Rancor runs deep in SD 1 race

By Leslie Jorgensen
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

When Republican Greg Brophy and his relatives celebrate the holidays, one family member isn’t likely to find a gift from the state senator from Wray under his Christmas tree: Democrat Mike Bowman, who is running against his cousin by marriage.

Sen. Greg Brophy

Bowman, a well-known proponent of developing alternative renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power, announced his candidacy for the Senate District 1 seat on Friday, Dec. 4, in Denver.

That announcement added fuel to a family feud sparked more than a decade ago by a business venture headed by Bowman that led to a civil lawsuit between Caribou Land & Cattle Company and the Bowman family farms.

The Bowman partnership — Mike Bowman, John Bowman and Jack Bowman — was penalized with a nearly $3.1 million judgment. More than 10 family members, including Bowman, his brother, Mike, and his father, Jack, were involved in the civil dispute over the development of an organic pig farm in Yuma County.

Brophy refused to discuss the details of the case, but close friends say that his family members also lost a lot of money in the dispute. They also claimed that the unsuccessful venture led to family divisions, a bankruptcy and a divorce between Mike and Debbie Bowman.

According to Mike Bowman, however, virtually none of that is true.

“I am still married to my wife of 32 years, and we have three children and two grandchildren,” clarified Bowman, who is not surprised by the latest round of rumors.

“They tried to make an issue of this in 2004 and 2006,” said Bowman, referencing the vetting process to serve on governor-appointee boards.

His main adversary, Bowman said, has been Todd Brophy, a cousin of Senator Brophy who married into the Bowman family. Todd Brophy wasn’t an investor in the family venture, but Bowman said he had been a thorn in his side, nevertheless.

“They’ve even occasionally called me a felon, which is totally false,” declared Bowman, referencing the civil lawsuit.

“The lawsuit judgment was appealed and settled out of court. We did file a Chapter 11 bankruptcy and reorganized — and we did not go bankrupt,” Bowman asserted.

Like Don Quixote, Bowman might be “tilting at windmills” in his battle to unseat Brophy — the district’s voters are 51 percent registered Republicans and the remainder are nearly evenly divided between Democrats and unaffiliated voters.

“It’s time for a much different conversation in eastern Colorado,” declared the Democrat.

Mike Bowman

Bowman said that Brophy has focused too much on divisive social issues, paid too little attention to solving the economic needs of farmers and ranchers in the district, and hasn’t attempted to build bipartisan relationships in the state Senate.

“Brophy is divisive,” said Bowman. “I am not a partisan kind of guy. In tough economic times like these, we need to build bipartisan support in the Legislature in order to pass legislation that is beneficial to Coloradans.”

Brophy scoffed at his distant cousin’s assertions.

“I don’t care what he says about me,” declared Brophy.

Although the Republican lawmaker has a reputation for verbally sniping at Democrats, Brophy also has forged bipartisan partnerships.

He worked with Rep. Michael Merrifield, D-Colorado Springs, to pass Senate Bill 148, which requires passing cars and trucks to stay at least three feet away from bicyclists.

Yet, in January, when Brophy discovered that his bike had been stolen outside the state Capitol, he told fellow Republican legislators that the heist had been orchestrated by “Obama Democrats.”

Brophy served two terms in the House before being appointed to fill a vacancy in SD 1 in 2005, taking a seat vacated by Mark Hillman, who had been appointed to serve as state treasurer.

Brophy defeated Democrat James Bowen, 71 percent to 29 percent, in the SD 1 race in 2006.

The Senate district spans Colorado’s Eastern Plains and includes Cheyenne, Elbert, Kiowa, Kit Carson, Lincoln, Logan, Morgan, Phillips, Prowers, Sedgwick, Washington and Yuma counties.

“I’ve always treated my tenure as something that I have to continuously earn,” declared Brophy.

“People here agree with what I’m doing most of the time,” said the Senate Assistant Minority Leader, who noted that he had easily defeated his Dem opponents in past elections.

Bowman, however, chastised Brophy for making derisive statements — particularly against Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter — and made particular note of a statement published on the Colorado Senate Minority Web site.

“The governor is spending too much time splitting hairs over which new employees he has hired and not enough time trying to balance the budget, which is the real challenge,” Brophy asserted on the Web site.

“I get the picture of him hiding under his desk waiting for the next revenue forecast and praying that it will be better,” he concluded.

To which Bowman responds: “That comment sounded like it came from a third grader!”

Brophy — when told of his distant cousin’s assessment — bristled and reaffirmed his dissatisfaction with Ritter and his administration.

