In a primary contest that has sidelined policy differences, the Republican candidates for CU regent at-large have turned their fire on each other.
Brian Davidson, a physician and faculty member at the University of Colorado’s Anschutz Medical Center, is facing off against political activist Matt Arnold for the chance to take on incumbent Democrat Stephen Ludwig, who was elected to the seat in 2006.
Ludwig beat Davidson by 5,814 votes, or a margin of 0.91 percent, in what was otherwise a tremendously successful election year for Democrats.
This time around, the regent’s contest is the only statewide race other than the presidential race, so it could get more than its usual share of attention. Davidson and Arnold will vie for spots on the June primary ballot at the GOP state assembly, which convenes on April 14 at the University of Denver’s Ritchie Center.
The two Republican candidates agree on the main policy issues. Both say costs need to be contained by streamlining programs and cutting unnecessary administrative posts. They also agree that tuition should be made more affordable and that “intellectual diversity” means more than simply hiring a chair of “conservative thought.”
In the absence of serious debate on policy differences, the candidates have resorted to selling themselves on style and attacking each other on personal terms.
Davidson describes Arnold as someone who has “the right personality for a political activist,” but not for a CU regent.
“When you actually have to make an institution run day to day, you can’t blow it up, you can’t destroy it,” Davidson said. “You have to make it work, you have to be diligent. You have to keep your cool and steer the institution in the right direction.”
For his part, Arnold accuses Davidson of altering his policy agenda to include issues he had previously ignored, such as the controversy surrounding Ward Churchill and failing to understand what Arnold calls the “ideological component” of the university system.
Referring to events at the last Board of Regents meeting, Davidson said that Arnold “harshly criticized members of the board” during public comment over the proposed concealed weapons permit — a decision by the board to implement gun control on campus that was recently overturned by the Colorado Supreme Court.
“I agree with him, but he got up and basically picked a fight with a number of different regents on an issue that’s already been decided,” Davidson said. “He’s an individual who refers to himself as a fighter before he speaks. Well, there’s a time to fight and there’s a time to listen.”
Davidson said his experience as a physician has taught him how to be confident while remaining humble, as well as how to persuade others to agree with him.
Arnold says that Davidson “doesn’t grasp the big picture,” which he says has an unavoidable ideological component and instead focuses solely on the “dollars and cents.”
“There is a tremendous left-wing bias in academia, and in particular at the University of Colorado,” Arnold said. “Boulder is notorious for being a hotbed of left-wing activism. Ward Churchill is merely the tip of a very large iceberg that exemplifies an indoctrination approach to teaching rather than an educational approach.”
While Arnold has said plainly that he believes education is a social issue, Davidson characterized the matter in medical language.
Davidson said that the university system has a liberal bias but described it as a “chronic problem” that “needed to be dealt with in universities across the country.”
The “acute problem,” Davidson says, is that universities play a “significant role in our economic security.”
“We need programs that produce students who can go out and get jobs, be innovative and entrepreneurial,” Davidson said. “If we’re not the world economic leader, we can’t be the world social leader.”
Arnold has also criticized Davidson for running for CU Regent while being enrolled as faculty at the medical center, which he views as a potential political weakness in the general election.
The issue of university faculty running for regent arose in 2010, when CU law professor Melissa Hart, a Democrat, came under attack from Republican Steve Bosley, who went on to win the election.
Davidson responds by pointing out the medical center generated nearly half of the University’s revenue and therefore faculty doctors are “essentially self-funded.”
At an early morning forum for the primary candidates on Wednesday at the Arapahoe County Republican Men’s Club, the rhetoric on personality intensified when Arnold claimed Ludwig would rather face Davidson.
“Stephen Ludwig knows me and fears me,” Arnold said. “He’s afraid of me because I’m a fighter.”
Shortly after that, Davidson questioned Arnold’s employment history, a charge Arnold labeled as “pretty pathetic.”
Arnold is currently employed with the National Guard, and has also worked as a management consultant.
Norwood Robb served as a CU regent for the 6th Congressional District for 18 years and is endorsing Davidson, who he feels he would be “more effective in working with the dynamics of what the board is.” Arnold, on the other hand, would seek to change that dynamic, Robb told The Colorado Statesman.
He felt that Arnold’s plans to change the structure of the university — which include eliminating entire departments — were unrealistic.
“I would say he’d spend six years and not accomplish a thing in being able to do that,” Robb said.
Robb said the nine-member board of regents is supposed to function in a nonpartisan manner but that the fights nonetheless end up falling along partisan lines. “You’ve got to be able to work with and maneuver between those nine people,” he said.
Polly Lawrence — the Republican candidate for House District 39 — said that after seeing the two candidates at the forum, the race “did seem to be a lot about personality.”
Lawrence said she’s backing Arnold because she believes he has “the fortitude to really stand up against his opponent in the general election, but we’ll see what happens in the primary.”
Ludwig said he would not comment on the Republican primary and that it was “up to the Republican Party to figure out who best represents them and their values.”
If the primary were to be decided by dollars, the race would not be close.
Davidson had a balance of just under $20,000 reported for the 2012 campaign, including the maximum donation of $400 from several CU faculty members. Arnold’s balance sat at $2,143 through the end of January, which was when the most recent reporting period ended.