By Jason Kosena
THE COLORADO STATESMAN
LOVELAND — Turn your head for just a moment and the political world will surprise you.
Two months ago, Brian DelGrosso, 37, had no political involvement with the Republican Party at any significant level and was a virtual unknown among well-connected politicos.
Fast-forward 60 days, and the Loveland small business owner is the new state representative for House District 51.
“I’ve never been elected before,” DelGrosso told reporters last week, shortly after 55 Larimer County Republicans on the HD 51 vacancy committee selected him to replace Rep. Don Marostica, who has a new job as director of the state’s Office of Economic Development and International Trade.
“This is a whole new world,” he said.
Indeed it is.
DelGrosso, who owns three Domino’s Pizza outlets in Loveland, brought nothing but his business sense and his fresh face to last week’s vacancy election in Loveland. His victory seems even more stunning when you consider that he defeated two better-known opponents with flawless conservative credentials who also were vying to replace Marostica, who is considered by many in the Larimer GOP to be too moderate for the district he served.
Kevan McNaught, a staunch conservative who lost the 2006 primary to Marostica, was nominated by Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Loveland, who is widely known as one of the most conservative members in the Statehouse.
Tom Buchanan, a Republican activist who sits on the Larimer GOP executive board and is well known in Northern Colorado for organizing weekly pro-troop rallies in Fort Collins, also fought for votes. In addition to McNaught and Buchanan, businesswoman Kari Koppes and Jeanni Barnthouse, a legislative aide for Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, threw their hats in the ring.
After the candidates made their speeches and the votes were counted, DelGrosso had won the vacant seat on the second ballot — much to his amazement.
“I’m definitely surprised,” said the stunned first-timer. “From the beginning, I was told that I was a long shot to win (but) that, even if I was not going to win, (I) should be in it for the experience. And then I ended up winning. I’m totally surprised.”
Unlike most of his opponents — who spent the bulk of their floor speeches decrying Democrats, criticizing President Barack Obama and railing against health care reform, runaway spending and the loss of liberty and socially conservative values — DelGrosso used his 90 seconds to talk about his struggle as a business owner.
“Our economy is struggling, our families are struggling, and businesses are struggling to stay open and not just laying people off,” DelGrosso said.
“I know a lot of the candidates are saying a lot of the same stuff. But I think my vast experience as a business owner is what differentiates (me),” he continued. “I know what it’s like to have to be responsible for an employee. I know what it’s like to have to lead them. I know what it’s like to have to meet a payroll and guide a business.”
DelGrosso wasn’t the only one surprised by the final tally. Lundberg, who has been heavily involved in Larimer County politics for more than a decade, said DelGrosso’s selection was unexpected.
“It’s surprising that the new guy got elected, but I am very hopeful and look forward to working with him,” said the veteran legislator who had nominated McNaught.
“Everything that I have read about him and everything that he has told me I have liked. But you just expect that someone with more experience wins this kind of thing,” Lundberg continued. “So it was surprising. But that’s the way these things work. He seems to be a bright young star in Loveland, and I will work with him in the best way possible.”
Joint Budget Committee member Marostica — who was re-elected to the HD 51 seat in November and who took a lot of criticism from GOP colleagues for his moderate views on the budget before joining Ritter’s cabinet — said he was excited with DelGrosso’s selection.
“I’m really glad to see a businessman get this,” Marostica told The Colorado Statesman after the meeting. “I think that is exactly what we need down at the Capitol and so I was really happy to see him get this.”