BOULDER, Colo. (AP) — Seeking a second term as Colorado’s governor, Democrat Jared Polis refers to himself with a simple phrase as he tries to fend off a barrage of attacks from a challenger trying to become the state’s first Republican governor since 2007: “Happy dad.”
The father of two’s optimism is a rebuttal to Republican Heidi Ganahl, who is trying to channel the angst of parents worried about underperforming schools, drugs and post-pandemic crime this mid-term election by using the campaign slogan “#MadMom” and painting a darker portrait of the state.
“We have skyrocketing crime, out of control inflation, a huge fentanyl problem that’s killing our kids, and our kids can’t read, write or do math at grade level,” Ganahl said in a recent debate. All are nationwide issues.
Polis, a wealthy tech entrepreneur and former U.S. representative, counters with a rosy picture of the state under his watch and insists Colorado’s best days are ahead as it emerges from the pandemic with a strong economy and healthy state revenues bolstered by federal relief spending.
“My opponent identified herself as a mad mom. I identify myself as a happy dad, of two great kids, 11 and 8, raising my kids in the best state of all the states,” Polis responded at the debate.
Ganahl, a University of Colorado regent, mother of four and successful entrepreneur, faces stiff odds but is undaunted in a state that has become increasingly Democrat-controlled in the last decade, said Dick Wadhams, a former state Republican Party chair.
“Heidi is very competitive, but it’s a high bar,” Wadhams said. “She clearly has shifted her message and she’s doubled down on social issues. There is a lot of angst among families about the damage done during the lockdown.”
“But when you have an incumbent governor with unlimited money, that’s a hard thing to overcome,” Wadhams added.
Polis has spent more than $12 million on the campaign, most of it his own money. Ganahl’s spending is just over $3 million.
Once a swing state, Colorado has shifted to blue over the past decade. Former President Donald Trump lost by 13 percentage points in 2020, and Republicans have not won a top-tier race in the state since 2014.
An opponent of late-term abortion, Ganahl would like to rescind a new law signed by Polis enshrining abortion rights in a state that’s repeatedly voted to keep them — and put the issue to voters again. She wants to eliminate the state income tax and cut its gas tax while trimming the state bureaucracy by 40% over a first term and gutting waste and fraud.
Ganahl also selected Navy veteran Danny Moore, an election denier, as her running mate, though both she and Moore insist they recognize Joe Biden as president.
“I think people are beginning to appreciate the extreme radical nature of her rhetoric,” Polis said recently. “Her scheme to cut the income and gas tax would cut funding for the state patrol by 50%, hurt schools, increase property taxes.”
The daughter of a police officer, Ganahl insists she’d never cut, but rather boost, law enforcement funding.
Ganahl has hammered Polis for issuing dozens of executive orders on mask wearing and indoor gatherings that hurt business and schools in the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic. Polis, who lifted orders earlier than most U.S. governors and often clashed with the federal government over delays in vaccine authorizations and availability, insisted throughout the crisis his goals were to avoid deaths and overwhelmed hospitals.
Ganahl also has blamed Polis and Democrats who control the Legislature for easing criminal penalties before and after protests against George Floyd’s killing and racial injustice rocked Denver and other cities. Polis signed a 2019 law that made possession of 4 grams or less of the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl a misdemeanor. Another law this year lowered the felony threshold to 1 gram. Polis insists tougher penalties and expanded addiction treatment options are a better approach to the crisis.
Polis made health care access a top first-term priority. Under a new state exchange, health insurance premiums initially stabilized for individuals and small firms buying insurance coverage. A state-supervised health insurance plan with annual premium reductions comes online next year. Caps on insulin co-pays and other prescription drug prices complemented the ambitious effort, though some insurers are leaving the state market.
He’s rankled the fossil fuels industry in this oil- and natural gas-producing state with a relentless pursuit of a state power grid fueled by renewables by 2040. Ganahl favors an all-of-the-above approach to energy.
Water — and its increasing scarcity throughout the West due to drought and climate change —- is a key issue in this headwaters state.
Ganahl says she’ll boost long-planned water storage projects and fight the federal government to protect Colorado’s water rights, secured by decades-old interstate compacts approved by Congress. Polis says a major second-term priority will be to tie urban planning to water availability.
“You can’t advocate disregarding treaties and compacts we honor as a state,” Polis said. “And you can’t store your way out of the drought.”