The Democratic U.S. Senate primary is offering Colorado voters clear choices in terms of what policy direction they want to see in Washington.
Former Gov. John Hickenlooper is taking a more centrist approach and calling for an evolution when it comes to health care and the environment, while former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff wants to see urgent action and more progressive policies.
The differences between the two candidates reflect the broader split within the party at the national level, particularly when it comes to policies such as the Green New Deal. But this year, those topics are competing with pressing issues like the coronavirus in the wake of the pandemic and systemic racism, a conversation fueled by the death of George Floyd in the custody of Minneapolis police.
Here’s where the candidates differ on a handful of major issues ahead of the June 30 primary vote. The election is open to registered Democrats and unaffiliated voters. The winner will face Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner in November.
On health care …
Hickenlooper favors building on the success of the Affordable Care Act by creating a public option that he believes would lower health care costs and boost competition. “I have said for a long time that Obamacare is a great foundation to get to universal health care,” Hickenlooper said in a recent debate. “I believe we need to build upon what Barack Obama created, and Andrew wants to repeal it.”
He has not offered details about how to make it work, but as he notes, his plan would operate within the current system — a distinct difference from his rival.
Romanoff supports Medicare for All, a plan backed by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and others that would replace the current system with one that makes the federal government the single-payer of health insurance. Romanoff says this would include coverage for mental health and substance use treatment, prescription drugs, vision, dental, hearing, maternity and long-term care. It’s unclear how Romanoff supports paying for such a plan, but it could lead to a tax increase.
A major health care overhaul is needed, Romanoff says, because too many people are uninsured, under-insured or burdened by medical debt. “We need to break with a system that is bankrupting Americans,” he said at a recent debate.
On climate change …
The Green New Deal is a dividing line in the primary. Romanoff supports the plan to address climate change and economic inequality, calling it the heart of his campaign, but Hickenlooper finds it too ambitious for Congress and too difficult to implement.
Romanoff made climate change a major focus in his campaign and his first video painted a bleak portrait about the impacts of climate change. “In many communities, the threat is here, real and now,” he said in a recent debate.
When it comes to the climate, he supports a 100% renewable energy economy and a future of net-zero emissions, but on a slower timeline than Romanoff has proposed. And he’s trying to convince voters that he has “the same fierce urgency that Andrew has” even though he has supported oil and gas development in the past.
The two candidates differ on whether to ban fracking but both oppose the extraction of oil and gas on public lands. While Romanoff supports prohibiting new fossil fuel extraction on public lands and offshore, Hickenlooper supports the curbing of future leases. He believes that pre-existing leases shouldn’t be broken, but says there shouldn’t be additional leases created for the cause.
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On police accountablity …
With protests sweeping the nation, both candidates addressed police brutality against black Americans but split on the question of whether to reduce spending on policing.
In the debate on June 9, Hickenlooper said, “I don’t think we should defund the police, but I do believe we need to reform the police.” Hickenlooper supports requiring body cameras for all police officers, disciplining officers who use excessive force, increasing transparency in policing data and funding programs to heal the trauma of communities living in fear.
Romanoff responded, “Reform is not enough. We do need to shift resources and demilitarize the police.” He pledges to ban chokehold and strangleholds, revamp police use-of-force and response protocols, prevent the abuse of warrants, eliminate racial profiling, create a national database of police officer misconduct and demilitarize police operations, among other actions.
During a recent racial-justice forum, Hickenlooper was asked what Black Lives Matter means to him, to which he replied, “Black Lives Matter means that every life matters.”
Romanoff immediately responded, “When we say Black Lives Matter, it is not the same as saying, ‘white lives matter’ or ‘all lives matter.’ It is instead to recognize the racism that is baked into our nation from our founding documents.”
Hickenlooper received backlash and changed his tune. “So let me be very clear: Black Lives Matter,” Hickenlooper said in a statement. “It’s important that we say that because, for far too long, our criminal justice system hasn’t reflected that belief.”
On the electoral college …
While Romanoff believes in abolishing the Electoral College, Hickenlooper has reservations about the idea.
“There’s a lot to be said for it, but I’m not quite there yet to say I support it,” Hickenlooper told The Sun in 2019. “In the end, our Founding Fathers got things pretty right. It might be best to just stay right where we are.”
Romanoff believes the person who receives the most votes nationally should be president, which reflects the national popular vote method.
On other issues …
On a couple other issues, the candidates expressed similar splits in their approach.
Hickenlooper calls for major reforms to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, but Romanoff wants to outright abolish the agency, the candidates said at a June 10 debate.
Romanoff supports the legalization of marijuana at the federal level. But Hickenlooper doesn’t, saying individual states should decide. Instead, he favors decriminalizing marijuana and eliminating past convictions for marijuana-related crimes.
Staff writer John Frank contributed to this report.