By Marianne Goodland
THE COLORADO STATESMAN
Voters in House District 32, which is in Adams County, have never elected a Republican. Kaarl Hoopes is hoping to be the first. But he’ll have to get past a two-term Democrat whose campaign contributor list reads like a who’s who of Colorado Democratic Party activists, legislators, political action committees and lobbyists.
The district is bordered by I-70 and I-270 to its south; to its north it runs along I-76 to just south of Barr Lake State Park; it includes Commerce City and Thornton.
Party registration in this industrial district favors Democrats; they make up 42 percent of registered voters according to August voter registration figures from the Secretary of State. Unaffiliated voters make up 32 percent of registered voters; Republican voters are 24 percent.
The district has been represented by Ed Casso, Jr. of Commerce City since 2006; he is running for a third term in November. Casso ran unopposed in 2008.
Casso is something of a firebrand at the capitol; he cheered when Gov. Bill Ritter announced he would not seek a second term; in a news release Casso said, “I hope my crocodile tears don’t flow too much, or you might actually think I will miss the governor.” Casso and Ritter sparred over labor issues; in 2009 Ritter vetoed a bill Casso sponsored to allow firefighters to unionize without permission of local governments.
But Casso’s remarks may have cost him his vice-chair seat on the House Business Affairs and labor Committee. On his website, Casso says he is the “most independent member of the House…extremely effective at pushing [his] agenda, yet is able to compromise when needed.”
Casso has kept up his rhetoric regarding Ritter. He wrote on his Facebook page on July 28 that he blamed Ritter for the split in the Democratic Party that produced the Bennet-Romanoff primary. Casso, a supporter of Andrew Romanoff, wrote “Ritter divided us electeds on… literally on every major policy issue, and now politically in this primary. Nice legacy….”
On the other side of the ballot is Republican Kaarl Hoopes of Thornton, who is running for office for the first time. Hoopes handily won the Republican district assembly’s nomination back in April, with 47 percent of the delegate vote. He faced two other Republican candidates: Andrew Goad and Al Jacobsen; Goad withdrew prior to the assembly and Jacobsen picked up just 13 percent of the vote, not enough to make it onto the primary ballot.
Hoopes knows he has an uphill battle to unseat Casso. “There has never been a Republican [elected] in the district.” But he’s hoping this year will be different, noting that he’s been getting a warm reception from district voters.
Hoopes said he chose to run because he and his wife are “concerned about the direction our state and nation are headed. We could not sit back and watch conservative news and listen to conservative talk radio and read conservative magazines, and watch our country go down the tubes.” Hoopes said the state and federal governments have been irresponsible financially, and he believes there also has been erosion of freedoms and liberties.
“Liberals are for bigger government,” he told The Colorado Statesman. “They trust it to make better decisions than individuals and businesses. I trust individuals and businesses.” Hoopes acknowledged that government provides important services but that less government will mean lower taxes, less regulation and fewer bureaucrats. “When you add up [state, federal, sales and vehicle taxes] we are overtaxed. We need to cut in areas where we can gain efficiency through less government waste and change priorities.
As to his finances during the campaign, Hoopes said the campaign has so far raised about a quarter of the budget he needs and he is working hard to raise the rest. In addition to former U.S. Senators Hank Brown and Bill Armstrong, Hoopes has been endorsed by former state Sen. John Andrews, R-Centennial, former state Rep. Penn Pfiffner, R-Lakewood, and former state Rep. and American Constitution Party Lieutenant Governor-candidate Pat Miller, R-Arvada.
Hoopes also has signed a pledge for the Colorado Union of Taxpayers to oppose any tax increases, limit government spending, and to honor and uphold the spirit as well as the letter of TABOR. He also is a signatory on to a pledge for Amendment 62, the “Personhood” amendment.
“I’m going door to door to see voters and the reception I’m getting from the unaffiliated voters is extremely positive,” Hoopes said this week. He says he is also courting moderate and conservative Democrats — those who are pro-life, fiscal conservatives and those who voted for John McCain in the 2008 presidential election, and Hoopes said he is getting a positive reception from them as well. “Democrats are tired of being taken for granted in Adams County,” he said.
Casso told The Statesman that he has had a “pretty good track record” in responding to constituents in the four years he has served in the General Assembly, and also noted that to his knowledge, no Republican has held the seat in at least 50 years. “I’ve done my due diligence,” Casso said recently, pointing to 30 town hall meetings throughout the last four years.
As for his opponent, Casso said he viewed him as a “Ken Bucky-type Tea Party” candidate who would not be a good fit for the district. “He’s about as extreme as anyone on the Democratic side is facing. [His views] might fit in Colorado Springs but not in northeast Denver.”
Casso believes his moderate views will continue to appeal to Democrats as well as to unaffiliated voters who make a substantial part of the district. “I’m a moderate Democrat and the only House Democrat to vote against the 2010 budget,” Casso pointed out. “I thought we needed to cut more. And as a fiscally conservative Democrat that should appeal to unaffiliated voters.” Casso said he is a moderate on other issues such as the death penalty and charter schools, but he is not one to tow the party line. “I don’t tow the party line because I do what’s needed for the district.”
Differences between Casso and Hoopes also show up on their campaign finance reports filed with the Secretary of State. Hoopes said he has raised about one-quarter of the money that he believes he needs to win the election, with total contributions this year of just under $8,000. Casso has raised $3,105 this year but had about $3,200 on hand at the beginning of 2010.
As of Aug. 2, as both candidates head into the November general election, Hoopes has $2,753 in the bank; Casso’s bank account had just over $1,500.
And the differences don’t stop there. Hoopes has garnered contributions from about three dozen mostly individual contributors, including former gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez, and Armstrong and Brown.
Casso’s contributor list is just as lengthy, but it’s dominated by contributions from political action committees. In 2010, of the $3,105 listed in campaign finance reports, all but $105 came from PACs, well-known Democratic supporters like Pat Stryker or from other elected officials. The same was true for Casso’s unopposed win in 2008; he raised $10,335 that year with all but $315 coming from PACs, lobbyists or other elected officials.
Casso’s 2010 expenditures include more than $2,600 in non-itemized charges, with most of that during the first five months of the year while the Legislature was in session. According to the secretary of state’s office, any expenditure over $19.99 must be itemized. Those under $19.99 do not have to be, but receipts must be kept.
Casso responded to questions about his campaign contributions and expenditures, stating that when he first ran in 2005, most of the contributions came from within the district. “A lot of my precinct committee people have given money” to the campaign, Casso said, and during that first race he was out every two or three weeks soliciting donations.
The 2008 race was another story entirely. With no opponent, Casso said he ended up with 2,500 yard signs that he never used, and 40,000 “walk pieces” leftover and this year won’t have to spend money on those things.
Nowadays, he doesn’t turn away money from groups that want to fund his campaigns. “I’d rather ask people in the district to help me walk the district” and said that much of his undocumented expenditures have been to pay for coffee or dinners for volunteers who have helped him walk the district throughout the summer. “I’d rather put the money back into the district from the money that comes from outside of it,” he said.
“There’s a lot of buyers’ remorse from voters,” Hoopes said. “They’re ready for a conservative change.”
Casso, on the other hand, believes voters in HD 32 will pick the moderate. “Being a moderate in a year like this is good,” Casso explained. “A legislator should be as balanced as he or she should be.” Casso said his opponent — whom he called a “right-wing fringe candidate” — is trying to paint him as a left-wing liberal “and that’s the biggest difference between me and him. Voters will send back to Denver the moderate, not the right-wing extremist,” Casso said.