After Donald Trump ascended to the presidency by flouting political norms, it's not surprising to see other politicians bucking tradition in this election cycle.
Usually they're Republicans trying to out-Trump each other. But Colorado has a Democrat running for governor who has made the unprecedented choice to decline Club 20's invitation to participate in its long-standing September debate, the only major debate that is held on the Western Slope for statewide races.
The Club 20 debate serves a symbolic purpose of giving rural western Colorado a seat at the table — where candidates offer positions on issues with special relevance to the Western Slope.
The Club 20 snub is sort of like a presidential candidate deciding to skip Iowa. The Club 20 debate is the unofficial start of the sprint to Election Day. In the 30 years Club 20 has hosted a debate, every gubernatorial candidate has shown up.
In fact, it's such a foregone conclusion that both candidates will agree to a debate that Club 20 doesn't have a contingency. They've never faced the decision to allow a surrogate to speak on a gubernatorial candidate's behalf. Jared Polis informed Club 20 he would send one when he declined their offer.
Polis is a five-time congressman representing Colorado's 2nd Congressional District. Boulder is his hometown, but part of his district is west of the Continental Divide.
The two candidates vying to replace him in the U.S. House have accepted invitations to the Club 20 debate — something Polis never did during his tenure in Congress. At least he's consistent.
Plus, Polis has accepted an invitation to a new debate in Grand Junction (date to be determined) sponsored by The Daily Sentinel, Colorado Mesa University and Rocky Mountain PBS. It's not like he's snubbing the Western Slope entirely, which would be an indefensible slight.
Still, Polis should know better. The whole point of Club 20 is to bridge the rural-urban divide in the state, said Club 20's executive director Christian Reece. Polis' snub does nothing to help that cause.
Polis' opponent, Walker Stapleton, Colorado's Republican state treasurer, must be beside himself with glee. Even if Polis can be persuaded to change his mind — something Club 20 is working on — his campaign has already taken a hit. Stapleton wasted little time painting Polis as a candidate who can't be bothered to put himself in touch with rural values.
That's unfortunate. When we spoke with Polis during our endorsement interviews before the primary, he touched on several ideas that should resonate with Western Slope voters, including ways to improve education and health care.
He can elect to share those points with a Western Slope audience at the Club 20 debate or leave voters with the impression that he can win an election without them and that Club 20's mission is a relic of the past.