The philosophical chasm between Gov. Jared Polis, who seeks reelection, and Heidi Ganahl, the Republican challenger, was in full view on Sunday night, as the two candidates clashed over crime, energy and taxation in an hour-long debate that could help form the electorate's vote in November.

Ganahl sought to put Polis on the defensive throughout the debate — a highly choreographed ritual in America's grand experiment in representative democracy — that occurred at a crucial moment of the election season, just before voters start getting their early ballots. 

Ganahl, a member of the University of Colorado Board of Regents, seeks to erase Polis and the Democrats’ numerical advantage – more than 110,000 Democrats over Republicans as of the last count – and secure the governorship, which Democrats won in 2018.   

Polis, on the other hand, hopes to persuade voters to return him to the state Capitol against the backdrop of an unpopular president, soaring inflation and general unease over the direction of the country as the global economy emerges out of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Despite the divide in their ideological moorings, the debate, their third, was punctuated by moments of levity and some agreement in key areas. Indeed, even as they offered dueling tactics, they shared a vision for a vibrant Colorado under the dome of cleaner skies, where the residents, free from crime, flourish.      

Ganahl came out swinging, while Polis offered a vigorous defense of his term, as hundreds listened to the candidates outlined their ideas. 

The debate in Colorado Springs was sponsored by the Denver Gazette, the Colorado Springs Gazette, Colorado Politics, KOAA News5 and the El Pomar Foundation's Forum for Civic Advancement.


Nowhere is the clash of ideologies more apparent than in the area of energy. 

For Polis, the transition from fossil-fired energy – his goal is 100% renewable energy by 2040 – is a moral imperative, an obligation that today’s generation owes to the next. The governor and his allies view the fight as existential: Colorado, America and the rest of the world must transition – and quickly – in order to save the planet. The transition, they argue, also offers Colorado the opportunity to "drive innovation and harness the consumer savings and economic benefits of leading the transition to a clean energy economy." 

"Colorado is vulnerable so long as it’s reliant on natural gas and coal," Polis said, noting that Coloradans have had to pay for the extraordinary fuel costs during a four-day winter freeze in 2021. 

Colorado’s energy regulators had approved Xcel Energy’s request to recover $500 million from the event – a decision that frustrated Polis.  

For Ganahl, the disagreement isn’t over the lofty goals of clean land, air, and water but over tactics and pace. The transition is occurring too fast, too soon, leaving behind Colorado’s most vulnerable residents, she argued. 

The transition, Ganahl has insisted, must be tempered by giving people and industries the chance to adopt. In particular, she has argued that the next government must encourage local oil and gas production – precisely because Colorado already figured to extract fuel from the land in a cleaner and more efficient way. 

On Sunday, Ganahl said the policies Polis embraced have made the state unaffordable, driving them away.  

"More and more people have been moving out (because) the state has become so unaffordable," he said.  


Ganahl pressed Polis on crime, lamenting that Colorado's crime rates are among the highest in the nation and blaming the policies the governor and Democrats championed in the last few years. 

She said Colorado is now the most "dangerous" state for kids to grow in, listing off Colorado's crime statistics. 

"That's a terrible record," she said.

That crime took center stage during the debate came as no surprise to anyone. Car theft in Denver is second highest in the nation, and three other Colorado cities rank in the Top 10, according to the Common Sense Institute, a free enterprise think tank. Indeed, car thefts are on track to exceed 48,000 this year, according to the group's 2022 Crime Study. Other crimes that continue to rise include arson, robbery and vandalism, says the study, which cites FBI statistics.  

Polis countered that crime rose everywhere – not just in Colorado and not just among states dominated by Democrats. 

He noted legislation approved this past session that made possession of fentanyl – at a certain amount – a felony, along with money he said his administration invested in public safety, including more funds for law enforcement.    

"Fentanyl has been and will be illegal as long as I’m governor," he said.   

Fees and taxes 

The candidates collided over how to approach taxes and fees.  

Ganahl, in particular, accused Polis of "lying" to Coloradans when he called a TABOR refund the "Colorado Cashback."  

Democrats approved legislation to give Coloradans their Taxpayer's Bill of Rights refund earlier than scheduled – $750 check for individuals and $1,500 for joint filers. Coloradans received their checks this summer, just as the campaign season ramped up, a point Ganahl honed in on, accusing Polis of using the money to court votes.    

Polis countered that he and his Democratic allies have moved quickly to ease the economic burden. 

"We were able to deliver on the largest property tax cut in the history of Colorado - $700 million," he said, listing other actions he said are meant to soften the economic blow from high inflation. 

This session, Democrats passed several bills offering Coloradans fiscal relief in the form of small cuts in costs, such as by lowering or stabilizing fees for vehicle registrationsgas taxesdrivers’ licensesbusiness filings and professional licenses. Larger savings are expected from a few other measures, such as House Bill 1304, which invests $178 million in building affordable housing; Senate Bill 238, which offers $700 million in property tax relief; and, House Bill 1359, which provides loans and credit for low-income families affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.


One of the biggest clashes of the night revolved around vaccination – interestingly, in the context of abortion.

The two candidates predictably hewed to their talking points, even as Ganahl pledged, if elected governor, to not sign any abortion-related bill that comes her way and to instead let voters decide changes to Colorado's abortion statutes.   

Ganahl, who opposes abortion except in cases of rape, incest and when the mother's life is endangered, has called the law signed by Polis "radical" and vowed to "rip it up" if elected governor, and, on Sunday, Polis pressed Ganahl what she meant by "rip it up."   

Ganahl then accused Polis of effectively allowing people — women in particular — to be fired for refusing to get vaccinated. Her point, she said, is that Polis should have stood up for women's ability to refuse a vaccination if he were truly for "women's choice."   

"I am opposed to and I have been to vaccine requirements," Polis answered.  

Ganahl replied, "Why have you not put your foot down?"  

Polis responded, "Have you been vaccinated?"  

Ganahl said yes - and the governor thanked her for "agreeing with me" on the importance of vaccination.  


In yet another another glimpse into how Ganahl and Polis differ, the governor argued that the price of houses is up because people want to live in Colorado and take advantage of everything it has to offer, including the infrastructure built by the policies he and his party adopted.  

Ganahl blamed the situation on inflation and policies Democrats have embraced.  


While the exchanges were, for the most part, pointed, the two candidates broadly agreed on several points, notably on the treatment of immigrants. 

Both Polis and Ganahl said they would compassionately deal with people who cross into the country illegally if they end up in Colorado. 

Some border states have sent immigrants to so-called sanctuary cities, straining the latter's social safety networks. 

"I will deal with care and compassion with they get there," Ganahl said.  

The problem, Ganahl said, is America's southern border is porous. That, she said, means drugs, notably fentanyl, get through, eventually ending up in Colorado, where they poison children.    

Polis, too, said he would welcome immigrants with care and compassion, noting that Colorado embraced thousands of Afghans who fled their country.  

"At the end of the Colorado is not a border state," Polis said, adding that the federal government must, indeed, step up in securing the southern border.

It's a theme that Ganahl would repeatedly come back to.  

"It is killing our children. You guys, we have to wake up," she said.