By Leslie Jorgensen
THE COLORADO STATESMAN
COLORADO SPRINGS — GOP gubernatorial candidate Scott McInnis seized the opportunity to blast the state law that blocks Fort Carson’s expansion in Piñon Canyon — and indirectly fired shots at Sen. Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction, who voted for the bill.
Penry is expected to challenge McInnis for the Republican nomination in the governor’s race. The fallout also hit Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter, who signed the Piñon Canyon bill into law.
Not one listener disagreed with McInnis at the Monday campaign meet ‘n’ greet at the home of Rep. Larry Liston, R-Colorado Springs, and his wife, Mary. The attack on House Bill 1317 was a hot topic among the 50 or so Republicans who stood on the lush lawn or gathered around the buffet of salmon and salads under the patio canopy.
Republicans in Colorado Springs continue to rail against HB 1317, which bans the sale or lease of state land for the expansion of the Army’s training maneuver site in Piñon Canyon.
“Most legislators who voted for it couldn’t find it on a map — and some Republicans voted for it,” asserted McInnis, adding that the bill would have passed even without those Republican votes.
The former 3rd District Congressman didn’t name any Republican lawmakers, but political activists in the area are keenly aware that Penry voted for the bill.
“There was no need to sign that bill unless you wanted to poke a stick in the face of the Army,” declared McInnis at the event.
McInnis touted the letter in which he implored the governor to veto the bill. Proponents of the bill, McInnis said, accused him of betraying CD 3 voters. Some also asserted that he’d opposed the bill to boost his gubernatorial campaign in El Paso County.
“Hell! This is about jobs!” exclaimed McInnis, dismissing those criticisms.
When the expansion was proposed two years ago, it promised to double the size of Fort Carson by adding nearly 15,000 soldiers by 2013.
Now, funds for the expansion have been diverted to improve other Army bases, and the number of troops coming here has been scaled back.
“A couple of weeks after this governor signs this bill … the Army announces that a brigade is not coming out to Fort Carson,” said McInnis.
“Then, guess what happened? Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison [R-Texas] sends a letter to the Army and asks, ‘Why do you put up with those people in the North? We’ve got military bases here — and we want to expand,’” said McInnis.
If the news dug deeper wounds in the listeners, it might also have inspired more support for McInnis. Several guests speculated that it would be the make-or-break issue in capturing votes from El Paso County in statewide elections next year.
For the gubernatorial candidates, including McInnis, Penry, Evergreen businessman Dan Maes and, potentially, others, the battle will hinge on the election of delegates to attend the state GOP assembly in May 2010.
“My primary priority — now that’s a double hit right there — is the economic security for this state,” said McInnis.
“I can tell you the current incumbent is a nice guy — but not governor,” he said. “This state has a great future, but it needs management right now by someone with experience and vision who can deliver results.”
“I challenge any one of my opponents [to] take any year that I was privileged to serve and compare that to their years cumulated,” McInnis said.
He said that it isn’t enough to have been an elected official who had cast votes, but that it’s more important to have experience in building coalitions and teams to promote or fight issues.
McInnis peppered his 32-minute speech with personal greetings to individuals in the crowd.
“Hi Sallie! Thanks for coming, tonight,” he called out to El Paso County Commissioner Sallie Clark.
“Good to see you, Mark!” said McInnis, waving to Rep. Mark Waller, R-Colorado Springs.
The speech was followed by a question-and-answer session — a segment that McInnis incorporates in his campaign stops.
“It’s very helpful because you learn what’s on the minds of voters throughout the state,” said Mike Hesse, political strategist for the campaign.
Whereas Piñon Canyon tops the list of concerns here, Hesse said, state gas and oil regulations dominate discussion on the Western Slope.
Colorado Springs City Councilman Bernie Herpin asked how McInnis would handle the state’s latest budget crisis — a $249 million shortfall for the fiscal year that ends June 30. Unless economic recovery is around the corner, the state may face a $384 million revenue decline next year.
“The Democrats’ first response is always to raise taxes,” said McInnis, citing increased fees on vehicle registrations as well as taxes on tobacco products and capital gains.
“Their answer is to transfer funds instead of tightening their belts,” he asserted.
McInnis said the state could start trimming the budget by teleconferencing instead of traveling to out-of-state meetings.
Although Ritter called for a hiring freeze of state employees, McInnis said, the governor had signed nearly 500 waivers to allow new hires.
Rep. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, asked McInnis’ opinion of Ritter’s plan to create “green” jobs.
“The governor claims that he’s created 90,000 new jobs. He didn’t create 90,000, 900 or nine jobs,” McInnis declared. “It’s baloney!”
“With the exception of new state government hires, jobs are not created by government — they’re created by businesses,” he said.
Peggy Littleton, a Colorado Board of Education member and candidate for El Paso County commissioner, asked McInnis’ positions on charter schools and national education standards.
McInnis said he supports both.
The candidate mingled with the guests who included state AG John Suthers, El Paso County Commissioners Jim Bensberg and Dennis Hisey, Colorado Springs Vice Mayor Larry Small, Colorado Springs Housing and Building Association Executive Vice President Renee Zentz and Political Affairs Director Sarah Jack, and Pikes Peak Association of Realtors CEO Terry Storm and Director of Government Affairs Clarissa Arellano, who also brought her mom, Rose Arellano.
McInnis said his candidacy has garnered a number of endorsements, including Bill Hybl, chairman and CEO of El Pomar Foundation; oilman and media mogul Philip Anschutz; and former U.S. Senators Wayne Allard and Ben Nighthorse Campbell.
Currently, the campaign staff includes Hesse and Josh Green, who worked on Bentley Rayburn’s CD 5 campaign last year.
Expect to see a former Colorado first lady on the campaign in the near future.“Frances Owens will join the campaign and take a high profile!” exclaimed Hesse. “This is going to be very exciting!”