Sen. Jean White, R-Hayden, says it’s unfortunate that “lies” and “deception” took over the Republican primary race for Senate District 8 in western Colorado.
The dejected lawmaker spoke of her painful defeat to Rep. Randy Baumgardner, R-Hot Sulphur Springs, on Tuesday night, a loss that has cost her a chance to return to the legislature. White was only appointed in January 2011 to fill the SD 8 seat after her husband, Al White, resigned to become director of the Colorado Tourism Office.
But her time at the legislature will soon come to an end following a bitter and polarizing primary that pitted the two lawmakers against each other in a fight over who was the true conservative. Baumgardner received 6,780 votes, about 58 percent, and White got 4,860 votes, about 42 percent.
White says Baumgardner lied to her from the very beginning when he “looked her in the eyes” and promised not to run a primary against her. Baumgardner, however, maintains that he only entered the race after constituents encouraged him to do so after legislative reapportionment.
The Republican-leaning district includes Routt, Garfield, Grand, Jackson, Moffat, Rio Blanco and Summit counties.
It was a race in which political interest groups seemed to take over, especially in the last days of the election. Outside groups hammered voters in the northwestern part of the state, sending mailers attacking both White and Baumgardner.
One of the most controversial mailings sent to voters featured a photograph of two men kissing, a swipe at White’s consistent voting record in favor of same-sex civil unions in Colorado. The ad was paid for by Washington, D.C.-based Public Advocate of the United States, a conservative family values group. The mailer was also used against Republican House District 48 primary candidate Jeff Hare of Greeley, who lost on Tuesday to Stephen Humphrey.
“Protecting Colorado’s families isn’t Jean White’s priority,” read the mailer. “She’s joining Denver liberals attacking traditional marriage.”
The gay New Jersey couple featured in the ad reportedly plans to sue the political group for using their engagement photo, which was originally taken with the Manhattan skyline in the background. The photo was altered in the attack ads to remove the famous skyline.
White believes that her vote in favor of same-sex civil unions demonstrated her principled character. She said she has no regrets having voted for the proposal, even though it failed and may have cost her the election.
“If it did play a major part of [the election], I’d have to say that I made a principled vote, and I stand by my vote and my support of civil unions, so I don’t have any regrets,” she said mid-week.
One Republican group, Coloradans for Freedom, had dedicated itself to electing Republican candidates in support of civil unions, but the group fell short in the primaries. Mario Nicolais, an attorney with Hackstaff Law Group and spokesman for Coloradans for Freedom, said targeting incumbent Republicans could come back to haunt the party.
“We would have certainly liked to see Jean White continue on, she was an excellent senator and an incumbent Republican, and the idea of taking out Republicans who are incumbents, that can be a dangerous game to play,” said Nicolais.
Nicolais had been hopeful that Baumgardner would lose Tuesday’s election, once suggesting that Baumgardner was a “dead man walking.” But he admitted this week that he was wrong. He said much of the problem is that his group didn’t take the same aggressive approach as some of the other outside political interest groups.
“The folks that helped him out are a little bit more willing to take chances and be a little more nasty about it,” said Nicolais.
White said that the nastiness translated to lies.
“It was just misrepresenting my voting record; my stance on numerous issues… he lied to me; he lied about me; he lied about who he is, what he does, where he lives, who he votes for, and people believed the lies,” lamented White.
Rocky Mountain Gun Owners a powerful lobby
Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, led by conservative stalwart Dudley Brown, also backed Baumgardner and attacked White. At the April SD 8 Republican assembly, the group’s political action committee distributed fliers that promoted the mustachioed Baumgardner and stated, “Warning: Only one Republican candidate for Senate District 8 is pro-gun!” RMGO has been frustrated that did not return their candidate survey.
“Besides the fact that Jean White would not answer our survey, we don’t view Jean White any differently than we do Al White, and Al White was a really weak vote on gun issues…” Brown said.
