Republican state Sen. Greg Brophy of Wray says he is a difficult man to put into a box. But he says the complex nature of his political and private personalities will help him appeal to middle Colorado as he seeks his party’s nomination to challenge Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper in 2014.
Brophy announced his candidacy on July 12 and embarked on a seven-stop statewide announcement tour that kicked off July 14 at the Wildlife Experience in Parker. His tour ended on Wednesday in Loveland.
In between stops on the Western Slope Tuesday, Brophy spoke with The Colorado Statesman, explaining that he entered what is becoming a crowded primary because he believes he is the best chance the GOP has to unseat still-popular Hickenlooper.
Brophy joins two high-profile conservative stalwarts in their quest to earn the GOP’s nod. Secretary of State Scott Gessler and former U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo have also filed. Gessler is still in exploratory mode, while Tancredo seems gung-ho on challenging Hickenlooper. Tancredo earned 36 percent of the vote against Hickenlooper in 2010 when he ran as a third-party American Constitution candidate.
The Colorado political world is also still waiting to see if outspoken Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler will enter the race. Brauchler is considered a formidable opponent after passionately criticizing the governor for not signing the execution order of convicted killer Nathan Dunlap. Brauchler followed by telling the Denver Post, “No one elected him to be the state bartender. They elected him to be governor,” referring to the governor’s past as a brewpub owner.
While Brophy says he is middle-of-the-road on certain issues — he was one of only three Senate Republicans to back in-state tuition for undocumented students and he drives an environmentally friendly Toyota Prius — he is unapologetic about his conservative roots.
A campaign flier circulating is a perfect example. The Yuma County farmer is seen in a pink polo shirt firing an AR-15, the casing whirling away from the weapon as he pulls the trigger. In another photo circulating, Brophy and his entire family — his wife, two daughters and young son — are all seen with firearms in their hands, each weapon bigger than the next, including assault weapons, a handgun and a shotgun. Some questioned whether the weapons were loaded.
“Proper safety rules for handling firearms means that all weapons are always treated as loaded,” the senator coyly responded.
He clearly wants to make firearms a centerpiece of his campaign. Brophy led the charge by Republicans against a package of gun control measures introduced by Democrats in the legislature this year. The bills ban high-capacity ammunition magazines of more than 15 rounds and require universal background checks and fees.
“I want the people of Colorado to be able to trust me, even if they don’t agree with me on everything,” explained Brophy. “Firearms are an important part of the culture of rural Colorado; a culture that I grew up in.”
But the farmer says guns aren’t his sole motivation. He says ousting Hickenlooper for being a failed leader is his true drive.
Brophy’s distaste for the governor grew after Hickenlooper supported the gun control measures. He believes the governor missed an opportunity to lead by caving to national left-leaning interests on a gun control agenda that does not fit with the wants and needs of average Coloradans.
Brophy is also frustrated with the governor for supporting a rural renewable energy standard that is expected to raise rates; for backing an anti-discrimination bill that many business leaders say will hurt small businesses; and for not taking a hard stance on executing Dunlap by choosing neither to sign the execution order nor commute the death sentence to life without parole.
While Hickenlooper is still considered popular, he has lost some support over the year. Republicans have sensed the increasing vulnerability, attacking him for moving away from a business-oriented approach to governing. Hickenlooper ran for office as a moderate former restaurant owner with strong ties to the business community. But some say that stance has shifted with Democrats in control of both the House and Senate.
“This governor wasn’t what he portrayed himself to be,” declared Brophy. “He clearly isn’t governing now as a business-friendly moderate. He turned into the gun control governor; he waged this war on rural Colorado — and that’s what made me decide that I had to run.
“I looked around and I saw that there wasn’t anybody with the experience and leadership skills, and the ability to appeal to that middle of Colorado, looking to get into the race, so I knew that it had to be me,” Brophy continued.
But Brophy doesn’t think Hickenlooper shifted. He believes the governor has always leaned to the left. He feels a Democratic-controlled legislature has simply empowered Hickenlooper.
“We’re seeing the real Hickenlooper. What’s different is that in his first two years, he had a Republican House to check the Democrat Senate. This year he didn’t have that, and unlike [former Govs.] Roy Romer and Bill Owens, he didn’t lead from the get-go; he let the uncertainty build on all of the issues, and if you do that over and over and over again, pretty soon people say, ‘I don’t think this guy is being thoughtful, I think he’s being indecisive,’” opined Brophy.
“Or… maybe he really does know what his positions are; he knows they’re far to the left of where the state is on the whole, and he tries to disguise those by withholding until the last possible second his position on a particular issue,” he continued.
Brophy also criticized the governor for supporting additional costs and regulations on the oil and gas industry. But environmentalists are also at odds with the governor. They have nicknamed him “Frackenlooper” for his support of the controversial drilling process hydraulic fracturing.
They have also attacked Hickenlooper for working this year to kill bills that would have cracked down on the oil and gas industry, while also supporting lawsuits against Longmont for banning fracking and enacting tough rules and regulations separate of the state.
With many Democrats making up the environmental world, Hickenlooper could have problems with his own base, as well as unaffiliated voters. Recently, a group of brewers called on the governor to show leadership and to support restrictions on the oil and gas industry. Considering Hickenlooper is a former brewer, the criticism came as a surprise; perhaps offering a glimpse into the unrest the governor might face in the 2014 election.
“This year, just like 2010, the middle of Colorado, the people that are truly swing voters, are fed up with the Democrats and think that they overreached,” stated Brophy. “All we have to do as Republicans is run a candidate that gives them confidence that the Republicans have their act together.”
But Rick Palacio, chairman of the Colorado Democratic Party, believes Brophy’s candidacy, along with Gessler and Tancredo, is an indication that Republicans are far from getting their act together.
“If Republicans are trying to redefine themselves, they’re not working very hard at it,” he jabbed. “So far, Tancredo, Gessler and Brophy bring more of the same outdated and failed policies of the past that are too extreme for the average Coloradan.”