Club 20, the venerable Western Slope coalition of government and business leaders, said Friday that Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne won’t be allowed to stand in for Democratic nominee Jared Polis in next month’s political debate in Grand Junction.
When Polis announced which debates he would accept last week, Club 20 didn’t make the cut. Instead, his campaign chose a debate led by the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, which has not yet been scheduled, as well as televised debates on the Front Range. The campaign said Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne, who lost to Polis in the primary, would serve as his surrogate at the Sept. 8 face-off with Republican nominee Walker Stapleton.
The Western Slope debate is a 30-year tradition, and Club 20 says it has never had a major party nominee decide to skip it, so the situation is unprecedented. Club 20 noted in its statement Friday that the organization learned of Polis’ snub through a press release, not through negotiations.
“We expect the next potential governor of Colorado to represent all of Colorado and campaign vigorously throughout the state to learn the issues impacting rural communities,” Club 20 board chairwoman Cindy Dozier said in a statement. “Congressman Polis’ decision not to honor the citizens of Western Colorado by participating in our debates is simply outrageous, and we continue to ask for his reconsideration.”
Polis’ campaign did not have an immediate comment on Club 20’s decision, but Stapleton’s did.
“It’s incredibly arrogant that Congressman Polis decided not to attend the Club 20 debate himself and assumed sending a surrogate would suffice,” said Stapleton spokesman Jerrod Dobkin. “Rural Colorado expects more than a stand-in governor. Walker looks forward to partaking in this important Colorado political tradition to discuss Western Slope issues.”
Polis has touted his visits to the Western Slope and the fact he opened his first field office in Grand Junction.
“There are lots of great invitations and events heading into the fall,” his spokeswoman, Mara Sheldon, said last week. “We just can’t make this one work.”
Club 20 Executive Director Christian Reece said the traditional debate, watched closely statewide, is an opportunity for Western Slope folks to see and hear the candidates in person.
“These debates are widely attended by more than 500 people with varying political perspectives and have been scheduled since April of 2017,” she said.
The agenda for the day still includes debates for major party candidates in eight Western Slope legislative races, two congressional contests, as well as candidates for attorney general. The debates don’t include statewide races for state treasurer or secretary of state.
The Club 20 Executive Committee met on the Polis matter Friday and released a joint statement: “Club 20 is unable to allow a surrogate to participate in our debates on September 8th. While we have the utmost respect for Lt. Governor Donna Lynne and greatly appreciate our close relationship with her and her office, we cannot allow candidates to send someone in their stead due to a scheduling conflict when our debates have been scheduled for more than a year in advance.”