GOP governor contenders off to a bold start

Primary season is good sport for political nerds, with candidates of the same party vying to outdo one another as the most pure ideological water-carrier. There is certainly no small amount of theater involved in the exercise: Candidates position themselves along a spectrum so that primary voters can identify where their party is in a given election cycle.

It also makes for fun quotes revealing who holds fringe beliefs and who is more centrist in their values – or at least more restrained in their language.

With this framework firmly in place, the race for the 2014 Republican gubernatorial nomination is on, and the four contenders – Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler, former U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo, former state Sen. Mike Kopp and state Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray – are opening the events with some interesting statements about climate change. The quartet debated for the first time this week, and spent the requisite time united in denouncing Gov. John Hickenlooper’s tenure, wherein the candidates asserted that the governor has “failed” (Brophy), has “done to Colorado what Obama has done to the nation” (Tancredo), “takes cues from the East Coast” (Kopp) and “stands for decline” (Gessler).

Each of these is a predictable, albeit questionable, position for a political challenger to levy during primary season. But the four went to new heights in their discussion of what should be a nonpartisan issue. Climate change – and those who aim to either address it, explore its causes or defend its existence – received unanimous dismissal from our state’s would-be governors.

The debate, which was moderated by Aaron Harber and will air on his PBS show, was full of interesting revelations.

“I’ll tell you what, going after a problem like trying to mitigate CO2 can cost millions and millions of dollars, and even if you do have some success, it’s immediately eaten up by the likes of China. We’re killing people who are just trying to put food on their table. We shouldn’t be doing that,” Kopp said.

Kopp is unclear as to how “we” are killing people and why China’s failure to address its CO2 problems means the United States should not, but his is a bold statement nonetheless

Gessler was a bit more circumspect but shared Kopp’s sentiment.

“And I think the fact of the matter is, when we push out industry, when we hurt our economy, other countries pick up the slack and pollute more than we ever did. So I don’t think that the response we’ve seen from this government has been right once,” Gessler said.

This is artful dodging of responsibility for addressing a real issue.

Tancredo, for his part, waxed philosophical about the whole notion of climate change, man, wrapping it up with a classic fiscal conservative’s closer.

“Something is changing, yeah, it always is changing. That is the nature of our environment. Our, our, it is so, it’s such hubris, the idea that we as human beings actually control that process. Um, yes, there is climate change, there always has been, there always will be. And the idea of spending billions of dollars going after CO2, frankly, is silly,” Tancredo said.

And Brophy probably took the cake when he announced that not only is CO2 not bad, but he’d like to see more of it.

“No I don’t think it’s true nor a problem,” Brophy said when Harber asked whether the candidates believed climate change is true and if C02 levels are a problem. “You know, I run a carbon sequestration factory in eastern Colorado. Where we come from, we call that a corn farm. So I like CO2 in the air. My corn plants do a good job of putting it into the ground.”

Harber asked Brophy to clarify: “So you’re for more CO2, then?” Brophy obliged: “I am.”

These would be less alarming statements – and they are each and all, quite alarming – were they isolated gaffes. But the Colorado GOP gubernatorial field is standing on ground established long before this election cycle, and at higher levels. The examples are many, but one sums it up well: “Global-warming science is one contrived phony mess that is falling apart under its own weight,” said Texas governor and former GOP presidential contender Rick Perry, during his primary campaign.

These are significant claims that are insulting to the consensus of disciplined scientists who have studied climate patterns, as well as to voters’ intelligence. The conversation, at all levels and in all races, must address the issue’s complexity. In the Colorado GOP gubernatorial primary thus far, it does not even come close. At least there is a long campaign season ahead of us.

Megan Graham is a Herald editorial writer and policy analyst. Reach her at meg@durangoherald.com.

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