Caucuses ignite hot races in El Paso County

By Leslie Jorgensen
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

COLORADO SPRINGS – The U.S. Senate races will be the main motivators driving El Paso County Democrats and Republicans to caucuses on Tuesday, March 16, to elect delegates to higher party assemblies based on their candidate preferences. Republicans are equally passionate about backing candidates to recapture the Democratic-held seats in Senate District 11 and House Districts 17 and 18, and keeping elected offices in the county.

Democrats will choose between U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet and former House Speaker Andrew Romanoff. Republicans will consider a crowded field of contenders who include former Colorado Lt. Gov. Jane Norton, Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck, former state Sen. Tom Wiens, Denver businessman Cleve Tidwell and attorney Steve Barton.

Last weekend, Bennet held a meet-and-greet in Colorado Springs that drew about 35 people, and the campaign hosted a caucus training session for more than 50 Democrats at the Penrose Library. Romanoff has visited Colorado Springs several times in recent weeks and campaign volunteers have hosted phone banks to turn out caucus supporters.

Romanoff supporters solicited phone bank volunteers in the e-mailed Peak Dems newsletter — the county party’s official publication. A few days later, El Paso County Democratic Party Acting Chair Judi Ingelido quickly dispatched an email to remind precinct leaders that they can’t advocate for any candidate when calling voters to attend caucuses.

“In your role as a private citizen, you certainly have the right to advocate for an issue or candidate,” said Ingelido. “While you are wearing your ‘party official hat,’ you cannot advocate for or against a Democratic candidate. The reason for this may be obvious, but as a party official, you are speaking on behalf of the El Paso County Democratic Party.”

Both Democrats and Republicans will participate in preference polls at caucuses, measuring support for the U.S. Senate and gubernatorial candidates.

Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper appears to be the lone Democrat running for governor. Across the aisle, Republicans include former Congressman Scott McInnis, Evergreen businessman Dan Maes and Littleton translator Yoon Joo “YJ” Mager, all contending for the party’s nomination.

So far, only the county GOP faces potentially contentious — and costly — Republican contests for several legislative and local offices.

The Republican sizzler is the race between military land use consultant Catherine “Kit” Roupe and attorney Mark Barker for the party’s nomination to challenge Democratic Rep. Dennis Apuan in HD 17.

Apuan has continued to have a high profile in the district by hosting town hall meetings and walking precincts. Barker and Roupe, who lost to Apuan by a few hundred votes in 2008, have been actively campaigning at Republican functions and knocking on doors in HD 17.

Barker is campaigning as “the true conservative.” Roupe is promoting her commitment to the community and communication with voters.

An Army veteran, Roupe has been nearly silent on the subject of Barker, but has fired verbal salvos at Apuan for having been a war protester and being too liberal for the district which includes southeastern Colorado Springs and Fort Carson Army Base.

Apuan voted against a bill last year that thwarted Fort Carson’s plan to expand the Piñon Canyon training area. Roupe contends that voting is not enough — the Democratic lawmaker failed to speak against the bill that was signed into law last summer.

Barker, who has also criticized the bill, was a Colorado Springs police officer for more than 20 years and previously served in the U.S. Navy.

Roupe and Barker concur that the major issues in this election are balancing the state budget, protecting gun rights, improving the economy, creating jobs by easing regulations and taxes on businesses.

A third rumored GOP candidate, former state Rep. Stella Hicks, decided not to seek election. She and her husband, Ray Hicks, moved outside of the district last year, but have continued to work on Barker’s campaign.

The Republican outcome of this race will be decided at the HD 17 assembly on April 10 at the UCCS Event Center. Roupe and Barker signed an agreement that whichever candidate wins top line will be the Republican nominee — the runner up will drop out.

The challenge to unseat Apuan will be an uphill battle for Republicans. The district has 10,103 unaffiliated voters, 9,109 registered Democrats and 7,272 Republicans.

Lambert versus McDowell in Senate District 9

In the ultra conservative Senate District 9, Republican Sen. Dave Schultheis stunned folks when he declined to seek re-election and handpicked his successor, Rep. Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs. Lambert, a member of the powerful Joint Budget Committee, faces challenger Tom McDowell, a self-described moderate Republican who blogs at TheColoradoIndex.com.

Schultheis and Lambert held a press conference to introduce Dr. Janak Joshi as the Republican candidate for Lambert’s HD 14 seat. The domino endorsements dismayed some Republicans, who attempted to recruit candidates for the seats during the county GOP Central Committee meeting in November.

Term limits up Republican contests

Several term-limited El Paso County elected officials are in a Republican merry-go-round contest for other seats.

