GOP women treated to McInnis at forum

By Leslie Jorgensen
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

COLORADO SPRINGS — Never underestimate the power of women — particularly the Colorado Federation of Republican Women. The feminine movers and shakers achieved the distinction of hosting the first GOP gubernatorial candidates’ forum that drew all three contenders — including former 3rd District Congressman Scott McInnis.

After GOP gubernatorial candidates state Sen. Josh Penry, Dan Maes and former U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis vowed to avoid divisive social issues, they groaned when CFRW District 7 Director Sharron Zancanelli asked their opinions on homosexuals who, she said, “can’t consummate” a marriage.
Photo by Tatianna Gruen/The Colorado Statesman

McInnis had bypassed previous forums, which he deemed divisive and counterproductive to uniting the Republican Party. But the CFRW forum on Saturday, Sept. 24, was a win-win proposition for McInnis.

It was held during the 71st CFRW’s annual Fall board meeting and convention at the Crowne Plaza in Colorado Springs — where McInnis has captured more support than either GOP opponent, state Sen. Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction, and Evergreen businessman Dan Maes.

Colorado GOP Chair Dick Wadhams and Robin Coran, who managed 5th District Congressman Doug Lamborn’s re-election campaign, at the CFRW luncheon last weekend.
Photo by Tatianna Gruen/The Colorado Statesman

McInnis’ favorable positioning didn’t go unnoticed by Penry.

Several days before the event, the Penry campaign issued a media advisory about the forum to reporters. About 24 hours before the event, the Colorado Springs Gazette reported that it was open to the public. The Penry campaign followed with an e-mail blitz encouraging supporters to attend.

When dozens of people strolled into the lobby of the Crowne Plaza ballroom, they were dismayed to learn that this was a CFRW members-only luncheon and candidates’ forum.

Several CFRW officers said that the forum had not been publicized because they wanted a straightforward exchange of ideas that wouldn’t disintegrate into cheering and booing matches from throngs of supporters of opposing candidates.

Several disappointed folks departed, including Buddy Gilmore, who had resigned his post as El Paso County GOP executive director in order to support Penry. About 40 people, including ultra social conservative Will Perkins, waited and hoped.

McInnis for Governor campaign crew: Adams County GOP Chair Mary Dambman, Communications Director Sean Duffy and Deputy Communications Director Josh Green.
Photo by Tatianna Gruen/The Colorado Statesman

“I invited people to come to what I thought was a public candidates’ forum during my town hall meeting this morning,” said Rep. Amy Stephens, R-Colorado Springs, who has endorsed Penry.

CFRW President Marolyn Scheffel agreed to allow the “uninvited guests” to stand in the back of the ballroom if they did not shout or ask questions of the candidates. She vowed to oust anyone who disobeyed the rules.

The convention hotel is a couple of miles from Fort Carson, the central component of one of the major disagreements between McInnis and Penry. The Army’s proposal to expand Fort Carson’s training site in Piñon Canyon was thwarted by House Bill 1317, which Penry co-sponsored and which Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter signed into law earlier this year.

McInnis not only opposed the bill, he implored Ritter to veto it — to no avail.

The topic landed like a grenade during the forum when Fountain City Councilwoman Lois Landgraf, a CFRW member, asked the GOP gubernatorial candidates to explain their positions on HB 1317.

Rep. Carole Murray, R-Castle Rock, and Arapahoe County Commissioners Chair Susan Beckman, a supporter of McInnis.
Photo by Tatianna Gruen/The Colorado Statesman

The bill bans the sale or lease of state-owned land, which is managed by the State Land Board, for the purpose of expanding the Army training site. Although the proposed 100,000-acre expansion site in Piñon Canyon is largely privately owned property, it is riddled with state-controlled parcels.

Penry said HB 1317 protects private property rights by preventing the Army from seizing the land of Colorado ranchers. The Army used eminent domain powers in the 1980s to acquire parts of the existing 238,000-acre training site in Piñon Canyon.

Penry said that his position is shared by former 6th District Congressman Tom Tancredo and 4th District Congresswoman Marilyn Musgrave, both conservative Republicans, who had favored “putting the brakes on the expansion plan” in 2006.

McInnis shot back, “Talk to Mike Coffman! Talk to Doug Lamborn!”

U.S. Reps Coffman, of the 6th Congressional District, and Lamborn, whose 5th Congressional District includes Fort Carson, support expansion of the Piñon Canyon site and oppose the new state law that hinders it.

CFRW President Marolyn Scheffel, center, with Mary Todd Lincoln and President Abe Lincoln, aka Pam and John Voehl of Littleton, at the 71st CFRW annual fall board meeting and convention at the Crowne Plaza in Colorado Springs.
Photo by Tatianna Gruen/The Colorado Statesman

“This is nothing but an inflammatory bill,” declared McInnis, who added that the Army had agreed to not use eminent domain powers two years ago.

Maes said he’s leaning toward ranchers’ view on the expansion after spending several hours with them. The Army, he said, hasn’t responded to his request for information.

All three candidates indicated that, ideally, they would like to bring the ranchers and the Army to the table to hammer out a more equitable solution.

