Penry makes three in GOP guv race

By Jason Kosena

MORRISON — The wait is over. The inevitable has occurred. The Republican primary for governor just got bigger.

The long-expected announcement by Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction, that his hat is now in the ring, came Saturday, July 11, in his hometown of Grand Junction. He will not resign his Senate seat to run.

Sen. Josh Penry shakes the hand of a supporter as Rep. Cheri Gerou, R-Evergreen, talks to him about his newly announced bid to run for governor. Penry is entering a primary field that includes former U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis and Evergreen businessman Dan Maes.
Photo by Jason Kosena/The Colorado Statesman

During the subsequent campaign rollout this week, Penry traveled the Front Range, meeting with Grand Old Party loyalists and calling for Colorado to regain its fiscal discipline while touting himself as a fresh, resourceful leader.

“We have to get the mantle of fiscal government back, but also a focus on how we govern,” Penry, 33, said during a Sunday afternoon meet-and-greet in Morrison. “People are looking for fresh ideas and a new direction in government. They want a fiscal government that can say ‘Here is what we need, and here is how we are going to pay for it.’”

His words were carefully chosen. Penry is jumping into a three-way primary against former Congressman Scott McInnis, 58, and Denver businessman Dan Maes, 48. The trio will spend the next 10 months fighting for a chance to challenge the Democratic incumbent, Bill Ritter, in 2010.

The differences among the candidates already are clear.

Penry’s supporters cast him as the founder of a new Republican Party, different from the one that has struggled in recent election years, both nationally and in Colorado. Penry, who served on McInnis’ D.C. staff before returning to Colorado to run for the Statehouse, has said on numerous occasions that the GOP needs to return to its roots by demanding fiscally responsible government.

A Penry for Governor sign is displayed on a table at the Morrison Inn on Sunday. Sen. Josh Penry held a meet and greet with supporters there one day after announcing his bid for governor in Grand Junction.
Photo by Jason Kosena/The Colorado Statesman

He even has chastised many Republicans who, he said, have squandered the confidence of voters by spending wildly and playing fast with the rules. During the 2009 legislative session, Penry often likened the political tactics of Colorado’s Democrats to those of disgraced former Texas Republican Congressman Tom DeLay, who was forced out of office after corruption charges surfaced.

Penry is positioning himself as a leader for the future of his party, and his message seems to be finding an enthusiastic audience.

“I think he is the best thing that has happened to the party in a long time,” Rep. Cheri Gerou, R-Evergreen, told The Colorado Statesman. “I met with the Republicans in the race, and I think they are good people. But I really feel Josh represents an exciting future for the party.”

Sen. Nancy Spence, R-Centennial, agreed.

“For a young man, he has so much maturity and experience,” Spence said. “He has fresh ideas and brings a new direction for Colorado.”

Penry’s youth and his rejection of the negative aspects of the Republican Party clearly are political assets — but they won’t be enough to make winning easy.

On the other hand, McInnis, who began his two decades in elected office in the Colorado Legislature before representing the 3rd Congressional District in Washington, is considered a member of state’s old Republican guard.

His political connections and donor list are vast, his name I.D. is high, and he has an extensive voting record that includes fighting for enhanced environmental protection — an issue important to state voters.

Nevertheless, many political insiders are calling this run for office his “last chance” to regain an elected position in Colorado, and others say his political life is over.

“His time has gone past,” Spence said. “It’s time for a fresh face. Josh is the next generation of young political leaders.”

McInnis’ efforts won’t be helped by his reputation for unpredictability, Spence added.

Sen. Josh Penry talks with Sen. Nancy Spence, R-Centennial, at the Morrison Inn during a meet and greet on Sunday.
Photo by Jason Kosena/The Colorado Statesman

McInnis gave up his CD 3 House seat in 2004, and it was won by Democrat Rep. John Salazar. He also formed an exploratory committee for the 2008 U.S. Senate race and withdrew his candidacy after only a month, citing family concerns. The seat, which had been held by retiring Republican Sen. Wayne Allard, went to Democrat Mark Udall, who bested Republican Senate candidate Bob Schaffer.

If it’s a fresh face the Republican Party needs, Maes also could provide one.

Maes, who has made his living in the credit industry, is a relative newcomer to Colorado politics.

After briefly dipping into politics in the early 1990s, when he worked on Bob Bammerlin’s campaign for Jefferson County treasurer, Maes entered the business world. He now serves as partner and vice president of ACB Credit Solutions.

In statements to The Statesman in April, Maes acknowledged that, when he inquired about running for governor, he did not get much encouragement from the Colorado Republican establishment, including state GOP Chair Dick Wadhams and former Gov. Bill Owens

“Dick gave me more words of caution than encouragement,” Maes told The Statesman at the time. “He said the campaign will be physically, emotionally and financially draining. He was very candid, objective and fair.”

Maes said Owens told him that a fresh candidate with qualifications that included party activism and experience in elected office would better serve the party.

The lackluster support hasn’t stopped Maes, though, and a Republican primary is inevitable.

But what will it look like?

Republicans have bruised candidates badly in recent statewide primaries. Schaffer and Pete Coors engaged in a particularly nasty Senate primary in 2004. Coors won the primary and went on to eventual defeat at the hands of Sen. Ken Salazar, and many Republicans believe the damage he incurred during the primary made it impossible for him to win in the general election.

In 2006, Republican Mark Holtzman and former Congressman Bob Beauprez fought a bruising primary in their bids to face Ritter.

Although most political experts agree the many missteps the Beauprez campaign made during the general election caused his eventual loss to Ritter, the “Both Ways Bob” moniker stuck on him during the primary didn’t help.

In comments to The Statesman on Sunday, Penry said he hopes the primary remains cordial.

“It’s going to be a spirited debate,” Penry said. “But it has to be a debate about who is going to do the best job as governor and not one that dives into personal attacks.”

Is that wishful thinking? Time will tell. But, for now, the game is on.