By Leslie Jorgensen
THE COLORADO STATESMAN
Four Republican candidates are rivaling for the party’s nomination to challenge U.S. Rep. Betsy Markey, a “blue dog Democrat” who captured the 4th Congressional District seat in 2008. The GOP is gunning to recapture the seat that it had held since 1973.
State Rep. Cory Gardner, University of Colorado Regent Tom Lucero, Green Beret and former Fort Collins City Councilman Diggs Brown and businessman Dean Madere are vying to win the Republican Party’s nomination — and vowing to defeat Markey.
This might be one of the most conservative and contentious races, but the GOP’s candidates agree more than they disagree on issues. Their differences emerge in personal style.
Brown, Gardner, Lucero and Madere agree on the following issues:
• Uphold the U.S. Constitution,
• Oppose the health care reform bill,
• Repeal “Cap and Trade,”
• Support national defense,
• Enforce immigration laws,
• Increase protection of national borders and ports of entry,
• Simplify the tax code,
• Limit the size of federal government,
• Stop out-of-control spending by Congress,
• Reduce regulations and taxes on businesses to create jobs and stimulate the economy,
• Support the Personhood Amendment in Colorado to define life and stop abortions.
Where do the Republican candidates’ positions diverge?
Candidates revealed their preferences and personalities during a forum on Feb. 4 at Windsor High School that was hosted by the Fort Collins Coloradoan, The Windsor Beacon, Loveland Connection and 9News. The forum moderator, 9NEWS legislative reporter Adam Schrager, asked the Republican contenders to name their favorite amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
“The 2nd Amendment,” declared Lucero, who added that having guns would help to protect all other amendment rights.
Brown and Madere chose the 10th Amendment.
“After the last election, the repeal of prohibition!” exclaimed Gardner. As the audience’s boisterous clapping and laughter died down, the state House Minority Whip added, “The 10th Amendment, seriously.”
All of the Republican challengers said they want to reduce the size and scope of the federal government, but they differed on how that can be accomplished.
Madere called for eliminating the Department of Education, Environmental Protection Agency and scrapping the proposed health care reform bill.
Lucero said that the role of federal government should be reduced to national security and the transportation system because the interstate highway system is an asset for citizens as well as commerce and industries.
Brown declared, “Get rid of Betsy Markey (and) send the ‘spendocrats’ home!”
“That’s the kind of climate change we need!” blurted Gardner.
Gardner said he wants to eliminate earmarks to bills. He hammered the passage of a $410 billion omnibus appropriation bill that, he said, contained “9,000 pork projects, (including) a $200,000 tattoo removal program in California.”
All of the candidates believe that the federal government has intruded too deeply in American citizens’ lives.
“(Congress) decided that the federal government will make our decisions — tell us what light bulbs to use and tell what kind of condition our home has to be if we’re going to sell it,” declared Gardner.
Waving a pocket-sized U.S. Constitution, Madere said the federal government has exceeded its powers, eroding the individual rights as well as state sovereignty accorded by the 10th Amendment.
“They’re regulating the amount of water in my toilet,” said Madere of the government-approved, water conservation water closet fixtures. “Think of how ridiculous that is!”
All four candidates agreed that immigration laws must be enforced and borders secured.
“We need to stop prosecuting law enforcement officials for doing their job,” asserted Gardner in reference to the prosecution and conviction of border patrol agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Alonso Compean for the 2005 shooting of Osvaldo Aldrete-Davila, an unarmed illegal immigrant and possible drug smuggler.
Madere said that he supports a guest worker program, enforcement of immigration laws, and fencing the borders.
Securing the borders and ports of entry, Lucero said, is not just about controlling immigration, it’s critical to national security.
“This is about keeping out people who want to kill us,” he declared.
Brown agreed. Citing his high security clearance as a Green Beret, the candidate said that Americans are also vulnerable to terrorism acts in cases where foreign countries refuse to perform security checks of passengers flying to the United States.
