Democratic candidates for governor rally early support in Summit stopover | SummitDaily.com

Democratic candidates for governor rally early support in Summit stopover

Depending on who you talk to, the state's next governor picnicked in Breckenridge Sunday afternoon — even if no one's exactly sure yet who that will be.

Four of the Democratic Party's expected frontrunners for Colorado's top job in the 2018 election gathered in town to take questions as a cohort for the very first time. The guests of honor included Denver businessman Noel Ginsburg, former state Sen. Mike Johnston, former State Treasurer Cary Kennedy and current U.S. Congressman Jared Polis who represents Colorado's 2nd District.

Each addressed enthusiastic members of the partisan faithful over hamburgers and lemonade, offering opinions on several of the mountain region and state's most pressing issues that could permit one of the attendees to succeed the term-limited Gov. John Hickenlooper. Among other topics, the hour-long discussion touched on the high costs of health care, decaying network of roads and bridges, and how to maintain Colorado values and leadership in the face of a federal executive branch already taking aim at the public education system, existing immigration policies and legalization of recreational marijuana.

"What you see right now is a moment where there are greater and deeper divisions in this country than we have seen in my adult life," said the 42-year-old Johnston, an Eagle County native. "It's going to require someone now who is willing and able to bridge those divides. It is going to take someone as governor who can not just pass policy, but can build community."

All four contenders have backgrounds safeguarding education — an area especially in need of attention given that Colorado presently sits on the bottom rung of many national rankings. Polis spent six years on the state's Board of Education before heading to Washington, D.C., in 2009, while Kennedy successfully campaigned to prop up a past amendment that prevented significant cuts to school district budgets.

"There's not a candidate up here who education is not their No. 1 priority, because we know that is the foundation of our state, our communities and our country," said Ginsburg, who helped found a nonprofit focused on raising the state's graduation rates. "It starts with us and our commitment to go out in our communities throughout the state and ask for the needed investment in public education. We can't allow kids to not have opportunities."

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Conversation jumped from how to deal with resolving some of the perceived challenges immediately after the next governor is sworn in, to long-range planning for the year 2050 when Colorado's population is expected to double to more than 10 million people. Getting a handle on the steep health insurance premiums that strain the state's Western Slope in particular was of prime concern from the crowd.

"I've been frankly frustrated by the current administration not being more proactive about solving it," Polis said of Hickenlooper's tenure in office. "They've been good about hearing and listening and having meetings, but we have to translate that into action. It's solvable, and the next governor can solve it. I'll solve it, I don't need any legislation to do it."

Absent from the Sunday meet-and-greet was Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne, who has still not formalized her bid for the promotion, but has filed all the necessary paperwork and had previously RSVP'd for the event. However, with party primaries not taking place until next June, there's still plenty of time for additional prospects to enter what is already a crowded field on both sides of the ticket.

For the meantime, detailed plans for cracking the code to meet both the housing and water needs of Colorado's swelling populace, upgrade statewide broadband connectivity and fund retrofits to Interstate 70 and other major transportation corridors will have to wait. Looking to find separation from the pack Sunday afternoon, the quartet instead mostly ended up singing the same tune of ways to confront the Taxpayer Bill of Right — the infamous TABOR — to allow for more reinvestment of those dollars into costly, multi-year projects.

"Nobody else in this race brings that kind of experience, and it's an important credential for the governor," Kennedy said of her record spearheading the state's finances. "We need the next governor to be thinking 50 years ahead and modernize the infrastructure in this state to accommodate that kind of growth in a way that keeps Colorado the place that we love. And so that we're not all sitting in traffic."