Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez this week linked Gov. John Hickenlooper’s policies to last year’s murder of Colorado Department of Corrections chief Tom Clements, who was gunned down by parolee Evan Ebel after the white supremacist prison gang member removed his ankle monitor and killed part-time pizza delivery driver Nathan Leon.
Beauprez made the remarks on Sunday, May 4 at a campaign event launching a two-week tour of the state, dubbed the “Stronger Colorado Tour,” after blasting the Democratic incumbent for what Beauprez charged was the state’s tepid economic recovery.
“There’s an important piece of a healthy economy that John Hickenlooper’s completely missed. That’s the public safety component,” Beauprez told about 100 supporters gathered at the Tavern Tech Center in Greenwood Village.
“You’ll all remember the name Evan Ebel,” Beauprez continued. “If you don’t remember Evan Ebel, you certainly remember Tom Clements. Tom Clements was our director of Corrections in Colorado. Evan Ebel was paroled directly from — they call it ‘administrative segregation’ — directly from solitary confinement onto our streets, and within a matter of hours, he killed a pizza driver, guy working a second job to try to keep his family whole. Killed him for his uniform, his pizza delivery uniform. Then about 48 hours later, he knocked on Tom Clements’ door and killed him.”
Shaking his head, Beauprez said: “If Evan Ebel were the only one state Corrections released from solitary right onto our streets, that’d be bad enough. But he wasn’t. In the course of a year, over a hundred parolees from State Corrections were released directly from solitary confinement onto our streets — your neighborhood, maybe right across the street. Think about it. Solitary confinement. How do you get in solitary confinement? You don’t play well with others, right? Directly from solitary onto our streets.
“We release 750 parolees every month in Colorado,” Beauprez continued. “Ninety-seven percent of everybody who goes to prison is released from prison. And our recidivism rate — a fancy word for ‘you’re let out, you go right back in’ — 50 percent, third-worst in the nation, ladies and gentlemen. You know what John Hickenlooper’s response was to the administrative segregation-slash-solitary confinement issue? ‘Oh, we’ll just take ‘em out of solitary earlier, and we’ll put ‘em in the general prisoner population.’ Prisoner-on-prisoner violence is more than double in our state prisons. Prisoner-on-guard violence is up in our state prisons. This is all on the watch of the same governor who, when he was mayor of Denver, said, ‘Oh, we don’t have a gang problem in Denver.’ Wishing and hoping is no way to change reality, ladies and gentlemen. You may not like the reality you’ve got to deal with, but being a leader requires that you at least deal honestly and openly.”
Ebel died following a car chase and shootout with Texas law enforcement officials on March 21 last year, two days after authorities say he shot Clements at the prison chief’s Monument home disguised in Leon’s pizza delivery uniform.
“Tom Clements’ death was a tragedy and should not be used for political gain,” Hickenlooper campaign spokesperson Eddie Stern told The Colorado Statesman.
Ebel, who was serving an eight-year sentence for robbery and a four-year sentence for punching a prison guard, was released on parole in late January and was, by most accounts, a model parolee until he slipped his electronic monitoring bracelet and killed Leon and Clements before fleeing to Texas. (Authorities later admitted that Ebel’s additional sentence should have been served consecutively, not concurrently, with his first one, and that an administrative error made him eligible for parole years before he should have been released.)
In an ironic twist, Clements, who headed the state’s prison system for two years before his murder, had made it his mission to reduce the number of prisoners released on parole directly from solitary confinement and boasted shortly before his death that Corrections had cut the share roughly in half. His successor, Rick Raemisch, spent more than 20 hours in solitary confinement and wrote about its damaging effects in a New York Times Op-Ed article earlier this year. According to DOC statistics, the number of prisoners held in solitary confinement in the state has declined from a high of about 1,500 to fewer than 600 earlier this year.
A 2010 Department of Justice study, covering a period before Hickenlooper was elected governor that year, ranked Colorado third-worst in the nation for recidivism — defined as an inmate returning to prison within three years of release, either for technical parole violations or for committing a new crime. While the state’s recidivism rate has dropped slightly since the period covered in the study, prison officials said, current DOC statistics show that between 49 percent and 53 percent of parolees are returning to prison.
