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After a long primary season, Colorado politicians and voters are set to dig in on this year’s main event. When Bob Beauprez finally vanquished fellow gubernatorial wannabes Tom Tancredo, Scott Gessler, and Mike Kopp last week, it formally launched his bid to unseat incumbent Governor John Hickenlooper.
Despite some recent campaign trail stumbles, the race is still Hickenlooper’s to lose. He remains popular, and the electorate remains purple. (Whether you think it’s trending red or blue probably depends on your preconceived political notions.) It’s debatable how much Beauprez represents a choice that’s anything terribly new—let alone inspiring—especially after the 17-point trouncing he took the last time he ran for this post in 2006. His victory speech last week was seemingly lifted from the Big Book of Conservative Talking Points and vapidly touched on all the usual suspects: regulations and government bad; people and families and freedom good.
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Archeologists are still sifting through the address in the hopes of finding a substantive policy objective. Beauprez did say that he’d freeze all nonessential regulations on his first day in office, but depending on whom you’re talking to, the definition of “nonessential” might be as wide as the Colorado sky. He added that the fate of death row inmate Nathan Dunlap, aka the Chuck E. Cheese killer, would be swiftly ended if Beauprez wins in November, a dripping morsel of red meat sure to earn applause as he campaigns this summer and fall.
(A few words on Dunlap’s “temporary reprieve:” While that decision, which Hickenlooper announced in May 2013, has understandably and predictably been used to decry the governor’s lack of leadership, it could also be viewed as a thoughtful and appropriate—maybe even statesmanlike—approach given the circumstances, as the governor called for increased discourse on the subject of capital punishment. We still lack a complete picture of Dunlap’s stability—his attorneys claim he was abused as a child and is severely mentally ill—and executing the mentally ill explicitly violates international law. Meanwhile, throughout the United States, executions have been egregiously flawed for years, and this doesn’t even account for the number of them that have been carried out on innocent people. While there is no doubt about Dunlap’s guilt in this case, Governor Hickenlooper didn’t permanently commute his sentence; the temporary reprieve allows the interested parties to gather the relevant information, while leaving open the possibility that Dunlap might still pay the ultimate price at a later date. To learn more about Dunlap’s case, read “Politics of Killing,” an in-depth look at Colorado’s death penalty and Chuck E. Cheese murders.)
The key for the incumbent from now through November is to maximize his statesmanlike actions and remarks while minimizing the waffling flubs and backtracking, which is no easy task for the goofy-on-purpose Hickenlooper, especially at those not-infrequent times he strays from his script or stump speech. After watching him preside over Denver and Colorado for the past decade-plus, Colorado’s electorate has grown familiar with Hick’s rumpled antics; this election will determine whether we’ve also grown weary of them.
Follow 5280 articles editor Luc Hatlestad on Twitter at @LucHatlestad.