His organization was instrumental in electing several conservative primary candidates, including Humphrey, Owen Hill in Senate District 10, Justin Everett in House District 22, and Vicki Marble in Senate District 23.
“We threw our support behind a whole bunch of people and we won everything; every single race we were involved with, we won. Because we’re good,” boasted Brown. “We won everything we touched this year.”
Baumgardner also attacked
Baumgardner also received his share of attacks, including two fliers from Coloradans for Integrity. Both fliers featured a picture of Baumgardner slumped back in his official leather chair on the House floor appearing to be asleep, and asking voters to tell the legislator to wake up.
Baumgardner believes that one flier was meant to mislead voters into thinking that he voted with Democrats in favor of the 2009 so-called FASTER legislation that hiked vehicle-registration fees. It stated, “Rep. Randy Baumgardner was asleep at the wheel while the legislature raised your car tax.” Baumgardner did not support that bill.
The other “sleeping Baumgardner” flier suggested that the lawmaker voted against a plan to “protect northwest Colorado families from dangerous sex offenders.” Baumgardner said he has always voted to increase safety and correctional standards against sex offenders, though the issue hits close to home for the lawmaker these days.
Reports broke this month of Baumgardner having an unregistered sex offender, Michael Frierson, living at his home in Grand County. The offender was arrested on April 12 on a warrant for failing to register. When released, he registered and returned to Baumgardner’s home.
It was originally believed that Baumgardner had knowingly allowed the sex offender to live at his home unregistered after the arrest, but those reports turned out to be false. As soon as the issue came to light because of the arrest, the sex offender registered and returned to Baumgardner’s home to continue his work as a ranch hand.
“In this country, when someone has paid their debt to society, they can choose to live anywhere…” the state lawmaker told The Colorado Statesman on Thursday. “That being said, I had a tremendous amount of support for trying to help someone and give them a second chance.”
White viewed it differently, suggesting that neighbors were concerned by the living arrangements. “There are a number of people now who voted early and probably would have changed their vote after the sex offender issue came up,” she said. “It shows a lack of judgment on his part.”
But White never played up the sex offender issue. She felt it was inappropriate to do so since it would have distracted voters from the issues. “I am a principled person; I ran an honest and clean campaign,” she said. “No, I didn’t have anything to do with it, and I didn’t try to make a huge issue of that.
“But the fact remains that it is just poor judgment to house a sex offender in your home when you have a 7-year-old child,” White continued, referring to Baumgardner’s young son. “It’s a total disregard for your own family, plus the neighbors.”
Baumgardner faces Democrat Tracy in general election
Baumgardner now faces Democratic nominee Emily Tracy in the general election. The district — which includes 144,590 residents — is comprised of 38 percent Republicans, 26 percent Democrats and 35 percent who are unaffiliated, giving Baumgardner the registration advantage over Tracy.
But Tracy says she is prepared to fight, hopeful that the general election won’t take a similar negative turn. She has raised $6,534, with $4,806 cash on hand. Baumgardner has raised significantly more money, $21,374, though he needed to in order to compete in the divisive primary. He has spent $23,470. The filings are through June 13.
“I’ve been working on this race for several months now and this district is very diverse,” said Tracy. “There’s going to be folks with all kinds of different viewpoints… I don’t think that the social issues are going to be the main thing that come to mind.”
Tracy stopped short of saying whether she faces a tougher or easier race against Baumgardner, instead stating, “I think a lot of folks may have had a preferred outcome, but I didn’t really. I got into the race in February willing to take on either Republican candidate. I think in some ways it’s probably going to be a more clear distinction now between us with Randy Baumgardner being the Republican candidate.”
Baumgardner said he is not resting on his laurels just because he won the primary in a Republican-leaning district. He is taking a few days off to rest and then plans on canvassing the neighborhoods again.
“I’m concerned about any election that I’m involved in, whether it was the primary or the general,” he said. “The last general election where I won with almost 70 percent, I was as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.”