EDITOR’S NOTE: CORRECTION: This article has been corrected from a previously published version. Read the correction here.
By Leslie Jorgensen
THE COLORADO STATESMAN
Republican candidates Chris Holbert, Polly Lawrence and Parker Mayor David Casiano are battling to win the House District 44 seat being vacated by state House Minority Leader Mike May. The contentious contest has erupted with snipes at the candidates and exposed an undercurrent of factions in the Douglas County GOP that some say pits a powerful “good old boy” club against rank-and-file Republicans.
Holbert won top line on the Republican primary ballot at the district party assembly — but he wasn’t able to shut out Lawrence. Casiano decided to bypass the caucus-to-assembly route and petitioned onto the ballot.
Holbert also has the benefit of being backed by the political power players and garnering endorsements from a “who’s who” list of top GOP guns, including May. The candidate’s opponents muse that those connections make it difficult for Holbert to paint himself as an “outsider” to appeal to antiestablishment “tea party” activists.
Others argue that Casiano is the status quo politician, having been elected to the Parker town council in 2002, elected mayor in 2004 and re-elected in 2008.
“I’m the only candidate with legislative and leadership experience,” declared Casiano, who also views his candidacy as the “outsider.”
Casiano said that some Republican insiders have shunned his campaign because he petitioned onto the ballot — but that move has gained support from outsiders, including “9-12” activists.
As mayor and a teacher at the Parker Lutheran High School, Casiano has a higher name than his opponents in Parker that is heavily populated with voters. The candidate isn’t as well known in other parts of the district that include Lone Tree, Roxborough Park, Louviers, Sedalia, Surrey Ridge and Franktown.
Casiano admitted that his campaign is cash poor; however, he’s focused on walking precincts — not raising funds or showing up at Republican events. Lawrence and Holbert are also campaigning door-to-door in neighborhoods.
Lawrence, who is running as a “small business woman,” has the asset of a heavily funded campaign war chest. At the end of May, she had raised $61,174 compared to her opponents, Holbert with $15,222 and Casiano with $2,076.
“When I’m walking precincts, people ask, ‘Have you ever held elected office?’ When I tell them no, they’re pleased. They appreciate my business background,” said Lawrence. “They don’t think the legislators are in touch with real life issues.”
Her Republican opponents question how Lawrence can describe herself as a “small business woman” in campaign flyers. She’s a principle in Lawrence Construction Company, a family-owned business headed by her husband Rick. The heavy-construction company has landed numerous government contracts to build overpasses and bridges across the state, several associated with FasTracks.
Nearly 30 percent of Lawrence’s campaign coffer has been funded by herself and family members, and more than 70 percent of the remaining roughly $40,000 was derived from contributions from the heavy construction and related industries.
Others argue that receiving funds from a candidate’s business peers is not unusual. Holbert, the former president of the Colorado Mortgage Lenders Association, received about half of his campaign contributions from individuals in the banking, financing, investing and real estate industries.
The source of Lawrence’s campaign funds, however, have raised questions about her pledge to repeal the FASTER (Funding Advancement for Surface Transportation and Economic Recovery) bill that implemented fees, including a hike in vehicle registration costs, to raise $250 million a year for highway and bridge improvements.
Many of her campaign contributors are employed by businesses that, like Lawrence Construction Company, are members of the Colorado Contractors Association (CCA) — a group that lobbied for the FASTER bill that Governor Bill Ritter signed into law in March 2009.
“(CCA) worked us pretty hard to support FASTER. In fact, they were pretty abusive,” said May, who didn’t recall Lawrence being involved in those lobbying encounters.
“I stood against FASTER — my association (CCA) supported it,” declared Lawrence. “I told the association president that, if elected, I would work to repeal it.”
That didn’t detract CCA from promoting her candidacy on the Internet. One post read, “Colorado Contractors Association Friday Facts — April 16, 2010… Lawrence, ‘One of Our Own’ for State Representative.” The page link has been removed.
Casiano said that he respects Lawrence for gaining government construction contracts essential to running a successful business. However, he said that it would be a conflict of interest for Lawrence to write, amend or cast votes on legislation related to her company.
“You can’t have it both ways,” said Casiano.
Like Lawrence, Casiano and Holbert have also pledged to repeal FASTER.
In a 10-question voter survey, Lawrence said that FASTER was “both ill-advised policy and bad politics” and she asked respondents to identify solutions to recovering the loss of funds to the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT).
“Simply saying I want to repeal the FASTER bill to try to get your vote — without first asking you how/where I should cut the existing state budget and/or how we help CDOT make up a $225 million annual cut in highway and bridge funding — is intellectually dishonest and irresponsible. Help!” urged Lawrence.