In December, a Nigerian 23-old student at the University College of London reportedly slipped past security in Amsterdam — despite alerts — and allegedly attempted to ignite an explosive substance on a Northwest flight to Detroit. The act was thwarted when a passenger dived on the possible terrorist.
Brown declared that if airports in foreign countries refused to perform security checks on passengers, he’d propose legislation to ban flights from those countries to the United States.
All of the Republican contenders said they support passage of a balanced budget amendment to curb spending in response to a “lightening round” question during the forum. Brown changed his position a couple of weeks later.
“It sounds great in theory. No, I would not support it,” said Brown, who explained that a balanced budget amendment could force spending reductions for national defense — and that could hurt American soldiers.
Within the borders of Colorado’s 4th Congressional District — a 31,000 square mile area that stretches from the state’s southeastern to northeastern borders and stretches west into the Roosevelt National Forest and Rocky Mountain National Park — the candidates identified their favorite place.
Gardner named Punkin Center in Lincoln County on the plains, Sugar City in Crowley County and Rocky Mountain National Park.
“Rocky Mountain National Park!” exclaimed Brown, who said that he bought a convertible just to drive friends visiting from out of state through the pristine natural forest.
“He hasn’t invited me yet,” interjected Lucero.
“I said, ‘friends,’” laughed Brown, patting Lucero on the back.
Lucero said he and his family relish snowshoeing in Cameron Pass during the winter and fly-fishing at Dream Lake in the summer.
Madere mused over those tourist sites and towns, but chose a decidedly more gated community.
“In my wife’s arms,” he declared. “That’s actually my favorite place in the district.”
The candidates recalled their favorite moments on the campaign trail.
Lucero said it was introducing his mother to conservative radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt and folks at a fundraiser. Brown said that he was emotionally moved when he saw an old friend at a Republican event. Madere said it was realizing that his campaign had word-of-mouth momentum when an unknown man declared he’d vote for the candidate.
Gardner recalled a late afternoon when he and his wife were rushing from a Fort Collins parade to an event in Sterling.
“We were running out of time and we weren’t dressed,” he blurted — and quickly explained that the couple was wearing T-shirts and jeans but needed to change into dinner attire. A bathroom at a Grease Monkey saved the day.
“That’s what the campaign trail is all about!” laughed Gardner.
Getting it right
All of the candidates are keenly aware of the Tea Party and 9-12 movements and were careful to declare their allegiance to “we the people” — even if it means bucking GOP leadership.
Madere said that he helped organize the Loveland 9-12 group and worked to further the Northern Coloradan Tea Party. That said, Madere cautioned, “You don’t tell them who their candidate is — they will make their own decision.”
Lucero lauded the right wing movements for their passion and motivation, however, he cautioned against believing national media’s spin that the GOP is “the party of no.”
Yet, the candidate assured the conservative movements that he will not buckle to establishment party influences. As a regent over the past 11 years, Lucero said that he bravely stood up to prominent Republicans, such as former UNC President and U.S. Senator Hank Brown and University of Colorado President and former state Republican Party Chairman Bruce Benson.
Green Beret Brown said that when he returned in November from serving in the Middle East, he attended Tea Party events and encouraged the activists “to keep fighting and keep the faith” now and after the November general election.
Gardner denounced the national media and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for portraying the Tea Party and 9-12 organizations as extremists.
Gardner has been regarded as a frontrunner in this race largely because of his high name ID, legislative experience and fundraising. Gardner’s campaign raised $198,000 in the final quarter of 2009, a total of $591,000 last year and had $383,000 cash on hand at the end of December.
His Republican competitors haven’t closed the fundraising gap.
Lucero raised $26,000 in the final quarter last year, a total of $94,000 in 2009, and reported $6,400 cash on hand at the end of the December. (Lucero’s campaign invested in a TV campaign ad blitz in December — a gamble this early in the campaign according to some political campaign veterans.)
Brown banked $61,000 in the last quarter and had about $30,000 in the coffers at the end of December. He officially launched his campaign in November; however, another group raised and spent thousands of dollars last year to promote Brown’s candidacy.
