colorado where we’ve had tremendous growth and economic progress on the Front Range, particularly in the metro area, but not everybody is benefiting from that progress. So rural communities across our state, people that are working in the service economy, people who are working at minimum wage are really struggling to get ahead in this economy.”

Ginsburg also brought up the disconnect between Colorado’s urban centers and rural communities, saying, “I would say [it is] disheartening that there is a disconnect between our urban centers and rural parts of Colorado, that’s the bad news. The good news is, it’s not that our goals our different. Everybody wants to educate their kids, have a good job, ensure that there’s good healthcare for them, that there’s roads that they can drive on.

Ginsburg underscored, “The debate isn’t about that. The debate is that we don’t trust each other. And trust starts with communication. Once you communicate you build trust, once you build trust you can build plans, once you have a plan you can get consensus and move forward. I think that in this state we have not been bridging that divide.”

Asked what their biggest perceived challenge was in their race for Governor of Colorado both emphasized the amount of travel over the course of the next year.  Ginsburg added,

“I’ve got a lot of work to do. I’m not a sitting congressman, I didn’t serve in the State Senate, but my mix of business and communal civic leadership is a balance that is important. And, frankly, the authentic nature of what I’ve done over the years, speaks to who I am. If I can get that across, I can win. But, I have to do a lot of work to introduce myself across our state, that’s the challenge.”

Kennedy noted the same challenge, as her biggest perceived hurdle in the Governor’s race. Both candidates balked at the recent status quo of Washington, acknowledging that voter’s they’ve talked to in the State are scared of what’s happening. Yet both gubernatorial candidates emphasized that there was more energy in Colorado Politics than there is disheartenment on behalf of voters.

Kennedy, outside taking a brief respite before giving here remarks, spoke to the political mood of the state as bells tolled from Shove Chapel saying, “[Voters] want to see leadership in the Capitol that will stand up to the erosion of those protections coming out of Washington…People are proud of our state. They’re proud of what Colorado has become and they want to see a Governor position Colorado as a national model, as a national leader.”

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