By Leslie Jorgensen
THE COLORADO STATESMAN
COLORADO SPRINGS — “I love my job!” Colorado Attorney General John Suthers told a group of about 50 fans gathered at an El Paso County Republican Meet-up Group at the Valley Hi Golf Club’s Caddy Shack restaurant on Thursday, Jan. 22, three days before he would announce his decision to stay in Colorado.
Attorney General John Suthers tells El Paso County Republicans that the state is grappling with huge economic issues.
It was the first clue that Suthers would abandon plans to run for the U.S. Senate in 2010 against Michael Bennet, who was appointed by Gov. Bill Ritter to fill the seat vacated by Ken Salazar when Salazar became secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior.
“I hate taking time away from my job,” moaned Suthers, adding that there was one exception — coming back to Colorado Springs and spending the night in his family home.
Suthers reveled in his commitment to the Attorney General’s Office, the thrill of arguing a case before the U.S. Supreme Court and the future of the Republican Party.
He mentioned Bennet — without malice — and criticized Ritter’s plans to balance the red-inked state budget.
But for a man supposedly running for the U.S. Senate, Suthers was stunningly silent on federal issues.
The following Monday, Suthers issued a nearly two-page statement announcing that he plans to seek re-election in 2010. The first paragraphs sounded eerily like his speech at the Caddy Shack — followed by rambling about folks wanting him to run for governor, and finally, the U.S. Senate.
“Let me say at the outset that I really love serving as attorney general of Colorado. As I’ve told many people, I take great joy in having had the privilege of winning, what I like to call, ‘the legal trifecta’ — being able to serve as district attorney, U.S. attorney and, now, as attorney general,” Suthers said.
“I find myself the only Republican holding statewide office in Colorado. With all the political developments taking place in the state and an election for governor and the U.S. Senate looming in 2010, there’s a lot of speculation about who’s going to run for what. And I’m part of that speculation,” he wrote.
Suthers said he spent the past month “talking to literally hundreds of people” about a U.S. Senate bid — learning the cost could exceed $10 million and require “six to eight hours per day, six days per week, fundraising over the next 21 months.”
“The analysis of the governor race was pretty easy to figure out,” Suthers told The Colorado Statesman.
“If I ran for the U.S. Senate, it would be raising 20 grand a day from here on out,” Suthers said, adding that the commitment would take too much time away from the Attorney General’s Office.
GOP leaders also didn’t want to repeat the saga of 6th Congressional District Rep. Mike Coffman, who served as secretary of state while campaigning for Congress. The dual role drew criticisms of mismanagement — and then the seat was lost to Democratic Ritter-appointee Bernie Buescher.
“I don’t want to give up something that I love doing,” Suthers declared.
“I had the best chance at winning the party’s nomination,” he mused. “I’ve always attracted unaffiliated voters.”
Suthers said his wife, Janet, supported his decision to withdraw from the race.
“We went through a lot of agony in making this decision,” he said.
As for the original choice to run for governor or the U.S. Senate, Suthers said that had been a no-brainer.
As he told folks at the Caddy Shack, “Colorado employees don’t need a union — with the exception of the governor and me.”
Suthers told the group he thought he and the governor might be the lowest paid state officials in the United States. (Actually, Nebraska pays the lowest salary to its governor — $65,000 a year.)
Colorado pays Ritter $90,000 and Suthers $80,000 annually. For Suthers, that’s less than half of the $169,300 yearly salary he would have earned as a U.S. senator.
Suthers said that if he had run for the U.S. Senate and won, his wife wouldn’t have to go back to work in the high tech industry.
In his press release, Suthers said the news would disappoint his supporters as well as Democrats who had been hoping to get him on the ropes against Bennet.
It also disappointed a couple of people who had already begun assembling campaigns to run for attorney general.
Earlier this month, Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck told Larimer County Republicans that he planned to announce a possible bid for attorney general next month. Instead, Buck may challenge Democrat Betsy Markey in the 4th Congressional District.
Former U.S. Attorney Troy Eid also announced his intention to run for attorney general, and he had already begun assembling a campaign team.
“This is a surprise. I would not have declared my candidacy without first having talked with John,” said Eid, recalling Suthers’ public and private conversations about running for the U.S. Senate. Eid even had won a pledge from his wife, Colorado Supreme Court Justice Allison Eid, to resign from the bench if he won.
“I recall John saying categorically that he was not running for re-election,” said Eid. “It’s all water under the bridge now.”
The U.S. Senate seat is a magnet for several potential Republican candidates, including Colorado Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry, Aurora City Councilman Ryan Frazier, former Colorado Treasurer Mark Hillman, and former Congressmen Scott McInnis, Tom Tancredo and Bob Beauprez.
Eid said he won’t challenge Suthers for attorney general in 2010, and that he’s not considering any other elected office. The attorney recently returned to private practice at Greenberg Traurig in Denver — the same firm where House Speaker Terrance Carroll practices law.
“It’s a bizarre political year. And it’s only January,” Eid groaned.