To hear Walker Stapleton tell it, there is a lot of hogwash in the race for governor.
When it comes to charges that the Bush-family cousin and great-grandson to a Denver mayor and airport honoree is a “dynasty” candidate, the Colorado state treasurer bristles.
“I think labels are hogwash and a bunch of political bull that don’t mean anything,” he said. “I also happen to be related to Chris Stapleton, the country music performer who sells out Red Rocks. Just because he’s my second cousin doesn’t mean that I sing like him.”
As for complaints about a controversial “independent expenditure committee” he coordinated prior to officially becoming a gubernatorial candidate, Stapleton again calls critics to task.
“That’s a lot of political hogwash,” he said to those who think the candidate may have bended the spirit of campaign-finance laws. “It’s going to take a lot of money to beat [perceived Democratic frontrunner] Jared Polis. I’m committed to raising the resources necessary. Jared Polis, to me, is the threat that matters to Colorado.”
Stapleton, 43, a Greenwood Village resident, was considered by many an undeclared candidate in name only last September when the two-term treasurer finally jumped into the official Republican primary as a fundraising behemoth.
The sitting treasurer, however, makes no bones about the need to raise money—and a lot of it—and the fact that he is the only Republican in the race who has won statewide office twice, a claim worthy of note in a state that has been reluctant to elect GOP governors in recent years.
“I think Republicans have done a good job of shooting each other in the foot and not nominating somebody who’s capable of winning a statewide election,” Stapleton said. “The Democrats, by contrast, have not had a competitive primary for governor since 1974. I was born in 1974. They have done a great job of coalescing around their candidate.”
Polis, Polis, Polis
Stapleton is not waiting for the end of this year’s primary—the first in which Colorado’s unaffiliated voters can participate—before effectively entering the general election, for which he clearly considers the wealthy U.S. Rep. Polis to be the de facto Democratic nominee.
The Republican hopeful barely mentions his own primary opponents before launching his attacks on Polis, who is among the wealthiest members of Congress and part of what has been called the “Gang of Four,” a small group of moneyed Democratic campaign contributors.
“I’m going to make sure the left doesn’t spend their way into the governor’s office,” Stapleton said. “Jared Polis is running to literally end the energy industry in Colorado. He’s in favor of Bernie Sanders’s plan for a single-payer health system. It’s going to take an unprecedented amount of money to beat him.”
Calling himself a “common-sense conservative” and contrasting himself with Polis, Stapleton touts his own leadership on such issues as reform of the state’s Public Employees Retirement Association and successful campaigns to defeat recent ballot issues for a public-education tax increase and a single-payer system.
“The Denver Post wrote an op-ed, and they said when it comes to Colorado’s broken pension system, it turns out Treasurer Stapleton has been right all along. For The Denver Post to say that about a Republican, you don’t have to be right—you have to be really, really right,” he said.
Stapleton also touts his business experience, noting the publicly-traded real estate firm he founded before first seeking public office in 2010.
“I was accountable to shareholders. I created jobs. I met payroll. I managed budgets and I built a successful company,” he said. “What I think Colorado really needs is somebody who has experience in the private sector, leadership experience in elected office, and can combine the two and proactively solve a lot of our fiscal challenges.”
Stapleton dismisses criticisms of having “moonlighted” on the public dime.
“I’m not precluded from owning a business or taking a company private because I’m the treasurer of Colorado,” he said. “It never took away from the hours I spent in the treasurer’s office.”
On most issues, Stapleton takes positions in line with his party.
The candidate would support the dismantling of Connect for Health Colorado, the state’s insurance exchange, saying enrollment numbers have proven its futility.
On illegal immigration, he says he would do whatever he could from the governor’s office to force “sanctuary cities” and their police to cooperate with federal officials.
“I’m fundamentally against giving an evildoer and somebody who wants to break the laws in one of our cities more legal protections than a U.S. citizen,” he said.
In the wake of Douglas County Schools’ recent decision to end its never-implemented, legally contested voucher program, Stapleton remains an advocate for “school choice,” even for private religious schools, though he decidedly bristles at the term “voucher.”
“I believe that each student that gets approximately $10,000 in funding should take that money from the State of Colorado and they should be able to do whatever they want,” he said.
Stapleton would support drug-testing for recipients of public assistance, but would not extend such a requirement to employers receiving tax breaks.
He remains a staunch advocate for term limits.
“Incumbents have a massive advantage in spending,” he said. “Public service, first and foremost, should be a secondary career, not a primary career.”
Fundraising will not be a problem for this two-term treasurer either. His past backers have included everyone from former Broncos quarterback John Elway to former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.
Prior to his official candidacy, Stapleton was able to work directly with Better Colorado Now, an “independent expenditure committee.” He is among the first Colorado politicians to directly point such an organization at his own campaign. The tact was also taken by 2016 presidential candidate Jeb Bush, Stapleton’s cousin. State Sen. Mike Johnston, a Democratic candidate for governor, has formed a similar organization.
Although Stapleton faces a wealth of primary opposition, including Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, retired investment banker Cherry Hills Village Doug Robinson and former U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo, the treasurer is not talking about any of them.
“I don’t care who’s running on our side,” Stapleton said. “I don’t care if Superman on the Man in the Moon are running. I’m focused on Jared Polis because he’s the threat that matters.”