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Vail Daily column: Rivals for governor take ring

Don Rogers
My View
Don Rogers
Laura Mahaffy/lmahaffy@theunion.com | The Union

Bob Beauprez won the show handily. No debate there.

Quip. Meat of the question. Quip. Delivered with the punch of complete certainty, in short sentences. Blue suit, red tie. No wasted movement.

The governor, fumbling as he thought aloud and checked notes, mistook a debate for a conversation witnessed by about 1,000 people in Grand Junction’s Two Rivers Conference Center last Saturday.

Off the cuff in brown sport coat and no tie, John Hickenlooper laced his responses liberally with the wonk’s favorite word at the end of long sentences while making points — “right?”

I’m not normally observant of how someone is dressed. But even a dolt such as I who sometimes misses his own wife’s latest hairstyle picked up on the symbolism. There’s the genial, thoughtful, collaborative governor. Here’s the resolute challenger who means business.

A privilege of my role as one of four panelists asking the gubernatorial candidates questions was having that ringside seat to their Club 20 debate. My own interest was less in their positions (already known, right?) but their bearing in this ritualized affair, the first of the campaign season. And, really, the whole spectacle that I find at its core pretty silly.

I utterly lack the partisan bone and am always humored when the — how shall we say this? — more fanatical followers get proud and loud at these things.

Each candidate’s little cheering section did their best to fill a large room of quiet spectators with their roars whenever they thought their guy had scored a point.

Operatives emailed, tweeted and I’m sure Facebooked how their guy was kicking the other’s butt. Spin, we call it. I wonder who reads or watches this stuff besides the true believers.

While we’re somewhat on the subject, this time of year I’m particularly grateful for my failings to watch television or listen to commercial radio. Somehow I survive missing all those awful campaign commercials that friends and emailers seeking my donation complain bitterly about.

Objectively, going negative and muddy still works, though. And so we voters encourage more of the very thing we say we detest. Go figure.

I read out better questions for the setting than the ones I had prepared.

For the governor, I would have asked this if left to my own devices: You opposed measures that decriminalized state laws regarding marijuana but declared that you felt obligated to follow the law and the people’s will. Doesn’t that same obligation also apply to the death penalty?

For the former congressman: What is your position on taxation generally, and in particular what are your views about that 47 percent who don’t pay federal income tax? Are they really freeloaders or pawns of a Democratic Party hell bent on subjugating half of America?

The context is Beauprez’s Mitt Romney moment in a 2010 talk to the Denver Rotary Club. His attitude was clear, although the spin on what the operatives insisted he meant is pretty funny, actually. I mean, I don’t much like freeloaders, either, including the corporate dodgers. Why not just own your unvarnished opinion?

Club 20 quite rightly left any fireworks to the candidates. The questions we used were on point without keen edges while giving Hickenlooper and Beauprez ample room to display their differences, the hallmark of a good candidate debate.

I thought it was great. Each had their zingers and gaffes. Each worked to get themes across. The governor played on his inexperience as a politician who is far more interested in solving problems than winning fights. The former congressman portrayed himself as decision-maker with a backbone, unlike his equivocal opponent.

In the cool light of print, the centrist incumbent governor had better logic and I’d say more reliable statistics on his side, at least from my perspective. The challenger has to challenge, and in terms of economic recovery outside of the Grand Junction area, that’s an uphill challenge for the strongly conservative Beauprez when Colorado is among the brighter lights right now.

I really didn’t care that much about the jabs and counter jabs other than the humor in the moment they delivered. The ability to spar is only remotely connected to the skills and talents most suited to serving the state as governor.

But I was impressed by that other veneer, stagecraft. I noticed when Beauprez turned to the questioner on the panel a few feet away and addressed him or her by name while responding. I’m not sure Hickenlooper so much as looked our way.

Beauprez obviously took the debate very seriously, down to the details of presentation. I’m reminded that Hickenlooper hasn’t faced real competition in a very long time, if ever. If I were one of his handlers, I’d concern myself a little less with spin and maybe a bit more with preparation.

He doesn’t have to be the better actor, just maybe a little more disciplined. And focused.

Editor and Publisher Don Rogers can be reached at drogers@vaildaily.com and 970-748-2920.

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