Sorry to have to point this out, but the 2018 gubernatorial election is just more than eight months away. And while we won’t suffer the despairing chaos of a presidential contest, the governor’s race is important.
In the past 25 years, business interests have had a remarkable run in the governor’s mansion. Govs. Roy Romer, Bill Owens, Bill Ritter and John Hickenlooper have all governed from the center, mostly curbing the excesses of right and left. Romer and Hickenlooper had extensive experience in both business and government. Owens served as state treasurer, while Ritter was a prosecutor, jobs that inclined them toward the conservative and practical side of government.
Hickenlooper can’t run again, thanks to term limits. As of earlier this week, there were six Republicans and five Democrats seeking the nomination of their parties.
Since Tom Tancredo dropped out of the race after concluding that he could get the nomination but couldn’t win the election, the Republican race has been Walker Stapleton’s to lose. Unless he makes some serious missteps, or has been seeing Stormy Daniels on the side, he’ll be the nominee.
That’s good news for business. Stapleton has deep Colorado roots (his great-grandfather Ben Stapleton was mayor of Denver) and has national political connections (his mom is George H.W. Bush’s first cousin). Stapleton has served ably as the state’s treasurer since 2010. He’s a smart guy with a Harvard MBA and plenty of high-level business experience. He’d likely be a moderate conservative in the Bill Owens mode, one who would work well with a divided legislature.
On the Democratic side, the race seems to be between Boulder congressman Jared Polis and former State Treasurer Cary Kennedy. Considered a lock for the nomination when he entered the race a few months ago, Polis may still be the frontrunner. But perhaps as a consequence of #MeToo and the endorsement of Emily’s List, Kennedy’s campaign has dramatically strengthened in recent weeks.
Both Kennedy and Polis have had impressive careers. Kennedy wrote and helped pass Amendment 23 to the state constitution, which was intended to stabilize and then modestly increase state funding for K-12 education. The recession made mandated increases impractical, so the legislature invented something called the “negative factor,” an ever-growing ledger entry documenting the unfunded balance. After losing to Stapleton in 2010, Kennedy went on to become Denver’s chief financial officer and deputy mayor under Michael Hancock.
Jared Polis has had the kind of business career that any Colorado Springs entrepreneur would envy (with the possible exception of Phil Anschutz). In 1996, at age 21, he co-founded a free online greeting card website which was sold three years later to Excite@Home for $430 million in stock and $350 million in cash. Another Polis-founded company, Provide Commerce Inc., went public in 2003 and was acquired in 2005 by Liberty Media for $477 million.
In 2008, Polis spent more than $6 million of his own money to beat an establishment-backed primary candidate for CD 2. With an estimated net worth of $400 million, he’s an attractive candidate for the Dems, since he can personally match or surpass the dollars that any Republican could raise.
Polis supports a plan that would extend Colorado’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard from 30 percent in 2020 to 100 percent by 2040. He hasn’t explained in detail how that goal, however desirable, can be reasonably funded. A detailed study commissioned by the Independence Institute estimated the cost at approximately $44.8 billion.
It’s easy to dismiss such plans as political posturing. Just as Republicans have to support unfettered gun ownership and oppose abortion, Democrats have to be all in for clean energy and mitigating climate change.
Yet Kennedy’s position is more nuanced. She proposes doubling the renewable energy portfolio over an unspecified period, and move “quickly and efficiently” to reduce carbon pollution and combat climate change.
So what about the other eight candidates? Several are certifiably business-friendly, including Democrats Donna Lynne and Noel Ginsburg and Republican and Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman. At this writing, their candidacies haven’t gotten much traction.
And once again, there’s not a single candidate from El Paso County. No local resident has been elected governor since John Love in 1962. Just as the New England Patriots win Super Bowls, the Denver/Boulder team wins gubernatorial races.
And Colorado Springs? We’re the Cleveland Browns of politics.