Beauprez also hammered the Hickenlooper administration for economic policies he said have slowed the recovery from the 2008 recession.
“I love to travel this state,” Beauprez told The Statesman on Sunday. “What I’ve already heard from folks is that a good part of the rest of the state is hurting. Here in the metro area, sometimes, people think it’s just fine, thank you very much. There’s a whole lot of the state that’s not.”
Beauprez said that he’s anxious to talk with folks in parts of the state affected by a soft energy economy and with farmers facing what could be another year made difficult by a drought.
“You can’t change the weather,” he said with a grin. “But what we’ve got to do is make sure the economy’s strong all over the state. Farmers know that from one year to the next, things may change, but most farmers are in it for the long term. That’s the way we were when we were in the farming business; now that we’ve got a ranch, it’s the same thing, you kind of plan for good years and not quite so good years. But what the state really needs is to get the whole economy moving again, and we’re simply not there.”
Beauprez is one of four Republicans vying to unseat Hickenlooper. Also on the June 24 primary ballot are former Senate Minority Leader Mike Kopp, Secretary of State Scott Gessler and former U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo.
Beauprez spent Monday in Golden and Fort Collins, visiting a pavement company, a charter school and a gun store. On Tuesday, the tour took the candidate to Teller County, where he visited a gold mine, a hardware store and an Italian restaurant before speaking to the Teller Tea Party Patriots. Wednesday’s schedule headed for the Eastern Plains, including stops in Limon, Hugo, Lamar and Rocky Ford. Beauprez planned to visit the Pikes Peak region on Thursday, including a tour of Manitou Springs flood recovery area and stops in Colorado Springs to visit businesses he said have been hampered by Democratic-sponsored regulations.
Speaking to the crowd at his tour launch on Sunday, Beauprez said he was disappointed that the state was adding jobs at a slow rate five years after the recession had technically ended. The state’s job growth, touted by Hickenlooper, Beauprez countered, has barely kept up with Colorado’s population growth.
“A whole lot of people are still wondering, ‘Where’s mine? Where’s the opportunity for me?’” Beauprez said.
Former gubernatorial candidate Steve House, the Adams County businessman who failed to make the primary ballot at last month’s state GOP assembly, introduced Beauprez and offered his hearty endorsement.
“I want somebody who’s sat in a boardroom, who’s done the work to hire people and understands jobs,” said House.
Beauprez said he agreed with a proposition first advanced by House that Colorado is “about 250,000 jobs short” of what should exist in a “normal” Colorado economy.
Former Gov. Bill Owens — the only Republican elected governor in Colorado in more than four decades — told the crowd that Beauprez’ background as a farmer, banker and rancher give him the know-how to spur the state’s economy.
“If you require things from the private sector, there are costs,” Owens said. “Bob Beauprez knows that.”
Owens, who sits on Beauprez’s campaign finance committee, also called on Republicans to prepare to unite behind a candidate in the fall election, calling it one of the key lessons he learned during his decades in politics.
“In the primary process, what we as Republicans need to do is realize that the small differences we have as Republicans pale in significance compared to the differences we have with our friends in the other party,” Owens said, heaping praise on House for exhibiting the kind of unity he was describing.
Beauprez said that Owens had exhibited the kind of “independent leadership” the state needs when he vetoed dozens of bills during the years he sat at the governor’s desk when Republicans controlled the General Assembly, contrasting that to the pair of bills Hickenlooper has vetoed during the two years Democrats have been in the majority in the legislature.
“When Bill Owens had four successive years of Republican legislatures — and nobody every said those were the most extreme on record — he vetoed 41 (bills),” Beauprez said. “That’s what governors do.”
Hickenlooper, Beauprez charged, wasn’t the kind of post-partisan politician he’d portrayed himself as when he coasted to victory four years ago.
“He said, oh, party doesn’t matter, I’m a moderate, middle of the road, pro-business kind of guy,” Beauprez told The Statesman. “Joke’s now on him. Fool us once, shame on you; fool us twice, shame on me. I don’t think Colorado wants to get fooled again.”