DENVER (KDVR) — The first gubernatorial race of this election season went down Wednesday night in Pueblo. Gov. Jared Polis squared off against Republican candidate Heidi Ganahl.

Both sides took shots at the other over issues Coloradans care about most. Public safety, drugs and the cost of living were all front and center on the debate stage.

“I want to talk about your record tonight. You’ll likely discredit, deny and reflect from the fact that under your leadership, the people of Colorado face horrible problems with crime, inflation and drugs,” Ganahl told Polis at the beginning of the debate.

“We have a track record of getting things done. I will come before you four years from now and we’ll talk about how we moved Colorado from 21st for violent crime to one of the 10 lowest states from violent crime,” Polis said in response to Ganahl’s claims about his record as governor.

Candidates debate economy, drug enforcement

Ganahl told Polis she went to Pueblo to take him to task over issues in the state. While she seemed to have the crowd on her side at times, the FOX31/Channel 2/Emerson College/The Hill poll showed Ganahl 17 points behind the incumbent at the time of its release.

Polis said that is because of his record with the state’s economy.

“When my opponent talks about my record, I’m happy to talk about a record number of jobs here in Colorado,” Polis said to applause in the crowd. “There are more jobs today than there were before the pandemic. A record budget surplus, record reserves higher than ever before.”

Ganahl said the prospering economy came at the cost of making life more expensive for Coloradans.

“He’s grown the size of government, he’s added taxes, fees, new social programs. Small business owners can’t keep up with all the programs. There are new programs they are supposed to implement and pay for. There is only so much money in the bucket. They can’t afford to give people raises or hire more people because of all the dang taxes, programs and fees that are suffocating them,” Ganahl said.

A combination photo showing Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) and the Republican candidate for governor in the 2022 election, Heidi Ganahl.
A combination photo showing Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) and the Republican candidate for governor in the 2022 election, Heidi Ganahl. (Photos: (l)AP Photo/David Zalubowski; (r)Marc Piscotty/Getty Images)

Ganahl made drugs another focal point, detailing the story of a family she said she met on the campaign trail that lost a child from Xanax laced with fentanyl. Polis told her he has made efforts to prevent more stories like that from happening.

“Mr. Polis, families like Micki’s are waiting to hear why you signed that fentanyl law in 2019 when you were warned that it would be devastating. I hope you will give them an answer,” Ganahl said.

“Fentanyl has been, is and will be illegal in the state of Colorado as long as I am your governor,” Polis said.

“What?!” Ganahl asked in reaction.

“Not only that, but we signed additional criminal charges working with Democrats and Republicans in the legislature with support of law enforcement — new charges that never existed before for pill presses, new criminal charges to go after people so we can go up the supply chain,” Polis said.

Polis, Ganahl on Colorado’s cost of living

Both sides also weighed in on Colorado’s cost of living.

Polis highlighted some bills he signed this year that he dubbed the “100 Ways to Save,” but Ganahl hit back, saying some of those ways were not Polis’ doing.

“Reducing the costs on an annual state park pass to go out to Lake Pueblo from $84 to $29 for a family starting next year. That’s a night out on the town, that’s money that can go to groceries. We permanently removed the sales tax from diapers across the state of Colorado starting in January. I think you probably all got back $750 or $1,500 dollars,” Polis said.

“And TABOR, oh my goodness, what a boondoggle that was,” Ganahl said. “Giving people back their TABOR refund and calling it the ‘Colorado Cashback.’ I was the one who opposed you on Prop CC. I chaired that committee to protect TABOR, and he is taking credit for the TABOR refunds. Wow,” Ganahl said.

With less than two months left to make an impression, Ganahl said she’s focused on making things safer for the next generation. Polis said he’s focused on building on solutions that are working already in the state.