Moderate McDowell takes on social conservative Schultheis

GOP primary possible in El Paso County's SD 9

By Lesile Jorgensen
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

COLORADO SPRINGS — Republican Tom McDowell aims to enlist 2,000 volunteers in his grassroots campaign to unseat Sen. Dave Schultheis, R-Colorado Springs, in 2010. McDowell boasts that his campaign pitch recruits two volunteers a day in his battle against Schultheis, a social conservative.

“I’m preaching ‘big tent’ politics,” said McDowell, who walks precincts nearly every day in Senate District 9, which includes northern Colorado Springs, the Air Force Academy and Black Forest.

McDowell’s sales pitch hammers Schultheis as well as what he calls, “little tent politicians” — most of whom are Christian social conservatives — such as Republican Reps. Amy Stephens and Ken Lambert, whose House districts are in Senate District 9.

“I’ve been a door-to-door salesman, and I’ve learned some pretty decent techniques,” said McDowell, a retired U.S. Army veteran and founder of The Colorado Index Web site.

“I sold Bible libraries for a company in Tennessee,” said McDowell, who said he landed that job as a college student at Truman State University in Missouri.

McDowell might be a good Bible salesman, but Schultheis thinks his challenger is thumping the wrong inspirational message.

“He does not fit the demographics of this district in any shape or form,” declared Schultheis. “It’s the most conservative district in the state.”

McDowell disagreed. He estimates that 5 percent of the voters are “pure social conservatives” who won’t support his candidacy — and that the remainder can be pulled into his camp.

“There are a lot of social conservatives who will vote for a candidate who is a fiscal conservative over a social conservative candidate,” asserted McDowell.

“One woman said, ‘I don’t care if I pay higher taxes. I want to be on the right side of God,’” said McDowell. “Those are the type of people who won’t vote for me.”

“Schultheis told me that his most important issues are immigration and abortion,” said McDowell, adding that agenda alienates most Republicans and discourages unaffiliated voters from affiliating with the GOP.

“The way to win a majority in the state House and Senate is for the Republican Party to be more tolerant of moderates — just the opposite of Rush Limbaugh’s spiel,” asserted McDowell.

Schultheis scoffed.

“If you’re not pro-life in this district, you’ve got a big problem,” said Schultheis, who is seeking a second term in the Senate and previously served three terms in the House.

“Tom McDowell is not a serious candidate,” he declared.

McDowell, on the other hand, said there are two types of pro-life Republican voters and office holders: “Pragmatic pro-lifers are ‘big tent’ Republicans who have broad goals. Pure pro-lifers have one objective, and that is to fight abortion rights.

“Schultheis is pure pro-life,” said McDowell, citing his adversary’s role in establishing the Republican Study Committee of Colorado (RSCC) in 2004. “He’d rather have a small group of pro-life Republicans get elected to the Legislature than win a majority of seats.”

According to Schultheis’ Web site, “Dave and a small band of other conservative Republicans saw the long-term need to develop a caucus of Republicans within the Legislature that were entirely committed to the ideals of the Republican Party’s core values.”

The RSCC has 20 members, constituting nearly 50 percent of the Republican legislators in the Colorado General Assembly.

Lambert, an RSCC member, questions McDowell’s definition of conservatism.

“He’s got this burr under his saddle about conservatives,” asserted Lambert.

“McDowell’s stump speech is that we’ve got to be fiscal conservatives — and he claims social conservatives aren’t fiscal conservatives,” said Lambert

“It’s illogical!” he exclaimed.

“Senator Schultheis is the most fiscal conservative in the Senate. He and Sen. Bill Cadman were given the highest rating for their conservative voting records by the Colorado Union of Taxpayers,” said Lambert.

The crusade against

a judge and policeman

A major impetus for McDowell’s campaign is the outcome of a lawsuit that he waged against the builder of his home — and his plea to Schultheis for help in reforming the judicial system.

McDowell wrote a four-part series about the prolonged legal battle on his Web site — including complaints that his home had repeatedly been burglarized, a police officer’s alleged assumption that McDowell might be paranoid and accusations that the judge was unfair.

“Lawyers protect judges, judges protect lawyers, and the general public gets the shaft,” concluded McDowell.

In the final settlement, McDowell said the judge awarded only minimal compensation for legal fees.

“I wrote a letter to Schultheis about the building industry and the legal system,” said McDowell. “He said that he was taking action on my letter.”

