By Jody Hope Strogoff
THE COLORADO STATESMAN
The cat is out of the bag. Or stated in more politically correct terminology, the elephant (or elephants plural) have left the herd.
Three major players in the business community — all of whom happen to be well known Republicans — are publicly backing the Democratic candidate for governor, John Hickenlooper. And they’re doing more than just letting it be known that they support Denver’s popular mayor for the top spot in state government — they’re throwing a big party for Hickenlooper next month.
Actually it’s a fundraiser.
It’ll end up being a big bipartisan event, we’re told, but in the meantime the three names on the top of the invitation are all Republican: Larry Mizel. Greg Maffei. And Fred Hamilton.
The fundraising luncheon is scheduled for Sept. 22 at a well known downtown Denver restaurant which specializes in the modern interpretation of authentic Mexican food with recipes created by its critically acclaimed chef/owner. (That should keep us out of hot water by one of the hosts who asked that we not name the actual spot.)
Contributions are limited to $1050 by election law, but Hickenlooper’s friends are hoping to raise mucho dinero.
So how did Hickenlooper attract such a trio of Republicans to host a fundraiser for him?
Well, it didn’t have all that much to do with the results of the recent primary in which here-to-now well respected Republican veteran Scott McInnis lost the race to a virtual political unknown.
No, Hickenlooper’s support among Republicans has been evident for a long time. Check out the contributions to the mayor’s reelection campaign in 2007 and you’ll find a veritable smathering of well known GOP names. Of course the election for mayor of Denver is technically non-partisan so it wasn’t as if they were betraying party allegiances.
McInnis’ candidacy for governor, of course, made it more uncomfortable for some Republicans to publicly back a Democrat, albeit one whose business acumen in the restaurant business has been a trademark of his success.
When McInnis lost Tuesday night and Dan Maes captured the GOP nomination, it has now become a lot easier to publicly defect to the other side.
With Mizel, Maffei and Hamilton out of the closet, so to speak, others will likely follow.
Mizel, chairman and chief executive officer of M.D.C. Holdings, Inc., is also one of Colorado’s major political players, although most of his activities are behind the scenes. Between 1989 and 2006, Mizel and his wife are reported to have contributed about one million dollars to federal candidates, PACs, and political parties; 94 percent went to Republican candidates and party committees. His large donations, which have continued over the last few years, have placed Mizel among the nation’s top 100 political contributors.
Mizel wasn’t supporting McInnis for governor, and clearly won’t be lending his name to Maes. But rather than having his endorsement of Hickenlooper construed as anti-Republican, Mizel views it simply as a smart business decision. He says Hickenlooper provides bipartisan leadership that is good for the city, good for the state, and good for business in general.
Hickenlooper, Mizel says, has shown his brilliance in terms of economic development leadership and will do well in reestablishing Colorado as a state that welcomes growth and development, business and a good quality of life.
“I’ve known Hick since before he was elected,” Mizel noted this week. “He is a successful businessman who has had to go through difficulties of making a business work, making payroll, meeting budgets. People who worked (in his restaurants) had to make customers feel good besides delivering a good product. Likewise businesses must feel welcome in Colorado, and Hickenlooper knows what’s necessary to lead. He can help Colorado break from the pack and distinguish itself.”
Greg Maffei also has a strong personal relationship with Hickenlooper. According to a profile in the Denver Post a few months ago, the Liberty Media Corp. chief executive was one of the first people Hickenlooper turned to when he was considering whether to run for governor. Maffei told Hickenlooper he thought the job was a good fit and urged him to run.
Maffei has strong Republican Party ties, here in Colorado as finance director for the state Republican Party, and as a major figure in Sen. John McCain’s political activities over the years.
Records show that Maffei and his wife contributed $135,600 to McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, making him one of the largest contributors in the state.
In addition, Maffei reportedly raised more than a half million dollars for McCain through other sources.
Now he’s helping out his friend Hickenlooper in his quest for governor.
The other figure in Hickenlooper’s Republican threesome is Frederic Hamilton, well known in the Denver community for his longtime civic involvement. A pioneer in America’s oil industry, Hamilton helped found several major oil companies and now oversees the Hamilton Companies, which include venture capital, private equity, oil and gas, real estate, mortgage lending, securities and acquisitions operations.
He is chairman of the board of the Denver Art Museum, and is involved in a lengthy list of other notable civic projects.
As the invitation list for the luncheon is updated, expect even more Republicans to get behind Hickenlooper’s candidacy — both quietly and in a public way.