Candidate Search draws huge crowd

Sparks fly in GOP Treasurer, Gov races

By Leslie Jorgensen
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

COLORADO SPRINGS – Nearly 1,200 folks flocked to the Colorado Springs 2010 Candidate Search on Tuesday night to assess Republican contenders running for the U.S. Senate, Governor and state Treasurer. If the turnout is any indication, event organizers predict GOP caucuses will be swamped with new converts.

“I think it shows that turnout for Republican caucuses will be the flipside of the Democrats in 2008,” said Lana Fore-Warkocz, who organized the event at Mr. Biggs Family Fun Center.

Fore-Warkocz dispelled speculation that Candidate Search goers — many of whom are active in the 9-12 and Tea Party movements — might organize a third party. She said that most of the activists know that their best shot for reform is through the GOP.

Candidates affiliated with the Libertarian and Constitutionalist parties were invited to handout campaign literature at tables. However, only Republican candidates were invited to participate in the three forums.

The event was sponsored by KVOR radio, Mr. Biggs, the Mason Jar Restaurant and The British Home Shoppe. Hosts included The Constitutionalist Today, Coalition for a Conservative Majority, 9-12 Pikes Peak Patriots, Americans for Prosperity, El Paso County Tea Party, Northern Colorado Tea Party, Teller Tea Party and KVOR talk show hosts Jarred Rego and Richard Randall.

Mike Holler, author of “The Constitution Made Easy,” fielded questions from a 10-member panel and quashed outbursts from the audience as well as candidates, particularly a heated exchange between state Treasurer GOP candidates J.J. Ament and Ali Hasan.

Holler warned that hecklers would be removed from the building by law enforcement officers — but it appeared that only one woman, who demanded to have her “free speech” rights respected, was asked to leave.

Republican U.S. Senate candidates Steve Barton, Ken Buck, Jane Norton, Cleve Tidwell and Tom Wiens responded to questions in the first forum. Asked if they would vote on a bill that they hadn’t read, all of the candidates said they would not.

However, Barton, a patent attorney, scored applause when he vowed to not only read every bill in Congress, but also find the “bombs” hidden in them.

Buck received a thunderous applause when he pledged to never vote for a bill or amendment that he had not read — even if he approved of them.

The Weld County District Attorney denounced the 310-page amendment to the Cap-and-Trade bill that Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., dispatched to House members after 3 a.m. on the same day it was to be voted on in June. The bill, formally known as the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, narrowly passed.

Asked which taxpayer-funded federal programs they would cut, Tidwell declared all of them except the Department of Defense and the Veterans Administration. For starters, Norton said she’d eliminate the bailout money and reeled off a list of recipients such as financial institutions, automobile makers, AIG (American International Group, Inc.), Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

All of the candidates vowed to uphold the U.S. Constitution, but Wiens drew shouts of approval when he repeated a quote by President Thomas Jefferson. After the Constitutional Convention in 1787, a woman reportedly asked if it had established a republic or monarchy. Jefferson replied, “A republic if you can keep it.”

The majority of the candidates called for a strong national defense, vowed to fight terrorism and voiced grave concerns about the danger of Iran developing nuclear weapons. At least one member of the audience took exception to Norton’s stance. In the women’s restroom, someone wrote in lipstick on a Norton campaign sign, “Warmonger.”

After this forum, attendees either cast paper ballots or text messaged their candidate preference. Buck captured first place, receiving a total of 194 text votes and ballots. Norton received a total of 125; Wiens garnered 64, Tidwell, 32 and Barton, 14.

The exchange between GOP gubernatorial candidates Scott McInnis, former Congressman and Dan Maes, Evergreen businessman, didn’t reveal new positions on issues; however, it opened an old wound for Maes and his supporters.

Asked what the biggest roadblock to enacting the Republican “Platform for Prosperity,” McInnis declared, “Democrats.”

The audience cheered, clapped and whistled, but the mood quickly changed when Maes answered the same question. The platform had been unveiled at a press conference in Denver after state Sen. Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction, had withdrawn from the race for governor. Excluded from the press conference was Maes.

“I don’t recognize the ‘Platform for Prosperity’ as a legitimate document,” declared Maes. “It was framed in a backroom by Republican elitists and a campaign manager.”

Maes said he would follow the example of former President Ronald Reagan and honor the National Republican Party platform.

During the next question regarding job creation and reviving the gas and oil industry, McInnis rebutted Maes’ statement.

McInnis asked how many people like former 6th District Rep. Tom Tancredo and Penry. The audience cheered.

“I want to point out that the backroom politicians that you are referring to include Tom Tancredo and Josh Penry…” declared McInnis, who was drowned out by men and women hollering, “Backroom deals! Backroom deals!”

The issue arose again when Maes was asked how he would defend the state’s sovereignty under the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Maes said that a couple of months ago some powerful people had tried to muscle him out of the gubernatorial race.

“A lot of high powered folks said, ‘We don’t want you in this race,’” recalled Maes. “It took a lot of courage, a lot of fortitude to stand up to that pressure.”

Maes declared that he would not buckle to pressure to drop his campaign and he’d stand up to powerful interests in Washington, D.C.

In the preference poll of GOP gubernatorial candidates, Maes won 191 votes and McInnis trailed with 158. Event organizers were more curious about the differences in votes cast by paper ballots versus cell phone texts. The paper ballots delivered 111 votes to McInnis and 87 to Maes; text votes gave 104 votes to Maes and 47 to McInnis.

“It could be that older, traditional Republicans cast the paper ballots, and that younger people used text messaging,” said Fore-Warkocz.

The GOP state Treasurer candidates’ forum was just as spirited as previous public exchanges between J.J. Ament and Ali Hasan. Former Arapahoe County Republican Party Chairman Bo Cottrell spoke briefly on behalf of Walker Stapleton, who couldn’t attend because of a scheduling conflict.

Hasan and Ament continued their disagreement over the meaning of investment charts on the Web site of Democratic state Treasurer Cary Kennedy. The candidates accused each other of having personal investments in financial entities that received federal bailout funds.

The candidates took their impassioned differences to a new level when Ament declared himself as the only state Treasurer candidate standing on stage who is pro-life and upholds marriage as a union between one man and one woman.

Hasan’s eyes popped and his jaw dropped in disbelief.

“If I weren’t a social conservative I wouldn’t have signed the Personhood Amendment petition today!” declared Hasan. “Let’s get that on the ballot!”

At one point during the feisty exchange, forum moderator Holler joked, “Don’t hold back. Take the gloves off and go at it!”

Ament handily won the preference poll, garnering a total of 205 votes. Hasan received 51 votes and Walker, 18.

Leslie@coloradostatesman.com