Colorado Governor Candidate Walker Stapleton Stands in Shadow of Great-Grandfather Who Was a Powerful KKK Leader

Walker Stapleton served two terms as state treasurer and has a business degree from Harvard. (Credit: David Zalubowski/Associated Press)
Walker Stapleton served two terms as state treasurer and has a business degree from Harvard. (Credit: David Zalubowski/Associated Press)

As a candidate for Colorado governor, Walker Stapleton has touted a distinguished biography: two terms as state treasurer, a business degree from Harvard and a long family history of public service.

But there is one aspect of his family’s past that Mr. Stapleton has largely avoided mentioning: His great-grandfather, Benjamin Stapleton, a five-time mayor of this city, was also a powerful member of the Ku Klux Klan, a bespectacled former judge who helped the group seize control of Colorado government in what is now considered one of the state’s darkest periods.

Three years after a massacre at a black church in Charleston spurred a wave of American institutions to reconsider memorials to the Confederacy, Colorado is having its own reckoning. Here, the debate is not about Civil War statues, but about whether to rebrand institutions that have come to bear the Stapleton name: a well-to-do neighborhood, several schools, many businesses.

And now Walker Stapleton, the candidate for governor, finds himself in the difficult position of attempting to lead voters into the future just as the state grapples with his family’s past.

“The West is troubled land,” said Patty Limerick, a state historian. “It’s a temptation to look at the South and say, ‘Look at that very dark place.’ Well, we had segregation. We had lynching. We had all those things, but it’s somehow gotten a pass.”

The Colorado governor’s race has turned into a nationally watched contest that is largely viewed as a test of the political direction of one of the purplest states in the nation. Mr. Stapleton, a Republican with a commitment to the fossil fuel industry and a pledge to defund so-called sanctuary cities, has come to represent an older, more traditional West.

His opponent, Jared Polis, a Democratic congressman, is a multimillionaire who made his money in e-commerce and who is pushing single-payer health insurance. He would be the first gay and Jewish governor in the nation and has come to represent a new, more liberal West.

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SOURCE: Julie Turkewitz
The New York Times