Madere, who also entered the race in November, has raised less than $5,000 and was not required to file a campaign financial report.
Gardner’s campaign coffers hold more than 10 times the money of his GOP competitors. It seems to validate why the state Representative was hailed as an up and comer in the National Republican Congressional Committee’s” Young Guns,” a program that identifies viable candidates, sets goals and assists their campaigns.
Any Republican candidate can request to participate in the program, but they have to set and achieve goals in order to advance from the entry level, “On the Radar,” to mid-level, “Contender,” to the ultimate status, “Young Gun.”
Gardner has been named a “Contender” in the program. Aurora City Councilman Ryan Frazier, who is running in the 7th Congressional District against Democratic incumbent U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, was promoted to the “Contender” level this month. State Rep. Scott Tipton, who is competing in the 3rd Congressional District against incumbent Democratic U.S. Rep. John Salazar, was designated an “On the Radar” candidate.
The NRCC recently issued a list of candidates who were promoted to the top level “Young Gun” status — Gardner was omitted to the surprise and dismay of some Republicans.
According to the NRCC, “Young Gun” Web site, the organization wants to avoid any kind of appearance of endorsing candidates in highly competitive primary races or become too involved in districts where there is a strong presence of 9-12 and Tea Party activists in the district.
“We are not endorsing candidates under the Young Gun program,” NRCC Chair Pete Sessions told reporters during a conference call a couple of weeks ago.
“We’ve met every goal that we’ve set. We’re on track,” said Gardner, who views the program as a motivator to succeed for any Republican candidate.
Gardner said that he is running a district-based campaign and appreciates the NRCC’s hands-off position. He lauded the activism of the 9-12 and Tea Party movements in CD 4.
The winner of Colorado’s CD 4 Republican contest faces Markey, who raised $227,000 in the final quarter of 2010, a total of $1.2 million last year, and has more than $870,000 cash on hand.
Markey toppled former Congresswoman Marilynn Musgrave in a district where 40 percent of the voters were registered Republican, 31 percent unaffiliated and 29 percent Democratic in 2008.
Just the facts, sir
In the heat of any campaign, candidates become impassioned and spout assertions, figures and accusations — and sometimes err.
Gardner accused Markey of voting for a bill to raise the debt ceiling by $1.9 trillion. In fact, Markey was one of 37 Democrats who with 175 Republican voted against the measure, which passed narrowly, 217-212, in the House.
Madere called for abolishing the Department of Education, which he said, was established by Democratic President Jimmy Carter. His statement is essentially correct. A bill to create the stand-alone department was signed into law in 1979, and established the department in May 1980 under Republican President Ronald Reagan. A forerunner was the Bureau of Education, which was created in 1867 and an agency under the Department of Interior and later, the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare from 1953 to 1979.
Brown railed about House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at a meeting of the Colorado Republican Business Coalition, accusing her of taking a 757 jet needed by the military, wasting megabucks on jet fuel and spending “$100,000 on booze.” Of the latter, Brown said, “Now, I can understand Mr. Pelosi having a drinking problem.” A recording of the statement was provided to a columnist at the Fort Collins Coloradoan and circulated on the Internet.
This past Monday, Brown blogged an apologetic statement on his Web site and clarified that Pelosi uses “luxury Gulfstream jets… and she racked up $2.1 million in travel costs over two years. As you can see, the facts stand on their own as objectionable to taxpayers, and no malice was intended on my part.” (He did not mention Pelosi’s husband.)
The Republican contenders are courting supporters who will attend the March 16 precinct caucuses and compete for delegate spots to the GOP’s CD 4 assembly on May 21 at the Embassy Suite Hotel in Loveland.
A candidate needs to win 30 percent of votes cast by delegates to be placed on the primary ballot — or capture at least 10 percent to petition onto the ballot. A candidate, who bypasses the party’s caucus-to-assembly route, may also petition onto the ballot.