By Shaun Boyd

DENVER (CBS4) – The Republican candidate for governor of Colorado is confronting questions about his family’s past.

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For the first time, Walker Stapleton is talking candidly about his great grandfather’s role in the KKK, his views on racism, and his endorsement by a man who defended a white nationalist organization.

Walker Stapleton (left) and Benjamin Stapleton (right)(credit: CBS)

Stapleton’s ancestral roots run deep in Colorado. The family has a history of public service dating back more than a century, something Stapleton touted in a campaign ad for treasurer.

He noted his great grandfather served five terms as Denver’s mayor and helped build the first civic center in Colorado, the first municipal airport in the Mile High City and helped build parks like Red Rocks.

(credit: CBS)

But Benjamin Stapleton’s legacy also includes a dark chapter. He was a high ranking member of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920’s, which had infiltrated both parties and virtually all levels of government.

Stapleton says he’s not his great grandfather — he was born 25 years after the elder Stapleton died — but he hasn’t expressly denounced Benjamin Stapleton’s involvement in the KKK, until now.

“I categorically condemn racism of all forms and I categorically condemn hate organizations and they will have no place in my administration as governor,” he said in a sit-down interview with CBS4’s Shaun Boyd.

CBS4’s Shaun Boyd interviews Walker Stapleton. (credit: CBS)

But Stapleton’s critics note the man who introduced him at the state assembly — former Congressman and immigration hardliner Tom Tancredo — sat on the board of a white nationalist organization.

They insist Stapleton is associating with Tancredo for the same reason his great grandfather did the KKK – for political gain.

Stapleton denied that saying, “Just because someone makes the decision to endorse me does not mean I endorse all of their views.” He called the notion of Tancredo being a part of his administration “laughable.”

(credit: CBS)

But in an interview with KNUS radio last April before the state assembly, Stapleton said of Tancredo, “I’d love to utilize him because Tom has been invaluable on law and order issues, not just sanctuary cities, but what has happened to our Department of Corrections under our current governor.”

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Tom Tancredo (credit: CBS)

When asked in the same interview if he would consider Tancredo for Lieutenant Governor, Stapleton replied, “We’ll see. Everybody is a candidate right now.”

His answer on Monday is different.

“He will have no role in my administration. He never expected a role. I never promised him a role so that is just a bunch of hogwash.”

Tancredo reacted to Stapleton’s comments by saying he was an asset before the state assembly because Stapleton needed his supporters to make the ballot. Now, he says, he’s probably a liability. But, he says at no point was he offered a role in a Stapleton administration and he wouldn’t take one. He says the two simply share a mutual goal of ending sanctuary cities.

Tancredo responded with the following statement to CBS4 the day after the initial story was broadcast. The statement has been published in its entirety.

In last night’s Channel 4 story about Walker Stapleton, there was an insinuation that because of my defense and relationship to an immigration reform group, erroneously defined as a “white nationalist” organization, that my support Mr. Stapleton taints his candidacy.

Let me say again for the umpteenth thousand time, I hate identity politics. In my support or criticism of public policies I make no distinction based on anyone’s race or color of skin. A friend and colleague of mine and an icon in Denver’s Hispanic community, the late Sen. Paul Sandoval, gave an interview to the Denver Post shortly before his untimely death. He talked about our friendship of many years and said although we argued many issues and that I could be called a lot of things but “racist is not one of them.” My love for America and my steadfast desire to help preserve its promise – and indeed the promise of freedom and opportunity for all people — has never been about race.

My Congressional office assisted thousands of Americans of every imaginable racial, religious and ethnic background, helping them navigate Social Security and Medicare, secure Veterans Benefits, and secure legal immigration benefits for their families, friends and prospective employees. No request for support was ever turned down because of the anyone’s race, sexual orientation or ethnicity.

I have worked with and Iranian dissidents, Taiwanese independence supporters, persecuted Burmese and black Africans. Indeed, one of my proudest achievements in public life was authoring the Sudan Peace Act, which helped bring an end to a brutal civil war and genocide that claimed the lives of countless Africans. It also paved the way for the founding of a new nation: South Sudan.

As I explained to the Channel 4 reporter when she called me about this story, I support Mr. Stapleton because of his opposition to the travesty of Sanctuary Cities. I have no idea what his opinions are on issues that are not pertinent to state jurisdiction. I believe he would be a competent and capable Governor of Colorado.

By the way I welcomed left wing groups on college campuses to my speeches and no one has ever accused me of being left leaning. Unfortunately most of the time, these groups caused disturbances that were intended to stop me from expressing my views. I would still defend their right to hold meetings of their supporters – as I did for the group referred by channel 4 as “white nationalists.” A group, by the way that has never attempted to stop leftists from expressing their views, or caused a riot, or advocated for same.

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Shaun Boyd is CBS4’s political specialist. She’s a veteran reporter with more than 25 years of experience. Follow her on Twitter @cbs4shaun.