Tom Wiens hopes to cut a clear path to Washington

By Jody Hope Strogoff
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

It is easy to forget that the dirt road we are traveling on just west of I-25 in Douglas County is still in close proximity to the hustle and bustle of Denver and its environs. Heading south, the office parks in the Denver Tech Center have given way to clustered developments of pricey homes, indicative of the burgeoning growth of the area. Pretty soon the signage heralds the upcoming Park Meadows shopping center and likely even more crowds. But we’ve veered off to the frontage road and are headed into a more pastoral setting outside of Sedalia. The chill in the air becomes pronounced. Only 30 or so miles outside of downtown, and yet the weather seems at once more wintry.

We pass some rabbits scurrying along the roadside, completely oblivious to us human interlopers. Then two deer on the side of the road stare up at us before going back to foraging in the countryside. About five miles in, we can make out the initials “WR” etched on a wooden gate. It stands for Wiens Ranch. Or, for this particular occasion, GOP Senate candidate Tom Wiens’ campaign headquarters.

The candidate, a former state senator who has run for state treasurer and a congressional seat back in the day, is cognizant of the fact that this majestic land — all 1620 acres that comprise his 20-acre ranch — can be more than a tad distracting. He manages to elicit a pre-interview promise from us to concentrate on his campaign and somehow bypass the gorgeous scenery, home to his 300 head of cattle, a well on the property with pristine water, and an array of livestock that includes about 30 prize horses in a nearby barn. He tells us at the onset that he’s in the process of opening a less showy campaign office in downtown Castle Rock, where volunteers and his small but dedicated staff will be able to find parking other than on a muddy, unpaved road.

Left to right: Campaign staff Vinnie Veruchi, Travis Wiens, Jim Pfaff, Hanna Wiens, Diana Wiens, John Wayne, Keenan Alexander, Clayton Nieman, Steve Adams and of course, Tom Wiens, seated.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman

But it proves difficult to ignore the compound of buildings and his magnificent home perched a little further up on a hill. The original four-bedroom house where the family initially lived is nearby, lending testament to the fact that Wiens has done well over the years, despite some well-catalogued financial problems in the past.

A good part of his financial success has come from his cutting horse business. We know we’re supposed to stay clear of asking him about this ranch stuff, but Wiens is willing to share his background in this hobby-turned-profession. The entire Wiens family, including his wife Diana and four adult children, are horse people, more specifically cutters. This is all new to us and very fascinating. (And besides, it’s really more entertaining than concentrating on traditional campaign banter.)

Cutting, Wiens explains, is a way that horses isolate livestock, especially cattle, from herds. Most are quarter horses with the intelligence, speed, and ability to make quick starts, stops and turns. A well-disposed and trained cutting horse can maneuver an animal away from a herd and into a corner with little direction from a rider, or, in some contests, without a rider. Tom, the Senate candidate, is one of the best.

Wiens and daughter Hannah with cutting horse WR Spooky Looking Cat.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman

In fact, it is a family venture.

According to a recent edition of the Quarter Horse News, which the candidate’s press secretary emails to us afterwards, Wiens Ranch has owned horses that have won close to $300,000 and bred horses that have earned $1.4 million. The ranch owned The Smart Look, a Smart Little Lena mare that Wiens bought back as a 6-year-old in 1993 and owned until they sold her in 2001 to another ranch. The horse has helped Wiens amass hefty pots as the official breeder of a number of winners including, the magazine article says, WR This Cats Smart ($236,474); Smart Lookin Hi Brow ($221,929), the 1999 NCHA Derby Open winner; One Smart Lookin Cat ($226,122), the 2003 NCHA Futurity winner; WR Smart Hickory ($68,022); and The Smart Look, which is among the all-time leading cutting horses. According to Equi-Stat, she has produced 12 money-earning offspring that have amassed $1.2 million in show winnings.

Perhaps that’s why Wiens has been on record saying he’s willing to invest $500,000 of his own money into this political race.

Wiens is petitioning on to the ballot, taking the same route for which fellow Republican Jane Norton has come under so much fire recently. But Wiens’ use of the petition method has proved less controversial, and in past conversations the candidate has always indicated this preferred route to ballot access.

An elk head hangs inside.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman

This week he has a new campaign manager on board — Jim Pfaff, who managed the campaign to get the 2006 and 2008 so-called marriage amendment approved in Colorado. A longtime personal friend from Colorado Springs, he doesn’t need much prompting to tell us that he’s in charge of waking things up on the Wiens campaign.

A new press secretary has also started the day before. Steve Adams is a former Focus on the Family employee who at one time operated three newspapers in Ohio. Actually, he and Pfaff both worked at the Colorado Springs organization and have known Wiens for awhile.

The campaign has finished with its petition drive and expects to turn in more than the required 10,500 signatures statewide to the secretary of state’s office shortly.

The candidate himself has a hefty list of email contacts, which he began collecting back in 2002, and he is hard at work communicating with supporters and potential donors.

He’s not a career politician, his staff points out, and that will become more evident as the politics heat up in the next couple of months and more people begin paying attention to Colorado’s important U.S. Senate race.

His campaign literature is dotted with Western themes. “Tom Wiens doesn’t just talk about the traditions and values of Colorado and The West, he lives them. He grew to understand the value of a hard day’s work in the family grain and ranching business and learned to love the land. He worked at a hometown community bank, where he saw firsthand the kind of struggles Main Street businesses go through every day of the year.

“The Tom Wiens story is a Colorado story. It’s a story of successes and setbacks, like so many of our greatest leaders. It’s the story of a man who knows what it’s like to dust yourself off and get back in the saddle. The kind of man that could only have been forged in Colorado and the kind of man Colorado and ‘Forgotten Americans’ everywhere need in Washington…”

The campaign has two professionally produced television spots ready to air. They show Wiens talking about the need to clean up the political and financial mess in Washington, D.C. Even though he says he doesn’t want to necessarily showcase his handsome ranch, the spots have been filmed there and are beautifully crafted. He plans on having them air in the not too distant future, although he says his strategy so far has been to let Norton and Ken Buck battle it out with their bruising attacks against each other. Then, Wiens hopes, he can ride in as a kind of savior of the Republican Party.

He has the horse to do it.

Jody@coloradostatesman.com