If you haven’t yet watched the first gubernatorial debate between Democrat Gov. Jared Polis and his Republican challenger, regent Heidi Ganahl, do yourself a favor and don’t bother.
I strongly believe in citizens participating in elections. That generally includes watching multiple debates to stay informed. But in this case, spare yourself. The hourlong “slugfest” between Polis and Ganahl offered little substance for voters, and ultimately did a disservice to our political process along the way.
There were many reasons the debate fell flat. Hours after the debacle wrapped up, multiple news outlets aptly described the candidate’s interactions with words such as, “spirited exchange,” “spar” and “came out swinging.”
Most also noted the appalling lack of policy discussion by either candidate in favor of ad nauseum attacks. It was a lot to take for only 60 minutes.
But perhaps the most striking reason for the debate’s failure was the repeated baseless claims and an overall lack of respect for the process that went largely unchecked by moderators — a mistake that in today’s politics should always be expected and accounted for.
For example, Ganahl baselessly claimed that Polis’ signing of a 2019 fentanyl bill regarding sentencing somehow killed a Coloradan without any context or explanation. This kind of claim should never fly unchallenged.
Throughout the debate, agitated comments were rampant and Ganahl was clearly the primary driver. But make no mistake, despite a relatively cool and calm demeanor at the start, Polis later took the bait and followed suit.
It’s not the first time the governor has displayed a temper under confrontation, and apparently after almost a half hour of growing annoyance with Ganahl’s lies and interruptions, Polis ultimately decided to join her in making a mockery of the evening.
By the end, both candidates repeatedly interrupted each other’s time and resorted to talking louder and faster as if increasing the volume or rate would supplant the carcass of meaning in their words. It was truly pathetic, and they both ended up looking bad.
This isn’t to say there weren’t some valid points. Going into the debate, Polis held a double-digit lead which he almost surely maintained. He reiterated some noteworthy achievements from the past few years, such as universal pre-K, and pointed out that Ganahl had selected an election-denier as her running mate. He’s expected to easily win the job.
For her part, Ganahl made a reasonable point that not everything is going great in the state, even as she falsely attributed global and national issues to a failure of Polis’ leadership.
Regardless, not one of the talking points from either candidates came as novelty, much less with any semblance of hope for a strongly better future.
Aside from blatant and repeated attacks, the hypocrisy exuding from both candidates was shocking.
Seemingly out of the blue, Polis defensively claimed he was proud to own an internal combustion engine over an electric car. This is a ridiculous statement for anyone in the year 2022, but it is especially ridiculous for a centimillionaire who claims to champion zero-emission vehicles.
Rest assured, this gaffe is likely to haunt Polis for years to come — good luck winning a presidential primary as a Democrat with that soundbite on repeat.
Then there was Ganahl, who couldn’t seem to help but make back-to-back contradictory claims. For example, she stated she’s proud of her track record as an elected regent of 6 years, and then directly after proclaimed herself a political outsider saying, “I’m not a politician.”
She also demonstrated the true MAGA spirit by wasting no time in throwing news organizations under the bus when she was confronted with the harsh reality of her positions, explicitly saying that you can’t believe everything you read.
In the end, most of the debate was effectively useless for voters, and generally a waste of our time. There was, however, one thing that stood out: Even if Polis wins over a far right-winger as he should, come November, it’s Coloradans who will still be getting the short end of the stick.
Trish Zornio is a scientist, lecturer and writer who has worked at some of the nation’s top universities and hospitals. She’s an avid rock climber and was a 2020 candidate for the U.S. Senate in Colorado.
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