“That’s exactly what I said,” declared Brophy. “Ritter waits to hear the latest economic forecast and for (President Barack) Obama to send more money.”

Brophy said that the restrictive gas and oil regulations adopted under Ritter’s leadership have made Colorado less competitive and have resulted in job loss.

“I’ve really taken it to the governor on these oil and gas rules,” boasted Brophy, who said his hometown of Wray has lost 300 jobs in the energy industry, which once employed nearly 1,000 locals.

Brophy, who graduated from Colorado State University in 1988 with a degree in animal sciences, has operated his farm since 1992.

Before being elected to the state House, Brophy served as area representative for former Republican U.S. Sen. Wayne Allard from 2000 to 2002. In the state Senate, Brophy serves on the Agriculture, Natural Resources & Energy Committee and on the Finance Committee.

Judging by contributors to his 2006 campaign, Brophy is largely backed by members of the finance, insurance and real estate industries, followed by ranchers and farmers, members of the energy and natural resources industries, lawyers, lobbyists and health professionals.

Nearly a third of the $45,452 donated to Brophy’s 2006 campaign came from the Denver metro area. The Republican lawmaker’s most recent pitch for campaign funds — e-mailed this week — says he’ll need at least $100,000 for his 2010 election war chest.

Brophy criticized Bowman for spending most of his time in Denver. Bowman contends that he continues to rent a home in Yuma County

Bowman has only recently switched to the Democratic Party, after coming to the conclusion that the GOP had left him behind.

“In August and after my 50th birthday, I gave myself a present — I switched my voter affiliation from Republican to Democrat,” said Bowman with a chuckle.

His candidacy has earned the endorsements of at least two prominent Democrats — U.S. Senator Mark Udall and former Denver Mayor and U.S. Secretary of Transportation and Energy Federico Peña.

Bowman is a fifth-generation Coloradan who was born and raised on his family’s ranch in Yuma. He serves on the National Steering Committee for “25 x 25” and is a former chair of Colorado’s New Energy Future and co-chair of Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter’s energy policy transition team.

Bowman was also a member of the 2005 TransAtlantic Dialogue on Climate Change and was active in the state’s Amendment 37 campaign, the nation’s first citizen-initiated renewable energy portfolio standard.

“Udall worked on the Amendment 37 campaign along with House Speaker Lola Spradley (a Republican from Pueblo West). They demonstrated how people of different parties can work together. They found what united them for a greater cause,” said Bowman.

In 2004, voters approved Amendment 37, which called for reducing reliance on energy sources from outside the state. The initiative demands that larger utilities obtain 10 percent of energy from renewable sources by 2015, and mandated that at least 4 percent of renewable energy come from solar resources.

As for SD 1, some political aficionados assert that the political climate changed last year when Democrat U.S. Rep. Betsy Markey uprooted Republican incumbent Marilyn Musgrave in the 4th Congressional District. Others argue that Markey swept into office on the coattails of last year’s Obama-mania.

An example of Bowman’s supporters is former veteran Republican Dick Kaufman, an attorney and veteran Republican who changed his party affiliation to Democrat.

“On December 31, 1999 — before I had anything to drink — I changed my affiliation to Democrat,” said Kaufman. “The Republicans had become a pro-guns and God, anti-gays and abortion party.”

Kaufman said Bowman is facing a tough race in the district, but he thinks the Democrat has a shot.

“I think his message will resonate,” said Kaufman. “He has a practical understanding of the issues — particularly farming and how the new energy economy can help them.”

“Unlike Brophy, Mike Bowman won’t waste time trying to impeach judges in the Denver District Courts,” said Kaufman.

Kaufman was referencing Brophy’s attempt to impeach Denver District Court Judge John Coughlin in 2006.

Coughlin heard the case of a lesbian couple that severed their relationship but maintained joint custody of a child. One parent had rejected her former lesbian lifestyle and embraced Christianity. In the custody agreement, the judge had ordered that the child would not be exposed to “homophobic” comments.

Jon Caldara, of the Independence Institute, extols Brophy for attempting to impeach the judge.

“Enter Greg Brophy, a first-term state representative from northern Colorado, a social conservative, and (despite the bad rap social conservatives get) a damn fine person. So outraged is he over Coughlin’s poor judgment, Brophy has introduced a resolution to impeach and remove the judge,” said Caldara.

The impeachment move imploded when it was learned that both women in the case had requested that Coughlin insert the provision to protect the child from “homophobic” statements.

“Brophy knew that before he tried to impeach Judge Coughlin,” asserted Kaufman.

And so it goes — a family is divided by both political philosophies and court cases. This race is one to watch no matter what bench you’re sitting on.

Leslie@coloradostatesman.com