By Jason Kosena
THE COLORADO STATESMAN
Rep. Don Marostica is known as a politician who forges his own path.
The second-term Republican from Loveland has never been shy about bucking the GOP when he felt it was wrong, and often he has been dangerously honest in sharing his concerns with reporters.
During this year’s session, Marostica was called into a meeting with Republican leadership and state Chair Dick Wadhams after he called a number of the old GOP guard “has-beens” and “losers.” His targets had criticized his plan to push Senate Bill 228, which repealed a spending limit on the General Fund cherished by conservatives. Although Marostica was forced to apologize for his comments, he remained steadfast in his support of SB 228, which passed the Legislature with only one Republican vote — his.
“I’m still pulling arrows out,” the Joint Budget Committee member told The Colorado Statesman last month as he gestured toward his back.
Through it all, Marostica, who started a development company in Loveland that made him a millionaire, was seen as a Capitol moderate who knew the state’s budget backward and forward.
So when the news came late last week that Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter had tapped Marostica to take over the state’s Office of Economic Development and International Trade, political insiders were only somewhat surprised.
“The economy is our biggest priority right now,” Ritter said during a press conference last week introducing Marostica as the newest member of his staff.
“The businesses of Colorado will be well served by Don Marostica,” Ritter continued. “And while I will miss him on the JBC, it says a lot about Don that he is willing to give up his House seat and (the) JBC, as well as his position in his business to help Colorado’s economy and to lead the state out of this downturn. I believe there isn’t a person better for this job than Don Marostica.”
During comments to reporters last week, Marostica said the decision to leave his seat representing House District 51 and to cross party lines to serve with Ritter was difficult, but he knows it was correct.
“It’s certainly with mixed feelings that I am leaving my position as a state representative,” Marostica said. “It’s difficult to leave this post because there is so much work to do, especially with the budget. It’s not easy to leave my development company and turn those operations over to my partner.
“But, on the other hand, the most pressing issue facing us right now is to get through these very
difficult economic times. And the best way to do that is to attract more jobs and more businesses to Colorado.”
Marostica’s appointment means yet another vacancy committee — rather than voters — will fill another seat emptied by an exiting lawmaker.
During the second half of the 2009 session, Rep. Anne McGihon, Senate President Peter Groff and Sens. Jennifer Veiga and Jim Isgar — all Democrats — left their seats before their terms ended.
About 75 Republicans in Larimer County will convene to fill the Larimer County HD 51 seat on Aug. 13 in Loveland, said Larry Carillo. They’ll be on familiar turf.
All the Republican action occurred at the beginning of the session, when Larimer County Republicans appointed Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud, to fill out the remainder of Sen. Steve Johnson’s term and then appointed B.J. Nikkel, of Loveland, to complete Lundberg’s House term.
“We’ve had a lot of vacancies this year,” Carillo said.
Johnson, who left the Senate to serve on the Larimer County Board of Commissioners, like Marostica, served on the Joint Budget Committee and, also like Marostica, was known for his moderate views.
In comparison, Lundberg, who was appointed to Johnson’s seat, is one of the more conservative members at the Statehouse. Carillo said that although he believes the GOP will give every candidate who steps forward a fair look, his guess is that someone more conservative than Marostica will replace him.
“I think there was a lot of us that thought Don was going to be primaried,” Carillo said. “I think that people are looking for someone who will toe the conservative line. If you’re not perceived to be somebody who is fiscally conservative, then I am not entirely sure you will be able to get past the vacancy committee.”
As of publication, Carillo said three Larimer County Republicans had expressed interest in the HD 51 seat, although no one had officially declared a candidacy.
They are Kevan McNaught, who lost the 2006 primary to Marostica; Tom Buchanan, a Republican activist who sits on the Larimer GOP executive board; and Brain DelGrosso, a small business owner who runs three Dominos Pizza franchises in Loveland.
The Colorado Statesman left messages asking all three men for interviews this week, but only DelGrosso returned the phone call.
DelGrosso said he wants to represent conservative values at the Statehouse.
“I have never been involved, never held political office, and am just a small business owner in Loveland who deems himself as a middle working-class citizen,” DelGrosso said. “I keep seeing new fees, new regulations and new taxes that keep being imposed on the middle-class and on businesses, and it just keeps getting harder and harder to live within a budget when we are being hit with these things.”
DelGrosso, who hasn’t had much experience in politics even at the local level, said he understands the challenges he faces. He is, after all, competing with two regular GOP players.
“My plan is to try and meet as many of the committee members as possible face to face,” he said. “I know I am fighting an extremely hard battle, being a political unknown, but I think I bring a fresh face to the political scene.”
DelGrosso’s fresh face could make the difference; stranger things have happened.
“If we, in fact, end up with three to five candidates in this race, it’s entirely possible you will get multiple people who are toeing the conservative line,” Carillo said. “They could end up splitting votes and that could end up opening the door to somebody who is new to the process.”