Politicians typically do not make news by shaking hands - after all, it's what politicians do.
But during a Sept. 30 gubernatorial debate, an unexpected and awkward handshake between Gov. John Hickenlooper and former Congressman Bob Beauprez forged a rare political agreement on civility.
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Politicians typically do not make news by shaking hands — after all, it's what politicians do.
Whether the handshake was done with fingers crossed behind the two candidates' backs remains to be seen.
In the middle of a Denver Post-sponsored debate in downtown Denver, the Democratic governor - who has been bombarded by attack ads, but who refuses to respond in kind - walked across the stage toward Beauprez, stuck out his hand and asked his rival to put an end to negative attacks.
"If the congressman wants to shake my hand and (we) both agree for our campaigns that we'll do positive ads, I'll shake his hand right here," Hickenlooper said.
Beauprez accepted the governor's handshake and said, "We will do positive ads," through audience applause.
Hickenlooper said that when politicians hurl negative ads, they are "depressing the product category of democracy." Though Hickenlooper's own campaign ads have been positive, outside groups have spent money on attacking Beauprez.
Beauprez and conservative groups have hit Hickenlooper hard through television ads and through the press on a number of issues throughout the campaign. Most of them came up during the hour-long debate, including the death penalty.
Beauprez has been critical of Hickenlooper for granting a temporary reprieve for death row inmate Nathan Dunlap, who killed four people at an Aurora Chuck E. Cheese's restaurant in 1993.
Hickenlooper acknowledged that his position on the death penalty has evolved. He told voters in 2010 that he supported capital punishment.
"But when you get into (it), at least for me, we all deal with our God in different ways," the governor said. "But I don't think government should be taking another person's life."
Hickenlooper's handling of Dunlap's fate has fed into Beauprez's larger narrative that the governor has not been an effective leader. That's also been true, Beauprez has said, of Hickenlooper's handling of issues surrounding hydraulic fracturing.
Beauprez attacked Hickenlooper for his creation of a fracking task force that is charged with finding legislative solutions to issues that include how much control local governments have over drilling that occurs in their areas.
Beauprez believes the oil and gas industry is already highly regulated and blasted the task force as an example of Hickenlooper "kicking the can down the road" on fracking issues.
"The constituency groups that obviously have his ear are what is keeping the conflict alive, not putting conflict to rest," Beauprez said.
Hickenlooper did not directly respond to Beauprez's attack, but has defended the diverse makeup of the task force and hopes that all sides can come together to find solutions through compromise.
Hickenlooper also defended his signing of gun control legislation from last year. The laws included the creation of universal background checks for all gun sales and transfers, and banned ammunition magazines that hold more than 15 rounds.
Beauprez said the laws unfairly burden law-abiding citizens. But the governor disagreed and cited statistics that indicate how increased background checks have prevented guns from getting into the hands of criminals.
"In the end, as difficult as it's been politically, I think it makes the state a safer place," Hickenlooper said.
The governor is hoping voters will recognize his work in helping to turn around a state economy that was hit hard during the recent recession. The economy has improved under Hickenlooper and unemployment has dropped sharply.
But Beauprez said communities outside the Denver area aren't feeling as good about the economy as the governor would like.
"On his watch, household income has decreased by over $4,000 in the last four years," Beauprez said.
Beauprez also contended that Colorado lags behind neighboring states in economic opportunity. Beauprez said the governor is holding back the economy's potential because he is "regulating us to death."
Hickenlooper pushed back against Beauprez's attack.
"In neighboring states, the average of states' unemployment drop has been 2.2 percent, our drop is 4 percent," he said. "This is ridiculous to say we're not succeeding compared to our neighboring states."
Whether it was gun control, the death penalty or renewable energy mandates in rural Colorado, Beauprez maintained his assault on Hickenlooper's leadership throughout the night.
"Those (positions) I think demonstrate an indecisiveness and maybe even worse, a little bit of a tin ear," Beauprez said.
But Hickenlooper took some shots of his own, when he was asked to describe his opponent's own leadership style.
"It seems to be speak first, make an attack, take a hard stand and worry about the details later," Hickenlooper said.
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