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Primary Primer: Where John Hickenlooper and Andrew Romanoff Disagree

A political cheat sheet breaking down the issues on which the two candidates diverge.

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And then there were two.

Former Gov. John Hickenlooper and erstwhile speaker of the Colorado House Andrew Romanoff are the last people standing in the Colorado Democratic Senate primary, which once featured as many as 15 candidates. But there can be only one Democratic opponent for Republican incumbent Cory Gardner, and on June 30, voters will decide whether Hickenlooper or Romanoff deserves that privilege. 

Hickenlooper, who has positioned himself as a pragmatic moderate, joined the race last August following an ill-fated presidential run and immediately became the heavy favorite. In recent weeks, though, a series of blunders by Hickenlooper—including being held in contempt by the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission for failing to show up for a hearing on whether he violated the state’s gift ban while governor—appears to have increased the chances that Romanoff, the more progressive of the two candidates, might pull off an upset.

As members of the same party, the two men agree on many things, such as raising taxes for top income earners, increasing the minimum wage, and ending qualified immunity for police. But there are also many points of disagreement. To help you decide between the two, we highlighted six areas where their visions for the country diverge.

The Environment

From the outset, Romanoff attempted to draw a contrast with Hickenlooper on climate change issues. One of Romanoff’s first advertisements last December depicted a “not so distant future” when a Colorado Springs family would be living in a bunker to avoid poor air conditions and sweltering heat. To prevent the circumstances shown in the apocalyptic video, Romanoff supports the Green New Deal and has said he would like to see the United States reach net-zero emissions by 2040.

Hickenlooper has suggested he backs the general idea of the Green New Deal. During his presidential run last year, however, he criticized the current proposal, put forth by U.S. Rep Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and U.S. Senator Ed Markey, for “shunning the private sector.” He has also said 2050 should be the target date for the United States reaching net-zero emissions.

Notably, Hickenlooper, who has drawn criticism in the past for his ties to the oil and gas industry, does not support bans on fracking or current drilling on public lands. Romanoff thinks both should be eliminated.    

Immigration

Both candidates support a pathway to citizenship for immigrants living in the country illegally. They also agree that raids and sweeps conducted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) are problematic.

But Romanoff has said that ICE should be dismantled, and its responsibilities transferred to another federal agency, such as the U.S. Department of Justice.

Hickenlooper, meanwhile, called ICE, “a menace in many of our cities,” but has suggested that the agency should be reformed, rather than outright eliminated.   

Health Care

According to both candidates, universal health care coverage should be the goal for the United States. They just disagree on how to make that happen.

Hickenlooper supports what’s known as a public option, which would give Americans the opportunity to choose between a government-backed health care plan and private insurance.

Romanoff backs “Medicare For All,” a plan that would put every American on a single health insurance program managed by the federal government. The former Colorado representative is open to transitioning to such a system happen over time, establishing an interim network that still allows people to access private insurance if they so choose.

Education

Both Hickenlooper and Romanoff both want to provide funding for all-day kindergarten, but they differ on free tuition for public colleges and how to provide relief on student loan debt.

Hickenlooper would like to provide tuition-free education to all community colleges and supports cutting the federal interest rate on student loans 2.5 percent or lower.

Romanoff wants to make tuition at all public higher-education institutions free and backs forgiving current student loan debt, a move he says should help spur economic growth.  

Police Reform

After the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minnesota police and the nationwide protests against police brutality that followed, the role of law enforcement has become a leading issue for nearly every campaign in the country.

Like with many other topics, Romanoff has called for sweeping progressive changes, saying during a recent debate that he backs the movement to defund the police and shift resources to other community programs.

Hickenlooper would prefer to reform, rather than defund, the police. Many of his suggestions to do so, such as requiring the use of body cameras and increasing transparency for police data, were included in a law enforcement accountability bill the Colorado General Assembly recently passed.

Marijuana

Hickenlooper has said marijuana should be decriminalized and that the decision on whether to legalize the substance should be left up to individual states. He was governor when Colorado began recreational weed sales in 2014.

Romanoff has called for marijuana to be legalized nationwide.

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