DENVER -- The politicos in the room Thursday night in Pueblo for the third debate between Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and GOP challenger Bob Beauprez haven't stopped buzzing about the moment when the Republican drew the governor's ire for alluding to the case of slain former Dept. of Corrections chief Tom Clements with a broad critique of his administration's prison and sentencing reforms.
Colorado Democrats have now posted video of the exchange, in which Hickenlooper slams Beauprez for alluding to the Clements murder as "reprehensible", on YouTube.
Beauprez did not specifically refer to the Clements murder and his campaign believes that Hickenlooper, who did invoke Clements, is attempting to use the high-profile and highly personal case as a political shield.
The tense exchange took place after Hickenlooper answered a question about women's reproductive health by touting his administration's program to ensure that low-income women have access to contraception, which he credits with dramatically lowering Colorado's unintended pregnancy and abortion rates.
Beauprez, without addressing women's health issues, sought to pivot to the issue of women's safety.
"John, what do you have to say to women who are widows, who have orphans because of parolees you've let out of prison direct from solitary confinement?" Beauprez asked, as some boos began to rise from the audience.
"If a governor has an obligation, that obligation is to protect public safety. As the Denver Post reported, in one year alone, 110 parolees were let directly out of solitary confinement into our neighborhoods.
"If women have an issue of trust, it's trusting in a government that somehow won't protect their public safety, and their family's safety and their personal safety," said Beauprez, who tripped up on the subject of women's health in Tuesday night's debate when he stated that he considers IUDs "an abortifacient."
Hickenlooper's ire rose throughout his response as he came around to the implied subtext of Beauprez's comments -- the murder last March of Clements, who'd been working to reform the department by limiting the use of solitary confinement, by a paroled inmate, Evan Ebel, who was released just days earlier from solitary confinement.
"We talk a lot about who represents the Washington way and who represents the Colorado way, but to take a question like what we're discussing, a serious issue about women's rights to make their own health care decisions and turn that into a discussion about prison reform, which I'm happy to talk about -- let's have that discussion, I'm eager to do that...
"Congressman Beauprez, if you want to talk to me about widows, talk to me -- my mother was a widow twice," Hickenlooper continued. "I know what it's like to be in a family that's gone through that.
"I have spent a lot of time with Lisa Clements and her children; they got married in the governor's mansion. They understand what they were doing. Tom Clements was part of that reform and for you to make his murder part of a political...gambit...I think is reprehensible."
Beauprez pressed on, referencing other cases of victims murdered by parolees.
Hickenlooper responded by acknowledging the past trend of paroling inmates directly from solitary confinement and noting that Clements was working on reforming that policy at the time he was murdered.
In the past six months, no Colorado inmates have been paroled directly from solitary confinement to the streets, Hickenlooper said.
On Friday, Beauprez's campaign redirected the blame toward Hickenlooper for refering to Clements by name.
"Instead of answering a straightforward question about parole reform, John Hickenlooper -- without prompting -- politicized the tragic murder of Tom Clements," said Dustin Olson, Beauprez's campaign manager.
"Bob simply brought up Hickenlooper's dangerous failures when it comes to violent criminals being released into society and committing more crime. Hickenlooper then decided to inject those specific tragic murders into the discussion."
"I find it reprehensible that the governor would use Clements' murder as a political shield in order to avoid talking about his failures on public safety."
Beauprez might have tempered Hickenlooper's ire had he been less confrontational in tone and stated explicitly that he recognizes the sensitivity around sentencing reform issues because of the Clements murder and wasn't trying to politicize that case before offering a broader critique of the administration's efforts in the area.
The exchange took place on what would have been Clements' 60th birthday.