Hickenlooper plays defense over ethics violations in U.S. Senate debate

In their second debate this week, John Hickenlooper and Andrew Romanoff further framed their battle as the old guard vs. the progressive.

Both are vying for the Democratic nomination and a chance to take on Republican Sen. Cory Gardner. As they debated remotely on a livestream hosted by CBS4, voters were receiving mail ballots for the approaching June 30 primary.

Hickenlooper, former Colorado governor and Denver mayor, quickly fell into a defensive position, dodging questions about a recent ruling that he violated state ethics laws on top of receiving a contempt citation from the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission.

The ethics complaints are an attempt to smear his reputation ahead of the election, Hickenlooper said, before saying that he doesn’t believe he is above the law.

Recognizing the very reason for the digital debate — the ongoing coronavirus pandemic — moderator Shaun Boyd asked the candidates how they would increase and pay for the testing and contact tracing which would allow most people to feel comfortable returning to work.

Both candidates said the government should pay for the efforts, with Romanoff, a former state House speaker, arguing for a state and federal partnership and then a transition toward Medicare for All.

“It’s pretty clear one lesson we can draw from this tragedy is that my health depends on your health, that we’re interconnected,” Romanoff said.

Hickenlooper laid much of the blame for the pandemic’s negative consequences at the feet of Gardner and President Donald Trump and inaction or dismissiveness toward the issue. He said he wants to shift toward a public insurance option.

Then the pair was asked about the possibility of a second surge of COVID-19 cases across the country. Cases of the virus are rising in some states. In Colorado nearly 29,000 people have contracted the virus and almost 1,600 have died.

Building out infrastructure to test and trace cases could help avoid another complete shutdown, Hickenlooper said.

“But it depends on having supply chains that deliver enough testing. It’s got to be fast, it’s got to be free to businesses and citizens alike, and we’ve got to make sure we’ve got the protective equipment,” he said.

Romanoff said he would combat outbreaks by tackling the climate crisis, blaming warmer climates for the spread of disease-carrying species.

The candidates were also asked about the economy. The Federal Reserve reported Wednesday that national unemployment could hit 9.3% by the end of the year.

The best way to cut the deficit is to get people back to work, Romanoff said, drawing a comparison to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, this time transitioning toward renewable energy.

“You saw there, an American president help lift the nation from a great depression and employ millions of people, building America again,” he said. “We can do that now.”

Hickenlooper suggested re-examining the tax breaks Trump offered to the country’s wealthiest people and largest corporations. He also suggested investing in renewable energy as a way of creating new jobs.

Both candidates cast themselves as the best fit to unseat Gardner. Hickenlooper drew on his experience as governor while Romanoff said he has spent more time debating the Republican senator when they both served in the Colorado House.

The debate also retread over recent and high-profile topics of racial and civil unrest, with Hickenlooper touting his successes as mayor and governor in building bridges and sparking change, though he admitted more could have been done during his time at the helm of Denver.

Romanoff reiterated that now is the time for substantial, systemic change like diverting cash away from law enforcement agencies and toward social services, particularly mental health care.

The pair settled into their now-familiar roles throughout the rest of the debate, with Hickenlooper offering his talents as someone who can fill divides and work within a fractured system, while Romanoff called for bold, structural changes throughout.

The candidates will meet again Tuesday in a debate sponsored by The Denver Post, Colorado Public Radio News, Denver7 and the University of Denver’s Center on American Politics. The Colorado Independent Ethics Commission will meet Friday to determine what steps to take next on Hickenlooper’s ethics violation and contempt citation.

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