By Leslie Jorgensen
THE COLORADO STATESMAN
COLORADO SPRINGS — Republican candidate Dan Maes revealed the “the good, the bad and the ugly” of politics — the bad and ugly career politicians versus the good, newcomer citizen raised to heights by grassroots voters.
This state version of “Mr. Smith goes to Washington” was the highlight of the gubernatorial debate pitting Maes against Democratic opponent Denver John Hickenlooper and American Constitution Party candidate and former 6th District Congressman Tom Tancredo that was sponsored by Action 22, a coalition of Colorado’s southeastern counties.
“I’m not a career politician,” declared Maes in the Crowne Plaza Hotel hallway minutes after the gubernatorial debate.
“Career politicians play the game of saying one thing in public and playing nice in public. Behind the scenes they are vicious, malicious and insulting,” zinged Maes.
“Mr. Tancredo is running a very malicious campaign that is disgusting and angering a lot of people. He had to be called out on it,” said Maes.
Early in the debate, Maes attacked Tancredo for voicing concerns about Amendment 61 that, if passed, would place restrictions on borrowing and accruing debt by state and local governments. It along with Amendment 60 and Proposition 101 are controversial ballot measures that slash funding and tax revenues for the state, municipalities and school districts.
“What are you today, a fraud, a liar or a statesman?” asked Maes, accusing Tancredo having switched his position four times.
“You can’t count at all!” shot back Tancredo, who said recently that he was reviewing the impacts of the measures, which he’d previously supported.
“It sounded like he was saying, ‘And you accused me of fraud!’ I did,” said Tancredo. “I accused (Maes) of being a fraud because of the lies he tells about himself. Lying about everything he has ever done is fraud.”
Maes’s credibility has eroded because his campaign has amassed nearly $20,000 fines for errors and delinquencies in filing finance reports and his personal tax returns in two recent years show net income below poverty level in contradiction to his boast of business expertise. Disputed is his claim of having been fired as a Liberal, Kansas policeman because he worked undercover to bust a gambling ring. Maes said he would ask Liberal to open his employee records to prove his claim and disprove those who said that it sounds like Serpico-inspired fiction. Maes has likened himself to the underground police officer in the past.
“He can call it malicious campaigning or whatever he wants, but he’s going to see more of it,” said Tancredo, who has no plan to back off Maes. The ACP candidate said that in order to win the election, he needs to win big in El Paso County — and that means further marginalizing Maes.
Despite the camaraderie between Maes and Hickenlooper during this debate and previous ones, Maes asserted the Denver Mayor is too liberal for statewide voters. But, the Republican candidate has no plans to investigate the Democrat’s positions and background, perhaps because of his cash-strapped campaign that raised little more than $14,000 in August.
Hickenlooper’s agenda, said Maes, “is very liberal and I challenge the media to expose that part of the mayor and educate the voters of Colorado.”
Maes’ verbal slugfest was 180-degree spin from his passive behavior in past debates. During a Caplis & Silverman radio talk show in Denver last week, Maes said he hasn’t challenged or criticized Hickenlooper in previous debates because the Republican is running a positive campaign. And he and Hickenlooper have an agreement to not personally attack each other.
“(Maes) says he’s running a positive campaign, but he called me, what was it, an illegal alien in the race and Uncle Fester, a guy who puts a light bulb in his mouth during a party but no one would let him run anything,” said Tancredo. “He could’ve called me (Cousin) Itt,” another character from the television show The Addams Family.
Piñon Canyon is one of the issues discussed
The debate focused on more substantive issues such as the economy, immigration, legalized marijuana, education and Fort Carson’s derailed expansion of the Piñon Canyon training area.
The candidates said they support the military, but not expansion in Piñon Canyon if it meant the use of eminent domain powers.
“I will fight for a military base structure and troops here,” declared Maes. “I will not stand by and watch private property rights get trampled and strong armed by the industry.”
“I’m not sure that the military made a convincing case that the land was necessary,” said Hickenlooper, who also objected to the Army taking ranch and farmland by force.
“I agree,” chimed in Tancredo.
The solutions to improving public school education varied — but Tancredo and Maes agreed in their support of public school choice, charter schools and home schools. Tancredo said he supports school vouchers so that children can also have the option to attend private schools.
Hickenlooper said he’d like to see a statewide incentive program for students such as the Denver Public School District’s scholarship program for deserving students. Businessmen established a $50 million scholarship fund to help students go to college.
The Denver Mayor said that CSAP, the Colorado Students Assessment Program, needs to be more efficient and timely to be effective.
“CSAP — let’s be clear — what a joke,” declared Hickenlooper. “What performance system would any business have where you go out and test your success, measure your achievement, and then get the results four months later?”
It was the issue of legalized marijuana that smoked Maes. Tancredo said that it’s time to quit living in a denial state — legalize and tax marijuana. Hickenlooper said that he supports medicinal marijuana because there are people who do qualify for and need it to alleviate pain.
“How about we prostitute our daughters and tax that,” said Maes, whose list of “how about” went on to include heroin, cocaine and other dangerous and illegal activities.
“With that kind of sarcasm, I have to warn you, you’ll have an attack ad,” Hickenlooper laughingly told Maes.
“Where are we going to draw the line?” asked Maes. “If we legalize marijuana, they think that the problem will go away. It’s not going to go away because other controlled substances will simply backfill.”
Tancredo said that those were the same arguments made years against legalized liquor.
On the topic of immigration, all of the candidates agreed that the borders have to be patrolled.
Tancredo cited the soaring costs of education, health care, incarceration and social service benefits to illegal immigrants and their families — and paid by taxpayers.
Tancredo and Maes support the E-verify system that allows employers to verify the status of job applicants. Hickenlooper said the supports a job worker identification plan that works and a guest worker system.
Unlike his opponents, Hickenlooper said he does not favor adopting a law similar to Arizona or any other state.
“We don’t want 50 different laws,” said Hickenlooper, who suggested all governors converge in Washington, D.C. to hammer out one law and get it passed on the national level.
Each candidate offered brief highlights of how they would attack the economic crisis. Hickenlooper talked about his campaign to market Colorado to increase product exports and attract new business. Tancredo said that he would ease the regulations on the oil and gas industry to create new jobs. Maes agreed with Tancredo and added that he would cut taxes on businesses.
Higher education, Tancredo said, can be improved and run efficiently through Internet education courses.
Maes said that he would go back to the voters to repeal Amendment 23, set funding for public K-11 public education, because it currently takes a disproportionate amount of the state revenue — and that short changes higher education.
“The key is access and affordability,” said Hickenlooper, who said investment in higher education is critical so that students can obtain good jobs and achieve the American dream. He said higher education is also critical to the state having a workforce and innovative companies that can compete in the global economy.