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Republican gubernatorial candidate Dan Maes said Thursday he would lay off as many as 4,000 Colorado employees if elected and force a showdown with the federal government over drilling for gas and oil.
The statements prompted his opponent in next week's GOP primary to question Maes' competence to be governor.
Dan Maes told the Denver Petroleum Club he would cut at least 2,000 workers "just like that" from the state budget, with projected savings of $200 million.
He didn't specify which agencies would see layoffs. His Republican primary opponent, former U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis, dismissed the layoff promise, saying the state governor doesn't have that power. McInnis went on to questions Maes' fitness for the job. Maes has never held public office before.
"He gets a lot of mileage out of that line, but the reality of it is, he does not write the constitution," McInnis scoffed.
Maes also called for a confrontation with the federal government over energy drilling. He challenged Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, a former U.S. senator from Colorado, saying the Department of the Interior had blocked businesses with drilling permits from going forward.
"If you have a drilling permit for the Roan Plateau, then drill. And if Ken Salazar doesn't like it, he can come and see me in Denver," Maes said.
The club invited Maes to speak after snubbing him at a June forum between two other candidates for governor, McInnis and Democrat John Hickenlooper, who has no primary opposition.
Maes also denounced suggestions that he's not a serious candidate because of campaign finance errors and his odd statement recently that a Denver bike-sharing program could threaten personal freedom.
Maes told the crowd of about two dozen people, "It's OK. You can laugh. I'm a big man." No one laughed.
The businessman from Evergreen said he's been dismissed during his entire campaign by Republicans.
"They're scared to death of this race, honestly, they really are. I mean, did any of you really think I'd be here?" Maes asked. Again there was no response.
A coalition union representing 31,000 Colorado employees blasted Maes' layoff suggestion. The head of the Colorado Workers for Innovation and New Solutions said in a statement that employees aren't to blame for the state's budget woes.
"Greedy Wall Street CEOs crashed our economy, and now Dan Maes' solution is to lay off thousands more Coloradans and put essential public services at risk," Pattie Johnston said.
McInnis appeared to hold a wide lead in the Aug. 10 primary until acknowledging earlier this summer that parts of some of his writings on water law were plagiarized.
The GOP meltdown prompted former Republican congressman Tom Tancredo to abandon the GOP and try running for governor as an American Constitution Party candidate.
A few weeks after calling on McInnis to leave the GOP race, an editorial in The Denver Post said Maes "must not be governor" and suggested McInnis wait until after the primary to drop out.
"Maes has clearly gone off the rails," the newspaper's editorial read.
Maes seemed to embrace his depiction.
"You're still all kind of wondering who is this guy. And that's OK," Maes said, describing his campaign as "miraculous and historical."
But McInnis, who held a separate event to talk about the economy Thursday, seemed exasperated by Maes' campaign. He told a reporter that Maes grossly misunderstands how state government is run - especially the governor's ability to fire.
"You can't do it - be honest with the voters," McInnis said.
Associated Press Writer Ivan Moreno contributed to this report.