THE CANDIDATE FORUM CENTERED ON ISSUES PERTINENT TO THE BUSINESS COMMUNITY
DENVER—Oct. 12, Nearly 200 business leaders, community members and students gathered for the Denver Metro Chamber Leadership Foundation’s (Leadership Foundation) 2022 Candidate Forum at the University of Denver. The Forum featured candidates for Colorado’s Attorney General, U.S. Senate and Governor races, including Attorney General Phil Weiser and challenger John Kellner, Senator Michael Bennet and challenger Joe O’Dea, and Governor Jared Polis and challenger Heidi Ganahl. The candidates answered questions created by the Leadership Foundation and business community. Conversations were moderated by senior reporter at the Denver Business Journal, Ed Sealover.
Attendees first heard from candidates for the Colorado Attorney General race. Phil Weiser, a Democrat, spoke first. When asked about the most pressing issues for the business community in the coming years, Weiser stressed public safety and business rights and representation, saying “For every company in this room, you deserve the chance to explain what’s going on, you deserve for me to be transparent.”
A heavy focus was also the opioid crisis in Colorado. “I’ve been laser-focused on [the opioid] crisis,” Weiser said, referencing how he went to the legislature to get more funding for those dealing with addiction and recruitment and retention of law enforcement. “We’re going to see drug treatment for the first time in the San Luis Valley, in Southern Colorado, and other places,” Weiser stated.
When Weiser’s challenger, John Kellner, a Republican, addressed pressing business issues for the years ahead, his answers centered on similar topics. Kellner named the heavy crime wave as one of his reasons for running for Attorney General, saying that Colorado is at a 25 year high for crime and has the second highest rate of fentanyl deaths in the U.S. He also spoke of the financial toll this crime wave is costing Colorado, saying that some sources “put cost of crime at nearly $31 billion.”
When addressing the specific role of the Attorney General in fighting this crime wave, Kellner said he would advocate for tougher policies and work to “make possession of any amount of fentanyl a crime again.” He also stressed his ability to look at the whole state “holistically,” and to make sure companies are staying within the boundaries of the law regarding prescription drugs.
Following the Attorney General race were candidates for U.S. Senate. The first candidate to speak for this race was Joe O’Dea, a Republican. When asked on the most pressing business issues for Colorado, O’Dea said the biggest issue is, “government getting in our way. Not allowing us to grow our businesses.” O’Dea stressed that, if elected, he would “look at government regulation and ask, ‘how do we cut that back?’”
Continuing on the topic, O’Dea also stated that the United States has a “delusional” president, that leaders are refusing to accept the fact that we’re in a recession, and that frivolous spending needs to stop. He said that as Senator, he would be a representative in Washington D.C. ready to trim back the bureaucracies, “you’ve got to look at them and say, ‘what’s fiscally responsible?’”
Following O’Dea was Senator Michael Bennet, who had to provide a video interview due to President Biden’s visit to Leadville. The video was unedited and filmed in the exact same format as the forum. Bennet stated that he was most looking for Colorado to lead the energy transition over the next several years, given the abundance of fossil fuels and the state’s entrepreneurial spirit. “We have the opportunity to lead [the energy] transition,” said Bennet. “And this transition is going to take at least a quarter of a century.”
Another important topic for Bennet was bringing supply chains back to the U.S., stressing that the country has a chance to build a capitalist system and unleash American ingenuity to compete with China. Bennet referenced that 80% of American companies that have operations in China are thinking of bringing these operations back to the U.S., showing that the country has a chance to prove we can compete with “state-sponsored capitalism” in China.
The final conversation was held with candidates for the Governor’s office. Heidi Ganahl, a Republican, spoke first. Regarding business issues, Ganahl said that current business regulations are “suffocating small business owners with red tape and fees.” She stressed that Governor Polis has only grown the size of the government in his tenure, and that the taxes and fees faced by Colorado residents and businesses need to be reduced.
Ganahl also stated, “I hope that you’ll see through the media… and the fluffy ads dropping everywhere talking about how great things are in Colorado.” She stated that the crime wave, opioid addiction and inflation were having major impacts on the business community, and these are the issues she wishes to address, should she be elected.
Governor Jared Polis was the final speaker for the forum, and his approach painted Colorado in a brighter light, saying, “the truth is our economy is one of the strongest in the nation.” The conversation quickly turned to Polis’ track record with the EPA’s reclassification of the Northern Front Range and Metro Denver. When asked about this, he stated that he wanted to avoid the implementation of reformulated gasoline, and that his administration will do its best to save people money on gas.
He also addressed Ganahl’s mention of reducing and eventually cutting state income tax. “You have to do this in a way that adds up,” Polis stated, claiming that Ganahl’s plan would force the defunding of schools and law enforcement. “We want to do this in a way that’s revenue neutral.”
The program ended with Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce president and CEO, J. J. Ament, providing closing statements. He emphasized the importance of both sides of the political spectrum working together, stating, “no matter how you align politically or what you envision for the future of Colorado, I think we can agree that all of us are fighting for the continued growth and prosperity of our residents, businesses and state.”
The Leadership Foundation encourages everyone to vote in these elections that shape the future of Colorado and the business community. Every vote matters, and we have created a resource page that contains our 2022 ballot guide and links to voter information. Visit denverchamber.org/2022ballot for more information.