GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (KKCO/KJCT) -- It's been a right of passage for local and state candidates for more than 30 years, appearing at a Club 20 candidate debate in Grand Junction.
But for the first time, a candidate for governor is telling them 'no.'
Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., did not accept the September 8 Club 20 Candidate Debates invitation, instead choosing six other statewide debates to attend. One of those he accepted is a debate being organized by Colorado Mesa University, Rocky Mountain PBS and The Daily Sentinel.
His opponent, Walker Stapleton, R-Colo., accepted invitations to nine debates, including both Grand Junction debates.
“It is a shame that Candidate Polis is unwilling to participate in a non-partisan forum where our voices can be heard,” said Christian Reece, Executive Director of Club 20. "It is a slap in the face to all of Western Colorado."
Club 20 is a coalition of businesses, individuals and local governments from the 22 Colorado counties west of the Continental Divide, that advocate and protect the region. The region host two U.S. Congressional seats, eight Colorado House districts, four Colorado Senate districts, and more than 580,000 residents.
The group had extended invitations to Polis and Stapleton in early July but only found out Monday, when his press staff released his debate schedule, that Polis would not attend. His campaign said he will send Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne as a surrogate, a decision Club 20 said they are debating whether they will allow.
“There are lots of great invitations and events heading into the fall — we just can't make this one work, said Mara Sheldon, Polis for Colorado spokesperson. "He remains committed to talking with the voters of Western Colorado.”
"We've been doing this for 30 years for goodness sake," Reece said. "Some of these other debates that are popping up are debates for a single county while we cover 22 counties."
Sheldon said Polis has shown his commitment to the region all year by opening his first campaign office in Grand Junction in January. His first public events after becoming the nominee and announcing his Lieutenant Governor candidate, Dianne Primavera, was also in Grand Junction and several other Western Slope communities.
"Club 20 has a reputation of being far right around here," said Scott Beilfuss, Vice Chair of Mesa County Democrats. "They think everyone should step up and get riddled full of bullets at a Club 20 meeting, maybe it's time to change that."
Beilfuss said the Club 20 debates cost money to attend, and the other in-town debate will be more open, a plus for someone who wants to be a candidate for the people, as Polis has said on the campaign trail.
Club 20 will host debates for 17 different races that cover Western Colorado on September 8. If Polis does not attend and the organization decides not to accept Lynne as a surrogate, Stapleton will be allowed to talk and accept questions alone.