Hickenlooper, Beauprez Spar For Fifth Time

From left: Gov. John Hickenlooper. Bob Beauprez

The fifth debate between governor hopefuls John Hickenlooper and Bob Beauprez was held at UCCS Wednesday night.

Former U.S. Rep. Bob Beauprez is hoping to unseat Gov. John Hickenlooper, who has been governor since 2011. Hickenlooper is hoping to convince voters to have him for another term.

The previous four debates have been heated, with each candidate landing in the hot seat at various times over issues ranging from abortion to pot laws to capital punishment. Wednesday's debate was equally combative.

Hickenlooper touted job creation under his watch.

"We've come from 40th in job creation to fourth. Four of the top 10 technology starts are in Colorado. No. 9 in America is Colorado Springs," he said.

But Beauprez said Hickenlooper's efforts were not enough.

"We're still struggling to get jobs; we're about 206,000 short," Beauprez said, taking a shot at Gov. Hickenlooper's economic record. "How many more years does it take to lead this economy back? We've never waited this long to get back to full recovery, certainly not in Colorado."

Hickenlooper continued to make a case that the economy had improved under his leadership.

"I think we've made it pretty clear... not only have we turned the economy around... taken a $1 billion deficit and turned it into a $650 million rainy day fund, but we are very focused on expanding that in certain direct places."

Hickenlooper reminded voters that his accomplishments had come while also dealing with 13 designations of federal disasters, including the three most destructive wildfires and most destructive flood in state history.

Beauprez accused Hickenlooper of being out of touch with the needs of everyone in the state.

"At the 9 News debate, Governor, when I brought up up the economic challenges of here in Colorado Springs and Pueblo, the cameras caught you rolling your eyes. Just yesterday...you shrugged off concerns of rural Coloradans suggesting the can't appreciate your complicated energy mandate that raises their electric bills, and this comes after you've lavished praise on Michael Bloomberg, who called Colorado Springs and Pueblo roadless backwaters. One of the gun bills you signed...you said rural Colorado would just have to live with the inconvenience they created. I'll ask you the question that so many people around Colorado ask me, 'You realize that you're not just mayor of Denver anymore and this state's a little bigger than that?'"

Hickenlooper dismissed Beauprez's claims.

"I'm not sure exactly how many times I've been to Colorado Springs, I think it's over 30 times. I know I've been to the West Slope well over 30 times. We've tried to cover this entire state relentlessly. ... And we've certainly pushed an agriculture agenda as strong as we could have. In the last four years, the number of ag exports from the state of Colorado has doubled. ... We've negotiated trade barriers to promote those ag exports. We've taken "Colorado Proud" to a new level and made sure we're getting our local farmers and ranchers top dollar for their produce. Trying to encourage and simplify 'farm to table' whereby smaller operations can sell directly to restaurants or schools. ... In the floods we had last September we lost 160 diversions, we had 97 percent of them back in place before the spring growing season. We have done, I think, an admirable job of making sure that this agricultural part of the state and the agricultural part of the economy really does get the support it deserves."

Reproductive issues came up for discussion Wednesday night.

"If elected would you reinstate the executive order that bans state dollars from organizations like Planned Parenthood?" Hickenlooper asked Beauprez.

"If it violates what the taxpayers have said that they want government to do, not fund abortion with taxpayer dollars, that's what I would do...I believe ladies should have the choice in whether or not to use birth control. I believe ladies should have the choice of what type of birth control to use. I just don't happen think taxpayers oughta to be paying for it," Beauprez responded.

Beauprez called a question from Hickenlooper over whether he'd sign a bill that would ban abortion even in the case of rape or incest "hypothetical," and didn't respond with a "yes" or "no."

"You know that bill's not going to come across my desk."

Beauprez slammed Hickenlooper's record on homelessness.

"The governor said he'd end homelessness in Denver by 2015," he said. "The clock is ticking. Homelessness is actually up."

Hickenlooper refuted the claim, saying chronic homelessness in Denver was down 75 percent. He suggested that could be accomplished elsewhere in the state.

"We also have to make sure we're providing not just a place to live but the support services: mental health, job training."

Hickenlooper accused Beauprez of flip-flopping on the issue of oil and gas.

"During the primary you spoke in favor of more local control in deciding oil and gas regulations. You oppose removing the oil and gas measures from the ballot, preferring instead to leave thousands of jobs and literally billions of dollars to chance, but then you...criticized the formation of our partisan oil and gas task force that was created to find solutions on this issue. Now you're saying...last week, you'll listen to the majority recommendation from the task force. Which way is it?"

"By the nature of your question, you apparently don't understand Colorado history and the history of development, including oil and gas...I've been there, I've done that, as a developer, as a land owner, and we negotiated agreements as we've historically done very well in Colorado.

They call it memorandums of understanding, that protect the mineral rights that people have, subsurface rights and our surface rights that people that own real estate and have every right to be able to expect to develop it, and the rights of the local citizens in their communities to do things like regulate rights of ways, and zoning... I think this commission thing is a solution in search of a problem. Because, historically, we have done this extremely well in Colorado and satisfied the needs of all parties concerned with things like memorandums of understanding... what he's [Hickenlooper] doing now is trying to appease a special interest group by denying people development rights. And that's what I think is absolutely wrong."

Though the candidates could ask each other questions, most of the questions Wednesday night came from local papers The Gazette, the Colorado Springs Independent and the Colorado Springs Business Journal; the UCCS student paper; questions submitted on social media; and people in the audience. One of the questions given to Hickenlooper was over the low number of students attending public colleges and universities in the state.

"We stopped cuts last year and added $100 million back into higher education...tied that to a restriction that they could not increase tuition higher than 6 percent," Hickenlooper answered.

Beauprez asked Hickenlooper what his second term agenda would be.

"We want to expand jobs for the long term unemployed. We want to really reach out and support young people when they are getting their first job. ... We wanna look at people with disabilities...we've got a great program out there now that is showing great success making sure that we have the skills ready for the jobs that are needed. We're gonna focus not just on business, but on that culture that really attracts the young entrepreneurs. ... We've been the thinnest state, but we haven't been the healthiest state...we're going to move Colorado in that second term and we've gotten closer, we're going to make [Colorado] the healthiest state in the country and we're going to continue education reforms...to make sure we have the most innovative public school system in the country."

Beauprez got the last word Wednesday, and closed calling for a smaller government, starting with an anecdote about his parents, "depressionary kids" who he said never asked for "anything more than a chance to work really hard, save some of what they earn, put it away."

"In many ways they were just average Americans...people like them believe in that thing called 'individual responsibility' and freedom. Ronald Reagan told us right, that when government expands, freedom necessarily contracts."

Beauprez said between Hickenlooper and the federal government, there are too many regulations on Coloradans.

"Controlling, restricting, limiting, holding you down instead of lifting you up. We're better than that."

Wednesday's debate was free and open to the public. It was moderated by 11 News anchor Don Ward.