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Politics and Government

Jared Polis vs. Walker Stapleton: Where Colorado’s governor candidates stand on the issues

The two candidates are presenting different visions and staking out contrasting positions on the major issues.

Democrat Jared Polis, left, and Republican Walker Stapleton, right, are among the top 10 individual spenders in the 2018 Colorado elections. (The Colorado Sun)
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The Colorado governor’s race is often cast as a competition of opposites, and it’s most evident when you break it down by the issues.

Democrat Jared Polis and Republican Walker Stapleton are offering different visions for the state’s future, in particular on issues related to the environment, energy, health care and marijuana.

VOTER GUIDE 2018: Resources, explainers, latest news and more

Polis, a five-term Boulder congressman, is embracing liberal policies that his predecessors did not, such as single-payer health care and much larger setbacks for oil and gas development.

Stapleton, the two-term state treasurer, wants to dial back the Democratic policies enacted in recent years and revamp how the state spends money.

Here’s a look at where Polis and Stapleton stand on some of the pressing national and Colorado issues in the 2018 election:

On President Donald Trump


Polis is a vocal critic of the president. He supported Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016 and now  touts the endorsement of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders. Polis sponsored a bill to repeal President Donald Trump’s tax bill, calling it a “special interest tax giveaway.” But he now says he will work with the president when appropriate and challenge him when necessary.


Donald Trump endorsed Walker Stapleton in October and it came after the Republican candidate in Colorado aligned himself with the president on a number of issues. Stapleton is a prominent supporter of Trump’s tax bill. But in other places he differs from the president, such as worker immigration visas and trade tariffs.

From left: Walker Stapleton, Cinnamon Watson, Craigh Hughes and Jared Polis at the Pro15 candidate debates in Weld County on Friday, Oct. 19, 2018. (Jacob Paul, Special to The Colorado Sun)

On Proposition 112 to expand oil and gas setbacks


He opposes the measures to increase setbacks to 2,500 feet from buildings, schools and “vulnerable areas,” such as parks and waterways. But he still supports setbacks of 2,000 feet — well above the current requirement of 500 feet from homes. The oil and gas industry argues a 2,000-foot mark would still be devastating to the industry.


He opposes the proposition, calling it a “job-killing measure.” Even if the public passes the measure, Stapleton has said he would “pursue every redress possible” to prevent it from becoming law. The oil and gas industry is a major supporter of his campaign.

MORE: A breakdown of every statewide ballot issue in simple, nonpartisan language

On sanctuary cities and immigration


Polis said he does not want to make Colorado a so-called “sanctuary state” for immigrants who are in the country illegally, but he opposes a tough crackdown on immigrants put forward by the Trump administration.


In the Republican primary, Stapleton campaigned on a pledge to end sanctuary cities, criticizing local governments for not cooperating with federal immigration authorities. Stapleton is narrowing his focus to suggest the immigrants that should be deported are those with felony criminal records. He also did not call for repeal of the Trump administration’s family separation at the border, but now makes clear that he is against it.

Jared Polis, the Democrat running for Colorado governor, speaks at the Pro15 candidate debates in Weld County on Friday, Oct. 19, 2018. (Jacob Paul, Special to The Colorado Sun)

On taxes


Polis supports increasing taxes to raise new money for roads and education but he has not offered details on how he would do it, suggesting he would seek a compromise with stakeholders. He also supports a carbon tax on polluters and repealing existing tax breaks for corporations and special interests — the revenue from which Polis would put toward lowering personal income taxes. On the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, Polis supports removing the revenue caps that limit spending, but he wants to keep voter approval of taxes


Stapleton does not support increasing taxes and does not support changes to TABOR.

On marijuana


Polis is a prominent backer of the state’s marijuana industry. He said he would sign two marijuana-related bills that Hickenlooper vetoed earlier this year, including one to allow for pot “tasting rooms” and another to loosen the rules on who can invest in cannabis companies.