Some people tend to think a candidates’ forum is dull compared to a debate, but this event was sharpened by barb-wired responses from McInnis, Penry and Maes and by the pointed probings of CFRW members.

The forum kicked off with each candidate outlining his campaign goals and defining the differences between himself and his opponents.

McInnis declared that “leadership and experience,” differentiate him from Penry and Maes, and encouraged the audience to check his lengthy voting record.

McInnis, an attorney, served from 1983 to 1993 in the state House and from 1993 to 2005 in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Deborah Scheffel, left, with her mom, CFRW president Marolyn Scheffel, and NFRW president-elect Sue Lynch of Wisconsin at the CFRW’s Centennial Club reception.
Photo by Tatianna Gruen/The Colorado Statesman

Although Penry trounced McInnis in a straw poll during the state GOP Central Committee dinner in Keystone last month, at the CFRW forum, the state Senate Minority Leader said he’s still “the underdog in this race.”

In a speech that repeated the theme, “It’s a new day,” Penry touted his leadership over the past four years in the Colorado Legislature.

After graduating from Mesa State College in Grand Junction, Penry worked in McInnis’ Washington congressional office from 1999 through 2003. The following year, Penry was elected to the state House from Grand Junction. In 2006, he was elected to serve a four-year term in the state Senate.

Maes presented himself as a political outsider with business acumen.

“I am not a lawyer or lobbyist. I am not a career politician,” asserted Maes.

That comment drew criticism from CFRW 3rd Vice President Henri Stone, of Gypsum.

“I think, Mr. Maes, that you don’t have the experience, so you don’t understand the implications of your words,” said Stone, whose husband, former Eagle County Commissioner Tom Stone, unsuccessfully challenged Dick Wadhams for the chairmanship of the state Republican Party earlier this year.

She recalled previous statewide Republican candidates whose internecine bashings bolstered the efforts of Colorado’s Democrats.

“I’d like to ask the candidates to pledge to proceed with honor, with dignity and not malign their opponents,” Stone said.

“I pledge to keep this positive,” declared Maes, who said his comments weren’t aimed at McInnis or Penry.

McInnis accepted the pledge challenge and lauded fellow Republican opponents Maes and Penry.

Penry, however, said that it’s time for more spirited debates.

CFRW treasurer Dona Troyer, left, of Lakewood and Cornelia Minister of Colorado Springs at the CFRW’s Centennial Club reception.
Photo by Tatianna Gruen/The Colorado Statesman

The call for party unity and adherence to President Ronald Reagan’s 11th Commandment — do not speak ill of a fellow Republican — crept up again and again during the forum.

CFRW 1st District Director Joy Woods, of Denver, asked how the Republicans could counter the Democrats and labor unions in the 2010 election.

Penry said the party needs to be unified and to articulate a strong, clear message — which it failed to do during the 2008 presidential election.

“John McCain is a great American … but he never made a strong case for us,” said Penry, who frequently criticizes Washington Republicans for the federal budget deficit and points to the weakness of McCain’s lackluster presidential campaign.

McInnis took issue with Penry’s remarks.

“Don’t throw McCain under the bus. He worked hard for us as a U.S. senator … and don’t throw other Republicans under the bus,” demanded the former congressman, who reeled off a list of admirable Colorado Republican leaders, including former Colorado Gov. Bill Owens and U.S. Senators Hank Brown and Wayne Allard.

At the beginning of the forum, CFRW members had asked the candidates to avoid campaigning on the social issues that divide the Republican Party, and all three had agreed to that.

So it was a breath-gasping moment for some when CFRW District 7 Director Sharon Zancanelli asked the candidates to declare their stance on the “homosexual agenda.”

“I would suggest to you that the homosexuals are not being discriminated against by not allowing them to marry,” said Zancanelli, of Arvada.

“I don’t believe they are equipped to consummate a marriage,” she asserted.

Each candidate attested to their belief in traditional marriage between a man and a woman — and shared a few thoughts.

“I believe we also have to acknowledge Christ’s first commandment, which is to love one another,” said Penry. “We can’t be the finger-wagging party all of the time… looking down our noses, casting stones.”

Maes said, “I don’t care if you’re gay, straight, black, white, brown or yellow, male or female. If you can get the job done — and we can get the bedroom out of the picture — we need your help.”

But the businessman also vowed, “I will not cede one more inch of ground to any liberal agenda (including the) homosexual agenda.”

McInnis declared his belief in traditional marriage, then issued a warning.

“Our focus had better not be on these kinds of issues right now. Our focus better be on Colorado’s economy,” he said. “Colorado’s economy is in critical condition, and we’ve got to be in the position to administer CPR.”

By the end of the forum, most of the CFRW members seemed to agree that Republicans couldn’t afford to let social issues continue to divide the party.

All three Republican candidates delivered the same priority — creating an economic climate that allows businesses to create jobs.

The trio also found solidarity in their mutual goal to roll back Ritter-sanctioned policies and laws, noting that they’d de-unionize state employees, repeal gas and oil exploration regulations and phase out new vehicle licensing fees.

Leslie@coloradostatesman.com