So far, the candidate said few folks have returned the survey or proposed solutions.
Lawrence said that she’s intent on running a positive campaign, but has had to deflect negative attacks. The night before the April 10 district party assembly, Lawrence gathered her supporters at the Marriott Hotel South to set the record straight.
“…as the whisper campaign ignites, I am increasingly disappointed,” she said. “Among the negative messages floating around are that I don’t support the 2nd Amendment, that I am pro-choice, that I have small children and should be at home and that I am for gay marriage.”
Lawrence said that the rumors are false, and that her children Anne and Scott, ages 24 and 22, no longer live at home.
Her opponents, Holbert and Casiano, said they were not the sources of those rumors.
“I couldn’t say something like that even if her children were young and at home,” said Holbert. “My wife and I both work and we have two school-age sons.”
Holbert and his wife Diane, who is running for Douglas County Treasurer, have two sons, Victor and Carson, ages 15 and 10 respectively.
Casiano has been accused by Holbert supporters of not respecting property rights. At issue was the mayor’s use of eminent domain to purchase and annex land into the town of Parker several years ago.
“That is bull sh-! Those idiots!” responded Casiano.
The mayor said the landowner had approached Parker officials and offered to sell his property to them. Casiano said that an outside appraisal was performed and the town offered a price, but the property owner felt it was too low. The town did attempt to use eminent domain powers, he said, in order to have a judge review the appraisal, sales offer and counteroffer to reach an agreement.
“In the end, that property owner personally thanked me,” said Casiano.
May said the deal went through, but not without a protest from citizens. During the brouhaha, voters passed an ordinance to prevent the town from using eminent domain powers.
“My greater concern about Casiano is that he was a Democrat and changed his party affiliation to Republican when he wanted to run for city council,” said May. “He’s been in office ever since.”
“Being a legislator is a team sport,” said May. “You know how tough it is to stand together and adhere to Republican values. When the pressure is on, I wonder how much will he defect to the other camp?”
Casiano describes himself as a pro-life, fiscal conservative Republican. Yet, he also raised concerns about the growing number of unaffiliated voters who are fed up with both parties.
The mayor decided to petition onto the ballot because it was next to impossible for three candidates to win the minimum 30 percent delegate vote at the party assembly to make the primary ballot. It was a tough choice, he said, after having witnessed petition candidates being shunned in the past and now by party insiders.
One such candidate, Casiano said, was current Douglas County GOP Chair Mark Baisley who ran unsuccessfully against state Sen. Ted Harvey in 2006. The Senate District 30 race also stirred controversy when Baisley, a pro-life candidate, was mischaracterized by opponents as a “pro-choice millionaire.”
As an officer of a Republican men’s club, Casiano said he’d invited Baisley and Harvey to speak at a breakfast so the members could learn about both Republican candidates. Casiano said that a legislator blasted him for inviting Baisley because he’d petitioned onto the ballot.
“If the party doesn’t quit trampling on people’s rights, they’ll leave the party,” said Casiano.
More recently, Casiano said that former Douglas County Vice Chair Pat Nohavec had tried unsuccessfully to get permission for him to participate in a Republican candidates’ forum. The mayor conceded that he might have been excluded because of a county party bylaw that bans petition candidates from official GOP events.
“She really tried. They drove her out of office,” said Casiano. “Pat is a fine, fine woman — she’s exactly what the party needed.”
Holbert said that Nohavec had to resign because she was working on former Lt. Gov. Jane Norton’s Republican U.S. Senate campaign.
Asked why John Ransom served as the county GOP chair and as a paid staffer on former state Sen. Tom Wiens’ U.S. Senate campaign for several weeks, Holbert said, “We finally got John to step down.”
According to FEC campaign reports, Ransom was compensated by the Wiens campaign for work performed in November and December 2009, not for a period of “several months” as reported in the story. Ransom tendered his resignation as county GOP chair on Dec. 30, 2009, effective the following day.
According to the FEC report, Ransom was compensated $2,500 by the Wiens campaign on Dec. 2 for work performed in November. He was compensated $1,250 on Jan. 1, 2010 for work in December.
Casiano said it was ironic that both Norton and Wiens were petitioning onto the ballot. Earlier this month, Wiens withdrew from the race because the petition firm that he’d hired reportedly failed to collect the required 1,500 valid signatures.
Another point of contention was Ransom’s role in the nonpartisan Douglas County School Board race last year. Holbert, who established The Earn Principle, LLC, a consulting firm for non-profits and political candidates, ran four of the newbie Republican contenders’ campaigns.