A week after receiving Schultheis’ response, McDowell confronted the senator at a town hall meeting in February 2006.

“(Schultheis) put his finger in my chest and told me that he didn’t have time for any issue but immigration and pro-life,” McDowell said, almost quoting the incident from his blog.

“He did nothing for me,” declared McDowell.

Schultheis said he remembered the encounter, but couldn’t recall the subject of McDowell’s complaint.

“He was furious,” recalled Schultheis. “He was very upset and aggressive, stepping closer and closer to me and getting in my face. I probably did put my hand out to gently push him back.”

McDowell also made an official complaint against the judge to the Judicial Performance Commission in Colorado Springs.

Kit Roupe, who chaired the commission, had turned down McDowell’s invitations for coffee — a meeting she believed could have created the appearance of impropriety. Later, the commission dismissed McDowell’s complaint for lack of cause.

With an edge of sarcasm, McDowell blogged that he’d received “a love note” from Roupe.

McDowell published the alleged note on his Web site:

“Your continued actions are irrational and unreasonable since you expect others to agree with your position and anyone who disagrees with you is your idea of a threat to the public’s interest… I consider any further statements, comments or phone calls from you as a direct and personal threat.”

McDowell said that he had wanted to meet with Roupe “to find out what kind of instructions commissioners were being given” in the matter of his complaint.

“Perhaps she thought that I was going to poison her coffee,” mused McDowell.

McDowell crusades against political misconduct

Yet, McDowell is crusading against the alleged “political misconduct” that, he says, caused Roupe to lose the House District 17 race to Democratic Rep. Dennis Apuan last year.

“Kit Roupe was completely the victim!” declared McDowell. “It’s the sole reason that I’m running.”

He counts Schultheis among the GOP culprits.

“(Schultheis) sat on his hands while an anti-war Democrat was elected in the district that includes Fort Carson rather than see a social moderate Republican be elected. When a politician likes a far left anti-war Democrat better than a Republican, he can’t claim to be either pro-military or a fiscal conservative,” concluded McDowell.

McDowell said that Roupe’s campaign materials were purposely omitted from GOP handout bags that were delivered door-to-door in HD 17 precincts.

“That’s not true,” protested Roupe. “Not only did county party volunteers put my campaign materials in the bags, they helped distribute them.”

McDowell also alluded to a “conspiracy” against Roupe on the part of Christian pro-life entities such as Focus on the Family.

“That’s preposterous!” said Roupe, adding that the pro-life issue wasn’t a priority for the majority of voters in HD 17 — an area hard hit by home foreclosures. “They were more interested in jobs, the economy, and military, veterans and defense issues.”

Roupe, who lost the race by 500 or so votes, wondered why her campaign would in any way motivate McDowell to challenge Schultheis.

“House District 17 is vastly different from Senate District 9,” said Roupe. “I think Senator Schultheis represents the concerns of his constituents.”

“In fact, I endorse Senator Schultheis for re-election in SD 9,” declared Roupe.

McDowell, who plans to petition onto the GOP primary ballot, said that he has no plan to attack Schultheis.

“He’s made some huge whoppers,” said McDowell. “I’m not going to use them in my campaign. I’m not running against him.”

McDowell’s list of whoppers includes the senator’s opposition to a bill to require pregnant women to be tested for HIV so that an infected fetus could be treated in the womb, preventing infants from being born infected.

“This stems from sexual promiscuity for the most part, and I just can’t go there,” said Schultheis in February, adding that it isn’t up to the government to protect individuals from the negative consequences of their actions.

Causing further controversy was Schultheis’ clarification that an HIV-infected baby would grow up as a guilty reminder to the mother of her error.

McDowell claims he’s taking the high road in this race, but others said he’s already swung a sledgehammer against Schultheis and other conservative Republicans in El Paso County.

“His Web is filled with vitriolic personal attacks on people,” said Lambert. “It’s this evil sort of thing, like his attacks on Senator Schultheis.”

El Paso County Chair Kay Rendleman said that McDowell contacted her about challenging Schultheis earlier this year.

“I discouraged him from running against Senator Schultheis,” said Rendleman. “I don’t think Tom McDowell fits the district, and I told him it was a bad idea.”

Rendleman said the party remains neutral in primaries, but as a matter of practicality, she didn’t want to encourage a groundless challenge to an incumbent.

Leslie@coloradostatesman.com