The Republican wants to strengthen medical marijuana regulations and raise the age for legal use of medical pot to 21 from 18. He also supported the move to remove the criminal classification of CDB, the non-psychoactive compound in marijuana. But he opposes the vetoed public consumption bill.

Democratic candidate Jared Polis, left, participates in a debate with Republican candidate Walker Stapleton, right, on Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018, at the Lory Students Center on Colorado State University’s campus in Fort Collins, Colo. (Photo provided by Timothy Hurst/The Coloradoan)

On the death penalty


Polis opposes the death penalty and pledged to sign legislation to abolish it. This suggests that Polis will not sign a death warrant for current inmates on death row in Colorado.


Stapleton supports the death penalty. Responding to a question about Nathan Dunlap, a death-row inmate who received reprieve from Gov. John Hickenlooper, Stapleton said: “I don’t think it’s the job of the governor to adjudicate a decision that’s already gone through the legal process.” He said he would find an effective way to carry out the death penalty in Colorado.

On guns


He supports a so-called “red flag” bill that would have given judges the ability to seize firearms from people they found to be a threat to themselves or others. He also supports reinstating gun rights for people convicted of low-level felony offenses. He now supports an assault weapons ban, but in the past expressed concern about such a regulation.


Stapleton opposed the bipartisan red flag bill introduced in the 2018 legislative session because it did not include strong enough due process protections. He also opposed the 2013 legislation to ban high-capacity ammunition magazines and create universal background checks for firearm purchases.

On transportation spending


Polis won’t say whether he supports Proposition 110, a sales tax hike on the ballot to generate money for roads. But he supports finding “new sources of revenue” to generate money for roads through a tax hike. He also he wants to makes sure transportation dollars are spent on mass transit, not just road construction.


Despite being reluctant at first, Stapleton now supports Proposition 109, a ballot measure to generate $3.5 billion in road construction money through bonds. It would cost the state $260 million a year — money that would come from existing revenue, potentially leading to cuts in other budget areas.

MORE: What’s the difference between Propositions 109 and 110? What projects will they fund? How do they work? 

On health care


Polis supports single-payer, government-run health care at the national level, otherwise known as Medicare for all, and universal coverage in Colorado. He has proposed a single-payer system for Colorado in collaboration with other Western states, but opposition outside the state makes his plan unlikely. He also would consider offering Medicaid or the state-employee health plan as options on the state’s insurance exchange. He has not identified how he would pay for his plans.


Stapleton is proposing allow the sale of lower cost health insurance that amounts to what’s known as catastrophic coverage. He opposed the expansion of the state’s Medicaid coverage under the federal health care law and he wants to find ways to cut the cost of the current program.

U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, left, speaks with CBS4’s Shaun Boyd, center, and Walker Stapleton before the television news station’s debate, in partnership with The Colorado Sun, on Friday, Oct. 5, 2018. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

On education spending


Polis is not supporting Amendment 73, remaining neutral on the issue, but he does support seeking a tax hike to boost education spending. His platform includes pay hikes for teachers and establishing full-day preschool and kindergarten statewide, but does not include a mechanism to pay for all of these priorities.


Stapleton argues that school districts are spending too much on administrative costs and instead need to use that money to boost teacher pay. He does not support Amendment 73, or other potential tax hikes to get new money for schools.

MORE: Colorado’s school finance system is broken. Is Amendment 73 the answer? 

On abortion


Polis does not support any restrictions on abortion. And he supports state legislation to  protect a woman’s access to an abortion if Roe v. Wade is overturned at the state level. He has declined to directly say whether he supports repealing a Colorado constitutional provision that bans spending tax dollars on abortion services.


Stapleton vowed to be a “pro-life governor.” He is open to legislation allowing murder charges for the death of an unborn child, or what is known as a “fetal homicide” law, when the mother is killed. He declined to answer questions about whether he would sign legislation restricting abortion.

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