Stapleton taps lawmaker as running mate, seeks middle ground
DENVER (AP) — In a bid to carve out middle ground in a polarized political environment, Colorado Republican gubernatorial candidate Walker Stapleton on Wednesday tapped Lang Sias, a pragmatic state lawmaker and former U.S. Navy pilot, to be his running mate.
Sias, a GOP state representative from the Denver suburb of Arvada, has flashed an independent streak, swapping his party registration from unaffiliated to Democratic and back again before joining the Republican Party in 2007.
He’s only run for office as a Republican, losing a bid for Congress and two state Senate elections before he was appointed to fill a state House vacancy in 2015.
Stapleton said he chose Sias in part because of his “reputation as a bipartisan legislator, one who reaches across the aisle to get things done.”
Stapleton, the current state treasurer, introduced Sias at the Wings Over the Rockies Air and Space Museum, against the backdrop of a Navy fighter jet.
Sias, 59, served in the military for nearly three decades, including a stint as an instructor in the storied Topgun program. He also worked as an attorney for a technology law firm and is now a pilot for FedEx.
The selection suggests the Republican ticket will aim to win over political centrists in a state that’s been trending blue but where a plurality of voters doesn’t identify with either party.
The pick appears designed to push back against frequent Democratic attacks tying Stapleton to President Donald Trump, who remains popular among Colorado Republicans but draws dismal approval ratings among the rest of the electorate.
Democrats, meanwhile, have taken the opposite approach, nominating U.S. Rep. Jared Polis who is well to the left of current Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, a political moderate.
Polis has endorsed a ban on assault weapons, a universal health care program similar to Medicare, and converting the state to 100 percent clean energy by 2040.
Polis announced earlier this month that Dianne Primavera, CEO of Susan G. Komen Colorado, would be his running mate for lieutenant governor.
Primavera, 68, is a cancer survivor who served eight years in the state House, representing a suburban Denver district.
Sias wasted no time in casting the Democratic ticket as too extreme for Colorado, saying Polis’ policies would drive up taxes along with health care and energy costs.
“Jared Polis wants to turn your health care over to the government in a single-payer system,” Sias said. “You’ll be the payer through higher taxes and the quality of your care will decline.”
Sias has had a complicated relationship with his party’s base, which repeatedly attacked him in primary elections for not being conservative enough.
“I think Lang Sias is a party-switching, carpet-bagging opportunist,” Bob Martinez, a former chairman of the Colorado Republican Party, told the Denver Post in 2010.
However, the selection of Sias to run with Stapleton was cheered by many prominent conservatives. In a Twitter post, Jon Caldara, president of the Independence Institute, credited Sias with voting against attempts to relax rules on public spending found in the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, a conservative touchstone in Colorado.
Colorado Democrats greeted his selection with antipathy, citing his opposition to abortion rights and the Affordable Care Act.
Morgan Carroll, Colorado Democratic Party chair, said Stapleton followed Trump’s playbook and nominated a “lieutenant governor candidate committed to taking away Coloradans’ health care and eliminating women’s health care rights.”
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Former Carbondale trustee Katrina Byars said she wants to bring a voice of environmental sustainability to the commission, and believes her opponent has served long enough.