“As Chairman of the Douglas County Colorado Republican Party I write you with disturbing news. Liberal outside special interests are trying to influence our local Douglas County elections,” wrote Ransom in a blast e-mail to Republicans.
“They have contributed thousands of dollars to their hand-picked candidates. They set up shadowy groups to send mailers to Douglas County mailboxes. They are organizing to win local elections,” declared Ransom.
The e-mail included a link to a contribution page.
That fueled a rumor that Ransom had used party money to pay Holbert to run the four winning candidates’ campaigns. Holbert said that he didn’t receive a dime from the party — he’d raised funds for the candidates from outside heavy hitters and was later compensated by the candidates.
Holbert said that he didn’t receive a dime from the party — he’d raised funds for the candidates from outside heavy hitters and was later compensated by the candidates.
Ransom said that campaign finance reports for the school board elections also confirm the inaccuracy of the charge.
“They defeated Republican school board incumbents,” said Casiano. “It was a power grab.”
“It was a power grab,” chuckled May.
“We wanted a change because the incumbents had excluded charter schools in the district,” he said. “The incumbents appeared to be Republicans in name only.”
“AFL-CIO union members got involved in the campaign to re-elect them. We had to fight back — we did and we won,” declared May.
There’s no question that the power brokers are lining up behind Holbert in the HD 44 contest, said May.
Holbert’s campaign has received contributions from Republicans Wiens and his former campaign staffers Ransom and Bob Kennedy, former U.S. Senator Bill Armstrong, former gubernatorial candidates Marc Holtzman and Joe Gschwendtner, former state treasurer candidate Ali Hasan, former 6th Congressional District candidate Wil Armstrong and his wife Kristy, and new Douglas County School Board member Daniel Gerkin.
The candidate has been endorsed by former 6th District Congressman Tom Tancredo, former 4th Congresswoman Marilyn Musgrave and state Senators Ted Harvey, Mark Scheffel, Greg Brophy, Mike Kopp, Scott Renfroe, Dave Schultheis and Shawn Mitchell. State Representatives May, Frank McNulty, Carole Murray, David Balmer, Amy Stephens and Kent Lambert have also joined Holbert’s bandwagon.
The three candidates agree more than disagree on issues such as cutting the state budget, repealing FASTER and giving incentives to help businesses create jobs. They all voiced support for the Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights (TABOR), but voiced concerns about negative impacts if Amendments 60 and 61 and Proposition 101 are passed by the voters.
Amendment 60 would allow electors to vote on property taxes where they own real property, require local governments to allow petitions to lower property taxes and provide November election notices of property issues. A tax that expires cannot be extended — it would be considered a tax increase and subject to voter approval.
Amendment 61 would prohibit the state from contracting debt by loan in any form, prohibit local governments and other political subdivisions from contracting debt without voter approval, require ballot titles to specify the use of the loan funds, limit the amount and prohibit changes in use of money borrowed.
Proposition 101 would eliminate state and local taxes on car rentals and leases, tax exempt vehicle sales rebates and the first $10,000 of the price, and cap vehicle registration, license and title changes combined at $10.
“I think they’re overreactions to FASTER,” said Lawrence.
“I don’t know of any legislator supporting those measures,” said Holbert, who added that he’d like to see studies of the potential outcomes if they were passed.
“Amendments 60 and 61 are going to be killers. They’ll kill the school districts,” declared Casiano. “It says the state would replace the lost revenue to school districts, but where would the money come from? Something would have to be drastically cut or you’d have to knock off Amendment 23.”
The candidates vary more when it comes to social views.
Casiano and Holbert said they are pro-life and support the proposed personhood amendment. Lawrence said she opposes the ballot measure because it would prohibit certain types of birth control.
“I’d argue for life in every instance, but I wouldn’t change existing laws,” said Lawrence. “If the amendment is passed by the voters, we’ll enforce what the people want.”
Lawrence, Holbert and Casiano said they support traditional marriage between a man and a woman. Casiano said he also supports civil unions for gay and lesbian couples.
“They’re entitled to the same rights as the rest of us,” said Casiano, who added that the town of Parker awards the equal benefits to same sex couples as married heterosexual couples.
Asked about the trend of Republican candidates identifying themselves as conservative Christians, Casiano and Lawrence said they personally wouldn’t do that.
“My religion is my own business,” declared Casiano.
“I believe in limited government. I don’t want the government in my church or in my home. I can raise my own family without the government,” said Lawrence.
The winner of the primary will run against unaffiliated candidate Peter Ericson. There is no Democratic candidate in the race.