State candidates woo South Metro chamber

By Jason Kosena

Candidates, primarily from the GOP, in nearly every statewide race showed up to talk briefly about their positions and to ask for votes at Wednesday’s South Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce open candidate forum in Centennial.

Colorado Attorney General John Suthers, Republican, speaks during the open candidate forum hosted by the South Metro Chamber of Commerce.
Photo by Jason Kosena/The Colorado Statesman

The forum didn’t allow for many questions from an audience of about 50 people, and the candidates primarily rehashed the points they made at the state GOP Central Committee meeting in Keystone last weekend.

Here’s a summary of each candidate’s remarks below.

Governor’s race:

• Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry: The Republican from Grand Junction, state Sen. Penry, said he was excited to see a new generation of conservative political activists stepping out today because they believe the country is headed in the wrong direction. Penry, 33, was consistent in presenting himself as a young GOP leader who’s in the right position to create a new chapter for the Republican Party in Colorado — which, he said, has been misguided on many issues in the past couple of years.

“Both parties in a very real way have let this state and this country down. And that is really what I think is motivating so many people to step out and to get involved,” Penry said.

Penry said the 2010 election will be critical for the business community, which has been living under a governor who, he said, has raised “a billion dollars in new fees” during a time of economic recession. He said if elected governor, he would be ready to make the tough choices needed to cut the state’s budget. Penry did not mention the $1.8 billion in budget cuts Gov. Bill Ritter has signed onto since the recession hit the state in 2008.

“I don’t believe the role of government is to create jobs,” Penry said after expressing his frustration that Ritter has increased the number of executive level jobs in the state government since taking office. “I believe the government’s role is to help the business community thrive so that it can create jobs.”

• Dan Maes: Republican businessman Dan Maes, of Evergreen, said he believes the governor’s office needs to be run by someone with executive experience, something he has gained by working in the business world for three decades.

“How many years have you heard people say, ‘I wish we could get some great business people in politics?’” Maes asked. “Well, you’re looking at it.”

Maes entered the business world during the 1980s, when he went to work for a telecommunications company in Denver. In the 1990s,
Maes and his wife founded a credit agency, the success of which, he said, has allowed him the time to pursue other ambitions, such as public service. He said he applauds Ritter’s “good intent,” but believes the state has headed in the wrong direction under his leadership.

“The governor’s office needs an executive in it, not somebody who wants to play politics, not somebody who has good intent but isn’t making the best decisions for Colorado,” he said.

U.S. Senate Race:

• Vincent Martinez: Republican Vincent Martinez, a former stockbroker, said his experience as a 17th Street business investor in Denver will benefit Colorado in the U.S. Senate and that the nation is spending too much on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“The United States of America must bring an end to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Martinez said. “The country’s future prosperity depends on it.”

Martinez also said he also would focus on the country’s dependence on foreign oil, use of borrowed money to fund President Barack Obama’s stimulus package and the push for health care reform.

“Your vote will determine what programs receive additional funding and what programs will remain unfunded,” Martinez said. “Due to the enormous costs in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the choice (of what is funded) is yours.”

• Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck: Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck, one of the first Republicans to enter the U.S. Senate race, said that serving the public means doing the right thing. Buck touted his work in Weld County on behalf of citizens who have been victimized by identity theft and Second Amendment rights, and pointed to his efforts to put dangerous criminals in jail.

“I have worked hard to make our community safer,” Buck said. “Enforcing the law is not a matter of convenience but a matter of doing what is right and what is going on in Washington, D.C., today is not right. It is wrong. If you want a special-interest czar, you just have to pick up the phone and call the White House. If you want a bailout, you just have to pick up the phone and call Congress. But do not pick up the phone if you are not too big to fail. They will not listen to or protect you.”

Buck said he has traveled the 64 counties of Colorado and what he has heard from people time and time again is that people are afraid and concerned about the big spending, big government ways of the current leadership in Washington, D.C.

Congressional District 6:

Democrat John Flerlage, candidate for the Sixth Congressional District, speaks during the forum.
Photo by Jason Kosena/The Colorado Statesman

• John Flerlage: Airline pilot John Flerlage was the only Democrat to attend the candidate forum on Wednesday. Incumbent Rep. Mike Coffman is seen as having a safe hold on the seat, which he won in 2008. Flerlage served in the Marine Corps for 22 years and taught national security strategy.

Flerlage said that he doesn’t believe CD 6 is best served by Coffman, who, in addition to his own military service, has also served in a number of elected positions in Colorado before going to Congress.

“You are probably sitting there wondering what is my political resumé. Well, I don’t have one, and I don’t plan on being a career politician anytime in the near future,” Flerlage said. “I think the career politicians in this district have had their chance to make a difference — and they haven’t.”

Flerlage said if elected he will work hard to defend the Constitution and the first thing he feels Congress should do is to reassert its ability to declare war and to prevent it.

“We need to reform and transform our national security in this country,” he said.

Attorney General:

• Attorney General John Suthers: Colorado’s incumbent attorney general noted that he has never used his office to unfairly prosecute special interest cases to promote his own political agenda, unlike other state attorneys general in the nation.

“There is a lot of controversy about the way that some state attorney generals are exercising the power to bring consumer protection and criminal actions and environmental protection cases on behalf of the state,” Suthers said, adding that many AGs are trying to make a name by conducting their jobs in such a manner.

“I guarantee you the Democrat who runs against me will tell you ... that they want to be more active, they want to be the corporate dragon slayer,” Suthers said. “I don’t believe in that. I don’t believe the exercise of the state police power should be given to private attorneys who have a financial interest in the outcome.”

Suthers said he has been active, however, in going after companies and corporations that are hurting the residents of Colorado. He gave the example of his successful efforts to prosecute pharmaceutical drug companies that were unfairly trying to keep generic versions of their products off the shelves.

State Treasurer:

• J.J. Ament: Colorado businessman J.J. Ament was the only candidate for state treasurer who attended the candidate forum. He spent a majority of his speech describing different ways he believes the state can save money by shifting some of its status quo operations today. For example, Ament said the way the state borrows nearly $1 billion a year in order to pay for services and programs that are funded by tax dollars that have not yet been collected is a practice that can be overhauled.

“The one thing financially that has been helpful for me in this campaign is that, for the first time in a long time, people are beginning to wonder whether the state has a treasurer, who are they and what are they doing wrong,” Ament said. “My concern is how much the Colorado Capitol building is starting to sound like Washington, D.C., especially on fiscal policy. I am running for treasurer to put a stop to that before it gets too far out of control.”

Secretary of State:

• Scott Gessler: Gessler, a Denver attorney and a GOP operative who has been behind many of the 527 political action groups in Colorado, said as secretary of state he would work to ensure all Colorado elections are held in a fair and honest way. He said his goal would be to count the votes of all people eligible to vote and none from those who are not.

“A lot of people don’t pay attention to elections until something goes wrong,” Gessler said. “Wherever you stand on the partisan divide, I think most people can agree that whether it’s Minnesota’s (Senate race this year) or the Bush/Gore election in 2000, that it was a bad system that did not do voters justice.”

Gessler said the he believes Colorado has a good track record of holding fair elections and gave credit to the former Republican secretaries of state for that reality. But, he also said a constant vigilance to keep the state’s elections fair is needed.