By Marianne Goodland
THE COLORADO STATESMAN
Rep. John Kefalas, D-Fort Collins, hopes to win a third term from HD 52 to the Colorado General Assembly in November. But finding someone to run against him has been an interesting process.
The district has gone back and forth between Democrats and Republicans in the past decade and between just two individuals in the past three elections. Kefalas won a hard-fought battle against former Rep. Bob McCluskey, in 2006 and again in 2008. McCluskey beat Kefalas in 2004 and held the seat from 2002 to 2006. In 2000, Democrat Bryan Jameson won the seat, and from 1992 to 2000 the district was represented for four terms by Republican Steve Tool.
The district is completely encompassed within Larimer County, representing the east side of Fort Collins, including the Anheuser Busch brewery.
Voter registration in the district shows Democrats with a slight advantage; according to July numbers from the secretary of state there are 14,543 active voting Democrats and 13,745 active voting Republicans. However, active unaffiliated voters make up a substantial portion of the district, with 14,367 listed.
Kefalas faces Bob Morain in the November general election. Morain got into the race in July, to replace the Republican HD 52 assembly’s first choice.
Initially, Republican Aislinn Kottwitz, who was just one year into a term on the Fort Collins City Council, was selected by the assembly in April to challenge Kefalas. She was unopposed for the Aug. 10 primary.
But Kottwitz never filed any of the required campaign reports for the state House seat, including one required ten days after her candidacy was formalized by the assembly. She also did not do any fundraising for her campaign. At the end of June, she dropped out of the race, announcing she was expecting a second child. Nevertheless, Kottwitz’ withdrawal was too late to find someone else for the Aug. 10 primary election and her name still appeared on the ballot.
On July 6, Morain, a retired software developer, filed his candidacy papers and the race was back on.
The 2010 session was one of the most contentious in recent history, and Kefalas found himself at the center of the firestorm — the battle over Gov. Bill Ritter’s 2009-10 budget balancing package, which included a dozen bills ending or suspending tax exemptions and credits.
Kefalas became one of the key players in dealing with one of the most contentious — the attempt to get online retailers, like Amazon.com, to collect state sales taxes, HB 10-1193. Kefalas sits on both the House Appropriations and House Finance committees, which spent dozens of hours listening to testimony on the bills, sometimes going into the wee hours of the morning.
“I had concerns about the original version of the bill,” Kefalas told The Colorado Statesman. “I thought it would negatively affect the affiliates and third-party vendors” and he heard from people in the district that it would affect their livelihood. Kefalas said he “pushed back” on the bill, seeking an amendment to remove the affiliate languages, and ultimately that did happen. “I did the best I could to push back and make changes.”
Ultimately, Kefalas did vote against it — the only Democrat in the House to do so, and says he was proud that he did. But “I anguished about that [at the time],” he said. “It was part of the governor’s budget balancing proposal and we had to do something.” Kefalas said he had to look at each of the dozen bills in the package individually and had to weigh all the information as best he could.
Kefalas cited as successes in the past two years legislation on the Colorado Innovation Investment Tax Credit, a bill he carried in the 2009 session to create incentives that would help start-up businesses find “angel investors,” or initial working capital. Kefalas said he also is very passionate about restoring the state’s earned income tax credit for low-income people, something that has been on hold while the state budget struggles. “This is something that provides money in people’s pockets, [and is then] spent in local economies,” he said. “But it’s an effective policy that helps families move toward greater financial security and self-sufficiency.”
Kefalas said that to get re-elected this year he will do what he has been doing all along during his four years in office: work hard as a state representative and citizen legislator. “I’ve lived in Fort Collins 35 years,” he said. “I’ve raised my family here, I’ve always been very involved in the community. People know me and know that I try to be a good public servant. That will help me get re-hired by the people.”
As to the campaign itself, Kefalas said it is going well, citing the success in fundraising and running a “grassroots, positive, issues-focused campaign.” Kefalas vowed not to do negative campaigning, noting that it was something he did not do in his three previous races.
Kefalas said that in his door-to-door outreach, the message he’s getting from his constituents is on the state of the economy and the jobs situation. He believes things are turning around but job creation is not where it needs to be. Kefalas said he has worked hard to be accessible throughout this past term. “I have a track record. I don’t just show up at election time. I have done town hall meetings, community conversations and issues forums throughout the year.” Kefalas also said that he realizes that “in today’s political landscape, people are angry, afraid and concerned. I submit that if I do this in an honest way, it will supersede some of the angst out there. I don’t do it for ego. I do it to serve others.”
Morain, who is now just seven weeks into the race, points to early success with fundraising — in the first week, he drew in almost $5,200 in contributions and another $1,140 in the two weeks that followed. As of Aug. 2 he had more than $5,700 on hand heading into the November general election.
While he may not be able to match Kefalas dollar for dollar, Morain said he has people who want to be involved in the campaign and help get the word out. “I believe we can do this on a less-than-extensive budget,” Morain said.
Morain admits, however, that he is fighting an uphill battle financially against the well-funded Kefalas, who has more than $37,000 in the bank as of the Aug. 2 reports.
Kefalas’ contributions come from a variety of political action committees ranging from unions, medical groups and the Colorado Education Association to Xcel Energy. Kefalas also was one of four incumbent House Democrats to be endorsed by the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry. He says he believes that endorsement was based in part on his vote on HB 1193 and his efforts to amend HB 1200, an enterprise zone tax credit bill.
Morain said that as a representative from HD 52 he would be focused “less on ideology and more on solutions to the problems at hand.” The top problem, he said is overspending, both by the state and the federal government, and that the state must prioritize which problems can be solved and creative in the solutions chosen. “I’m a Republican but not a party Republican,” Morain told The Statesman. “It’s not ‘party first’ for me.” Morain said he wants to work more on solving problems and then looking for opportunities to help the state grow.
But Morain also believes that “small, interested local groups” would be better at solving the state’s problems than government bureaucracy. “Solutions you choose in the small local community would be targeted to recognize the needs, tailored to that specific situation,” such as unemployment. When asked if he intended to do away with the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment and devolve its programs to local levels, Morain said “we can’t make such a sweeping change overnight. [But] bureaucracy is not the answer.”
Morain said he believed people had learned how to work the system rather than the system doing any good. “For as long as we’ve been trying on social welfare programs, we have higher levels of unemployment, more poverty issues, and the uninsured numbers are rising. If the bureaucratic solutions were helpful, the numbers would be down.”
On tax issues, Morain said he is not anti-tax but that Kefalas and the Democrats in Denver have not lived up to the ideals of TABOR. “I simply believe the people who are taxed should be give a reason for the tax. I don’t believe our leaders in Denver have lived up to that spirit.”