In the weeks between now and the primaries on June 26th, the Independent will be publishing one to two profiles each week of the gubernatorial candidates from both parties. With a total of 18 candidates running from both parties, it’s a tall order. But, stick with us, and we’ll “get ‘er done”, as they say.
If the name Walker Stapleton sounds familiar, there’s a good reason. Stapleton is in his second term as Colorado State Treasurer, a position he won by ousting Democrat incumbent Carey Kennedy. However, for many political junkies and Republican Party enthusiasts, Stapleton’s claim-to-fame is three fold: not only is he State Treasurer, his great-grandfather was Benjamin Stapleton for whom Stapleton Airport was named. (Yup, that Stapleton). And he’s also second cousin to George W. Bush. (Uh, yup. Those Bushes.)
In what might be just a glimpse of Stapleton’s political savvy, his kinship to the Bush family is something he neither touts nor denies. “I’m proud of my family’s record of service,” he said in a recent interview, “but Colorado voters are going to judge me on my own record. I’m not a Bush Republican. I’m a Walker Stapleton Republican.” He then went on to add, “I’m also a second cousin to [country musician] Chris Stapleton, but that doesn’t mean I sing like him.” (Okay. Make that four claims to fame.)
At 43 years old, married to wife, Jenna, and father to three young children, Stapleton’s biography reflects the pedigree of a family with two presidents in its family tree. The son of a former ambassador to Czechoslovakia who is also an ownership partner of the Texas Rangers baseball team, Stapleton earned his B.A. from Williams College, a Master’s from London School of Economics and an MBA from Harvard.
Stapleton’s professional history includes a variety of positions in investments, real estate and the startup tech world of California. From 1997 to 1999, he was an investment banker, followed by a position of Director of Business Development for media company Live365.com from 2001 to 2003. After moving to Colorado from Connecticut in 2003, he was Director of Real Estate Acquisitions for Lamar Companies, a real estate investment firm, from 2004 to 2005.
A desire to be in politics prompted him to make his first-ever bid for public office, and, in 2010, he won the race with 53% of the vote. He was re-elected in 2014. And now, with term limits forcing him to step down as Treasurer, he’s turned his sites to the governor’s office.
Stapleton’s political career has been, for the most part, free of incidents. He found himself in a difficult situation when, in 2015, he signed up to testify twice in support of a controversial plan to issue 12 billion dollars of pension bonds to bolster PERA only to adamantly deny in a radio interview that he supported the plan when it drew criticism from fellow conservatives. According to the Colorado Independent, he reportedly delayed announcing his candidacy in order to work closely with a PAC that is raising funds on his behalf, a move that, while technically legal, raised a few eyebrows and got the attention of the Democratic Party. And he was caught being less than truthful when he stated he “had won every straw poll in Colorado” while sitting on stage with two candidates who each had beaten him in one of those polls. Given the scandals that have plagued politicians, in general, these incidents aren’t even a blip on the radar of his supporters.
Stapleton is running as a strong conservative. His top issue is “total support” of the oil and gas industry with no mention of renewable energy, at this point. This pedal to the metal advocacy is evidenced by, among other things, a proposal that counties choosing to ban fracking should not receive severance tax revenue, which is collected on natural gas and fossil fuel extraction. In a recent speech, he reaffirmed this energy policy when he said, “We need a government that is supportive of energy projects like the Jordan Cove Pipeline.” The Jordan Cove Pipeline is a project proposed by a Canadian based company and involves a 234 mile 36” buried pipeline running through Oregon and transporting liquefied natural gas.
It comes as no surprise that Walker is strongly pro-business and states that he “would be a governor who would be an advocate for business and fewer regulations.” He also promotes random drug testing for Coloradoans on public assistance, stating, “If you are on the government dole, absolutely you should subscribe to random drug testing.”
Walker’s current plan to fix PERA, Colorado’s retirement system, includes raising the age of retirement and puts a halt on all cost of living raises to retirees until the plan is completely funded, which could take decades.
Walker takes a firm stand against illegal immigration, framing it as “encouragement to come here to those people who want to cause problems in our cities and violence and unrest.” He is especially focused on sanctuary cities and has expanded on his views in his stump speech. “[Illegal immigration] is wrong. And there is something a governor could and should do, and that is not to allow our two largest cities in Colorado to become sanctuary cities,” Stapleton said during a recent Republican breakfast in Denver. “And I believe it’s a governor’s responsibility to pursue every legal avenue possible to make sure that that is not the case.”
Walker campaigns on ending Colorado’s Obamacare exchange, a position shared by his Republican competitors. In 2016, he went so far as to appear on the steps of the state capitol at an event for “Americans for Prosperity”, an organization backed by the Koch Brothers. While there, Stapleton tore into the legislature for not considering fiscal policy on issues from funding infrastructure to paying for Medicaid expansion.
As far as attention paid to rural Colorado, Stapleton’s website states, “As governor, I will never forget about rural Colorado and the Western Slope whose priorities have been forgotten too often in the halls of the state capitol.” Yet, aside from an unspecific promotion of small businesses through less regulation and governmental fiscal responsibility, Stapleton’s platform is missing any qualitative mention of the challenges faced on the Eastern plains.
Stapleton’s campaign platform runs a close parallel to President Trump’s, a similarity Stapleton acknowledges. Despite several opportunities to disavow himself from the president, Stapleton has failed to do so, stating he voted for Jeb Bush in the primary but Donald Trump in the general election. A recent article in the Denver Post quotes him as saying, “It makes no sense to me why people are so intent on beating up the leader of our country.”
Such statements seem to have no impact on Stapleton’s family ties. Both Jeb and George W. Bush have hosted fundraisers for Stapleton in Texas, a natural setting for a candidate who aligns himself so closely with oil and gas interests.
Those efforts, events such as a recent dinner where the cost was $10,000 a plate plus donations from conservative donors with deep pockets--like Phillip Anschutz, Peter Coors, Joe Ellisare and others--are responsible for Walker’s campaign raising $785,000 in the first full quarter of his candidacy, an amount that breaks previous records. And there’s every likelihood that influx of funds will continue as Stapleton seems to be the candidate of choice for donors who supported Trump in 2016.
Stapleton’s campaign seems to be banking on two strengths: big money and experience in politics. As he describes it, “I am the only person in this race that has actually won a statewide race—not once but twice, and I’m two for two.”