Campus & Community / Magazine Feature

Gubernatorial candidates make their cases in campus political forum

John Hickelooper and Dan Maes

Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper and Republican nominee Dan Maes shake hands at a gubernatorial forum at DU on Sept. 14. Photo: Wayne Armstrong

John Hickenlooper and Dan Maes were quick to discuss the poor state of Colorado’s economy and high unemployment rates in a candidates’ forum at the University of Denver on Sept. 14. But the big question was just what they would do about the issues if elected governor.

“Every single part of the state is upside down,” said Hickenlooper, the Democratic nominee, during his hour-long session of questions from talk show host and moderator Aaron Harber. Maes waited offstage while Hickenlooper addressed his answers to a crowd of roughly 300 people. Maes followed the Denver mayor and was asked most of the same questions.

Hickenlooper’s ultimate solution toward economic recovery is being a proponent of business.

“We need to change our culture so we can be a magnet for small businesses,” he said. He added that it’s imperative to work with small business to uphold ethical and environmental standards.

Helping businesses grow, he said, means helping them to get started, hire people and grow more rapidly. “If we can do that, it allows us to focus on some of the real critical issues that need more attention, like education,” he said.

Maes agreed that small businesses were key to the success of the state, but expressed his desire for a hands-off approach by downsizing state government. Lowering taxes on small businesses would help them thrive and create more jobs. Eighty percent of the state’s business is small business, Maes said.

Sponsored by the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition and 36 other community advocacy organizations, the forum also emphasized concerns of people with disabilities.

Both candidates said they have personal ties with disability — Hickenlooper suffered from dyslexia growing up and Maes’ nephew died of complications from a disability. The candidates aren’t alone with their experiences — around 20 percent of Coloradans have some sort of disability, and less than half of those had jobs even when the economy was healthy.

Hickenlooper said he would take on the state’s disability problem as he did Denver’s homelessness problem when he took office in 2003.

Fighting for the homeless to get housing, medication, counseling and job training proved more effective than just treating their physical ailments at a hospital and then putting them back on the streets, he said. Hickenlooper said as mayor he raised money for homeless programs from local hotels and restaurants and then encouraged smaller businesses, such as cafes, to give jobs to homeless people.

“Sometimes [the business] needed to give them a second, or even third or fourth, chance, but ultimately many became model employees,” Hickenlooper said.

“These are the things we need to come together about and agree on shared values,” he said. He quoted Abraham Lincoln a number of times during the hour repeating that “with public sentiment, nothing can fail. Without it, nothing can succeed.”

Maes told the disabled people in the audience at DU’s Newman Center for the Performing Arts that “we need more of a dialogue than an answer.” He said there needs to be less of a tax burden for them and their care, but also encouraged them to step up.

Maes encouraged them to tell him — and other government officials — exactly what they need, and said he would work to champion those causes. He also expressed his intent to help fix the “disconnect” between educational and business communities and help all community members — disabled and otherwise — to find out what skill sets are in demand by employers and what kind of education will give them those skills.

While Hickenlooper referred to his experience as Denver mayor throughout the afternoon, Maes, a political unknown until his nomination in August, partly used the forum to explain his background and political ideals.

“The fact that I am standing before you today as the Republican nominee for governor states that the American dream is alive and well in the state of Colorado,” Maes said. “And government should not impede that dream. The government should get out of your way and provide you that dream. If I can do it, you can do it, too.”

He said his main focus was “just to get down to the business of solving problems in the state.” And the fact that he is new to the political arena means he doesn’t owe anyone favors, which would allow him to do what was right for the people of Colorado.

According to a recent poll, Hickenlooper has a 20-point lead on both Maes and Tom Tancredo, the American Constitution Party candidate. Tancredo was invited to today’s forum but was unable to participate due to a previous commitment.

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