Unity pact leaves Maes in the cold

By Leslie Jorgensen
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

The “Platform for Prosperity” — a peace pact to unite extreme factions of the Colorado Republican Party — cleared the path for Scott McInnis to win the GOP nomination for governor and to avoid a party-ripping race against heavyweight conservative Tom Tancredo.

As former Colorado Gov. Bill Owens, left, looks on, Republican gubernatorial candidate and former 3rd District Congressman Scott McInnis shakes hands with former 6th District Congressman Tom Tancredo, who bowed out of the GOP race for governor and endorsed McInnis this week.
Photo by Tatianna Gruen/The Colorado Statesman

More than 35 Republican legislators and activists — ranging from ultra social conservatives to fiscal traditionalists — attended the press conference on Monday to tout the unity pact and showcase support for former 3rd District Congressman McInnis.

Key press conference players included former Colorado Gov. Bill Owens, state Sen. Josh Penry and former 6th District Congressman Tancredo. After Penry abruptly snuffed his bid for governor two weeks ago, social conservatives had urged Tancredo to pick up the torch.

Instead, McInnis captured enthusiastic endorsements from both Tancredo and Penry.

McInnis still has one competitor for the GOP’s nomination — Evergreen businessman Dan Maes, who, after being excluded from the press conference on Monday, sounded even more determined to stay in the race.

McInnis and the party leaders announced the “Platform for Prosperity” at the press conference at RK Mechanical Inc., an international business based in northeast Denver. The site was chosen to showcase points in the platform that aim to lessen regulations, fees and mandates that hobble small businesses and keep them from growing jobs.

“This is about jobs, jobs, jobs,” declared McInnis. “Hundreds of people went to work today only to find out they’ve lost their jobs.”

McInnis blamed the loss of jobs on Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter’s failure to improve the state’s dismal economy.

“The number of jobs lost under his administration has been dramatic,” said McInnis.

The former congressman ridiculed Ritter for calling an impromptu press conference on Sunday night — after hearing the news that Penry had officially endorsed McInnis at a crack-of-dawn press conference in Grand Junction.

McInnis said that, instead, Ritter should have called a press conference to address the faltering economy, which has caused businesses to lay off workers and imposed financial hardship on families.

“He calls an urgent press conference because he’s worried that (Republicans) are unified!” exclaimed McInnis.

McInnis vowed that, if elected governor, he would stimulate job growth in the oil and gas industry by rolling back regulations, cut the state budget, invest in roads and bridges, create more opportunities for higher education and workforce training and establish a “rainy day” fund.

He also promised to keep taxes low — and to abide by the Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights, which requires voter approval of tax increases.

Those goals — and others listed in the Platform for Prosperity — might not be readily attainable. McInnis said he doesn’t have a crystal-ball vision of the state budget deficit in January 2011.

Some Republicans described the four-page platform as the party’s “Contract with Colorado” — reminiscent of the GOP’s 1994 “Contract with America” — and touted it as a guideline for all party candidates, ensuring a consistent message.

Denver GOP Chair Ryan Call said the document was discussed last year and began to be developed three months ago. Drafts, he said, had been circulated to more than 30 Republicans from all over the state for their input. It was intended to identify party values and to be used by legislative candidates — not just McInnis.

Several folks view the platform as the GOP Holy Grail to keep McInnis on the right path. They see it as an insurance policy to entice right-wingers — particularly social conservatives — to support McInnis.

Colorado GOP Chair Dick Wadhams said the platform was created by McInnis, Penry and Tancredo over the past two weeks.

After Penry withdrew from the race, Wadhams said, McInnis solicited his advice. The state party chair urged him to draw up a clear campaign agenda in the governor’s race.

“It’s admirable that Josh and Tom worked with Scott to hammer out a platform,” said Wadhams, who added that “candidates ultimately decide the issues of any given race.”

The platform covers a wide range of topics that reflect the key issues of its crafters — from banning taxpayer funding of organizations that provide abortions to supporting mandatory workplace verification to ensure employers don’t hire people who are in the United States illegally.

“It’s a simple process to ensure jobs go to Americans,” said Tancredo of the E-verify system used by employers to validate the legal status of workers.

Tancredo’s interest in running for governor had been applauded by some Republicans and booed by others, who feared he’d divide the party and use the race to push his anti-illegal-immigrant agenda.

“I never thought for a second that I’d be president of the United States,” confessed Tancredo of his failed Republican campaign last year. “I did it because I had an agenda.”

After endorsing McInnis, Tancredo said, “Now it’s time for me to get out of the way and let Scott McInnis run for governor.”

The Republican agenda outlined in the platform drew criticism from Ritter and from Colorado Democratic Party Chair Pat Waak.

“It looks like Josh’s hope for a new GOP got swallowed by Tancredo’s and others’ regurgitated ideas,” declared Waak in a press statement. “This looks an awful lot like last year’s open path for Bob Schaffer, which blew up in their faces.”

After former 4th District Congressman Schaffer lost the U.S. Senate race against U.S. Senator Mark Udall, McInnis complained that he had been dissuaded from running against Udall.

Democrats weren’t the only ones to pan the platform.

“This is not the altruistic kumbaya moment for Republicans,” declared Maes, who was left out of the loop on both Penry’s decision to endorse McInnis and the press conference to tout the platform.

Maes said Penry had called him last Thursday, and that the two men had agreed to meet on Monday afternoon in Grand Junction. He learned that Penry was in Denver after reporters called him for comment.

“(Penry) said, ‘I want to see your plan on how you’re going to win this race,’” recalled Maes, who had hoped to gain Penry’s endorsement.

The platform “is a strategic move by Republican leaders to head Dan Maes off at the pass,” asserted Maes, who didn’t name the party leaders.

“They did it to secure Scott McInnis’ place as the alleged leader in the race for governor,” he declared.

“People need to see this for what it is. People see through this nonsense.”

Maes recorded his dismay on his telephone voice mail message.

“I don’t care what contract was signed by Wadhams elitists and the Republican Party. We are here to fight for the conservative cause!” declared the voice on the answering machine.

However, Maes told The Colorado Statesman that he was so mad when he recorded the message that he couldn’t remember what he’d said. In hindsight, he said, he doesn’t think Wadhams orchestrated the events.

“This was driven by Scott McInnis — not Dick Wadhams,” said Maes.

McInnis campaign manager George Culpepper didn’t disagree. He said McInnis spearheaded the effort to hammer out a campaign platform with Penry and Tancredo and that it solidifies Republican support.

“Dan Maes can play the martyr routine and do whatever he wants to do,” said Wadhams, who added that the candidate is welcome to stay in the contest.

Wadhams said he told Maes earlier this year that, in order to be taken seriously, he would have to sell his candidacy to party activists and raise campaign funds. Maes had worked hard to deliver his message around the state, Wadhams said, but had failed to raise a substantial campaign war chest.

Maes reported raising $16,315 — a meager sum compared to the $400,286 amassed by Penry and the $544,779 raised by McInnis.

“Grassroots is a very romantic notion,” said Wadhams.

Leslie@coloradostatesman.com