Oct 30, 2020 | NEWS | By Riley Prillwitz | Illustration by Daniel deKoning

On Oct. 13, just three weeks away from election day, the final Colorado Senate debate between Sen. Cory Gardner (R) and former Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) took place.

The debate covered a wide variety of topics, such as climate change, healthcare, and the SCOTUS hearing. Both candidates were civil but did not hesitate to place the other on the chopping block.

Moderators Kyle Clarke and Marshall Zelinger began the debate by questioning Gardner and Hickenlooper about the current pandemic situation in Colorado and what the candidates thought needed to happen in order to control the outbreak.

Gardner opened with a strong promotion of the scaled-back aid bill created by Senate Republicans to support Americans during the continuation of the pandemic. The GOP version of the bill was issued as a response to the scaled-back aid bill created by Senate Democrats, the majority of whom do not support the GOP version of the bill. The argument over virus aid has been covered by The New York Times.

Gardner went on to accuse Hickenlooper of denying his vote on the bill if he were in the Senate, stating, “We can’t afford to have someone who refuses to support the state of Colorado.”

Hickenlooper responded that the most important thing we can do is get aid out of Congress and told the moderators later, when asked directly, that he would try to pass a “lean” aid bill without “goodies for political allies” if he became Senator. Hickenlooper also remarked that there would be a lot of “exaggeration and distortion” from Gardner throughout the debate, continuing his rebuttal by positing Gardner’s prioritization of Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation over the passage of COVID-19 relief as hypocritical.

Moderators then brought up the racial disparities in Colorado healthcare, and how Medicare and the Affordable Care Act have almost doubled the number of minorities in the state who have health insurance. Gardner is looking to get rid of these health benefits and was asked how this could affect those citizens of Colorado.

Gardner made a blanket statement that “it’s not the Affordable Care Act or nothing.” Then he brought up how Hickenlooper’s plan to replace the AFA would be detrimental to the economy.

Hickenlooper called the accusation  misleading, saying he is simply looking to improve the AFA and make it even more affordable for families around the state. Hickenlooper also brought up how Gardner’s new bill will not cover those with pre-existing conditions, a point which Gardner denied.

Gun safety was another topic covered during the debate. Hickenlooper was asked how he would follow up on his promise of tighter gun control. The former Governor spoke proudly of Colorado’s status as the first state to implement universal background checks, how despite accusations of doubletalk he supports magazine limits and keeping guns “out of the hands of dangerous people,” and how Gardner, who receives monetary support from the National Rifle Association, is not in support of gun safety.

The Senator came back with a response of how he strongly supports the Second Amendment and does not want to limit citizens’ ability to “hunt with [their] sons.” He also accused Hickenlooper of being all talk and no action about gun control, which the former Governor denied, although the moderators also pressed Hickenlooper on the effectiveness of actions in his record.

The moderators also brought up the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. They asked Gardner why he supported a nomination before the upcoming presidential election, when in 2016, under President Barack Obama, he strongly opposed it. He responded by saying in 2016 he was following “protocols under then Vice President Joe Biden,” but now he was “following the Constitution.”

Hickenlooper was also hit with a circuit of yes or no questions about Democratic court packing to retaliate or reform  the nomination. Hickenlooper did not answer the questions directly and did not give a permanent answer about where he stands, acknowledging that although he does not currently support term limits, he may change his mind in the future.

The next section of the debate gave the candidates a chance to ask each other questions directly and respond to those questions.

One of the standout questions of the debate was from Gov. Hickenlooper, asking Sen. Gardner why he attended the packed Trump rally in Colorado Springs when he was informed days before about the gravity of the coronavirus pandemic. Gardner claimed that Trump did not inform the Senate how much he knew about the virus, and that he was unaware of how serious the pandemic would become.

Gardner confronted Hickenlooper about defunding the police on the basis of a connection between Hickenlooper and the Chinook Fund. Hickenlooper responded that he had not been involved with the Chinook Fund, an organization that supports grassroots movements, for about 30 years, making him unaware of their support for Recreate 68—the group that Gardner believes Hickenlooper would condemn if he didn’t support violence against police. Gardner also stated that the former Governor “belittled” a handful of acts that he stated would reform “mistakes” made by an “inherently good” country.

Climate change was another topic discussed during the debate. Gardner was addressed about his lack of action against climate change. He responded by promoting the Great American Outdoors Act and stating that Hickenlooper’s plans would destroy Colorado’s economy.

Hickenlooper responded by saying that the Green New Deal, which he supports, would create “six times more jobs” than Gardner’s plan, all while being much more active in terms of bettering the environment.

When asked about the upcoming presidential election, and whether Trump would ensure a peaceful transfer of power if Biden won, both candidates agreed that Trump must follow through with leaving the White House in order to uphold the democracy of the country.

In another “yes or no” section about state propositions, the candidates were asked about supporting Amendment B, which deals with property tax. For context, Amendment B would repeal the Gallagher Amendment: since 1982, Gallagher has fixed property tax revenue from residential and nonresidential sources at representing 45% and 55% of total property tax revenue, causing residential property tax rate to decrease as Colorado’s population grows. If passed, current property rates would be frozen, and local governments would likely have more resources to work with, though taxpayers would not reap the benefits of a deeper rate drop. Hickenlooper said yes, while Gardner said no. For Proposition 115, which would criminalize abortions performed after 22 weeks, Hickenlooper said no, yet Gardner said yes.

Gardner does not support the Colorado electoral college voting in accordance with the national popular vote (Proposition 113) while Hickenlooper does, and Gardner does not support paid family leave (Proposition 118) while Hickenlooper does.

Asked whether their opponent was “moral and ethical,” Hickenlooper said yes, and Gardner did not give a clear response. In terms of Trump’s morality and ethics, Hickenlooper said no, while Gardner responded in the positive, as long as he was “more specific in his communications to the American people.”

The closing statements were rather peaceful and indirect. Sen. Gardner spoke of standing for the American people and doing what was right for small rural towns like the one he grew up in. Hickenlooper hinted that there were a bunch of misleading statements and lies thrown around by his opponent but stayed calm and never directly blamed Gardner for said actions.

The end of the debate marked the last televised event where the candidates were able to share their thoughts to voters and convince Coloradans that they are the right person to represent their state in the Senate.

The full debate can be streamed here.

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