County Treasurer Sandra Damron and County Commissioner Wayne Williams, both term limited, are vying against Republican computer guru Charles E. Corry for county Clerk and Recorder.

County Clerk and Recorder Bob Balink is also term limited and running for county Treasurer. He briefly faced opposition from county Commissioner Jim Bensberg, who is also term limited. In late December, Bensberg decided to abandon the race and instead, run in 2012 for the HD 16 seat held by Rep. Larry Liston, who will be term limited.

The Republican race to replace retiring county Commissioner Williams set in District 5, has been whittled from five to three candidates — Peggy Littleton, state Board of Education member for the 5th Congressional District; David Williams, a former UCCS student body president; and Bill Guevara, a former councilman from California. Former state Sen. Ed Jones, who previously served on the county board of commissioners, and Patrick Carter, a businessman and party activist, withdrew their bids.

The Republican nominee will face Democratic state Rep. Michael Merrifield, who is term limited in HD 18. Merrifield may be the underdog in this race because Commissioner District 5 is comprised of 24,728 registered Republicans, 19,038 Democrats and 24,357 unaffiliated voters.

Democrats fight to keep Legislative Seats

The GOP is also gunning to reclaim Merrifield’s HD 18 seat, however, it won’t be an easy target. The district, which includes central and western portions of Colorado Springs and all of Manitou Springs, has 15,822 unaffiliated voters, 14,250 registered Democrats and 11,382 Republicans.

Republican candidate Karen Cullen, a bed-and-breakfast owner, will face Democratic contender Pete Lee, a Colorado Springs attorney and community activist.

When Lee launched his campaign in September at the Front Range Barbeque, the event drew Democrats and several Republicans. His candidacy has been endorsed by Democratic House Speaker Terrance Carroll, U.S. Senate candidate Romanoff, state Reps. Michael Merrifield and Dennis Apuan, and Republican City Councilwoman Jan Martin.

Lee’s slogan, “Committed to our community,” reflects his campaign goals to improve public education, reform the state’s healthcare system to provide affordable and accessible coverage and protect the environment and mend the ‘broken” criminal justice system.

In 2008, Lee was the principle drafter of the “Restorative Justice in the Children’s Code” bill that was signed into law by Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter. That same year, he ran unsuccessfully against state Sen. Keith King, R-Colorado Springs.

Over the past three decades, Lee has served on numerous community boards and committees. He currently is member of the boards of directors for the Peak Mental Health, Workout, Ltd., Community Prep School Board, Youth Transformation Center and Pikes Peak Restorative Justice Council, which he co-founded.

Cullen kicked off her “Business sense for Colorado” campaign in January at the Gold Hill Mesa Community Center. A third-generation Coloradan, she has been endorsed by nearly every Republican elected official in the Pikes Peak region as well as state GOP chair Dick Wadhams.

Her most ardent Republican supporters are state Rep. Marsha Looper, R-Calhan, and El Paso County Commissioner Sallie Clark, who courted Cullen and helped guide her campaign liftoff.

“Local government agencies — from school districts to cities and towns and El Paso County — have had to make difficult decisions and devastating cutbacks,” said Cullen. “But even in the face of a recession, the current state administration has increased its spending — contributing to an estimated $600 million shortfall for 2010, with more than twice that amount projected for 2011!”

Cullen vowed to bring business sense and fiscal responsibility to the legislature if elected. She has served on the Manitou Springs Historic Preservation Board and ran unsuccessfully for Manitou Springs City Council.

Republicans have also set their sights on unseating state House Majority Leader John Morse in Senate District 11 with GOP challenger Owen Hill, a Compassion International financial executive and U.S. Air Force Academy graduate. His campaign is a multi-media effort.

“… Frustration with unaccountable government is bringing confidence that here in Colorado Senate District 11 we will all win a great victory come November,” twittered Hill after Republican Scott Brown won former Democratic U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy’s Massachusetts seat in January.

“We are preparing the groundwork now for unseating John Morse and bringing an end to unaccountability and financial irresponsibility. 2010 is the year we can restore balance to our government and help turn this economy around — 2010 marks a new day for Colorado,” Hill said.

Hill is supported by a majority of Republicans, but he faces two hurdles — increasing his name ID and raising funds. He recently launched a “Bill for Hill” fundraising drive.

“That’s right: pick a bill, any bill. $1, $5, $10, even $100! Any bill will make a difference on the road to victory in 2010,” pitched Hill.

Morse said he plans to seek re-election, but for now, he is more focused on his work under the gold dome — particularly balancing the state budget and finding creative solutions to resolve higher education funding. The Democratic lawmaker has launched a “from the desk of John Morse” newsletter to keep folks informed of legislative actions.

Leslie@coloradostatesman.com