Breakfast with Ken & Jane at the Men’s Club

By Jody Hope Strogoff
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

Although clearly not universally loved and respected by everyone, most candidates are hardworking and earnest souls who fairly compete for the tough job of representing us. Of course there are a few scoundrels out there — as especially evidenced over the last week or so. But however you feel about their positions or partisanship, most are good folks who should be saluted for their efforts in participatory democracy.

Wooing the electorate has practically become fulltime. Gone are the days when candidates could get by campaigning solely after their regular day jobs or on weekends. Now there are events scheduled throughout the day and evening, on weekdays and on weekends, in large part to mesh with hepped up schedules and 24-hour news cycles.

Remember when candidates simply went on the rubber chicken circuit and made a few speeches to dinner groups?

That has given way to early morning pancake breakfasts, campaign forums during lunch, and meet and greet cocktail hours with the candidates after work.

Not being a morning person myself, I revel at those who start their days with the cows... those early morning rise and shiners who have already scoured the morning newspapers and ingested their first cup of coffee before the sun has completely emerged. The only time I’m usually up at 5 a.m. is when I haven’t yet gone to bed from the night before.

If you live in suburban Arapahoe County, however, and if you favor elephants over donkeys, you can get a live dose of politics every Wednesday morning when the Arapahoe County Republican Men’s Club convenes at the Cool River Cafe near I-25 and Belleview. The weekly 7 a.m. meetings are a hotbed of local politics and are among the most lively confabs on the political horizon. If they don’t stir you up and get you going, nothing will.

The Men’s Club, which is how it is usually referenced by pols, actually boasts members of the female persuasion as well. Until recently, in fact, the Club was under the reigns of Mary Wenke, former trustee of Arapahoe County who ruled as mightily as her male predecessors since the 1970s when the group was formed.

The current president of the Club is Cliff Dodge, a past GOP state legislator from Denver and a former local radio guy who is skilled at smooth talking.

Besides having a masterful ability to control (most of the time) unruly partisans, Dodge also has the added benefit of political perspective. He has been around for awhile. It has nothing to do with Cliff’s age, but his varied background that makes him so unique.

Besides having served as an elected official, Cliff has worked as the chief of staff for the Senate Republicans at the state legislature. The political heavyweight was also one of the operatives who formed Coloradans for Economic Growth a couple years ago, a 527-group largely responsible for launching a media blitz against then-Senate candidate Mark Udall, Democrat, who was running against Bob Schaffer, Republican.

And to further bolster his political cred, he used to allow, if I’m not mistaken, former GOP Senate colleague and current well known lobbyist Steve Durham, of Colorado Springs, to bunk at his house when the legislature was in session. The amount of juicy political chatter that went on within the confines of Cliff’s abode back then must have been stunning.

Last week’s meeting of the Men’s Club featured U.S. Senate candidates Jane Norton and Ken Buck. Both have been sparring intensely over the last few weeks so their joint forum had been anxiously anticipated.

Veteran party activist Clif Sams, a longtime member of the Men’s Club, had forewarned us that this particular meeting was apt to be crowded. Get there early, Sams said — doors opened at 6:30 a.m. — or risk having to stand for the presentation.

I arrived at 5:50, bright and early. In front of the restaurant’s main doors were a plethora of people: young volunteers holding signs for their candidates, and members of the Men’s Club and their guests who were hoping to grab a seat in the large meeting room of the restaurant.

Inside were the usual suspects — elected officials, Republican activists, political old timers and party folks — downing a buffet breakfast and coffee and juice.

The main feature on the menu, however, were the remarks of the Senate hopefuls, and they were peppery from the start. Portions of their exchanges follow:

Question to Buck: I don’t remember reading anywhere your position against Ref C. I understand that maybe you did not support Ref C, but my question is, if you didn’t support Ref C, why then did you not return the dollars that went to your office in Weld County, using those very funds that you didn’t support? And further, tell me why your campaign manager, Walt Klein, made 10 to 15 percent of millions of dollars that were spent on supporting Ref C in the media?

Buck: First, my budget is a county budget and the county commissioners allocate the money to my office. So I don’t know what money they get from Ref C or don’t get from Ref C. I get general fund money from my county commissioners for my office.

Walt Klein is a business person and he represents clients that come in, that he represents. He and I talked earlier in 2009, we thought it was a good fit and we have gone forward. And I think it is a good fit, quite frankly. Walt Klein is one of the most honorable people. He does not run nasty, dirty, robocall campaigns,

Norton: My friend Ken had the opportunity to speak out on Ref C when he was an elected official and he chose not to do that. If Ref C was so bad, it was the bane of the Conservative movement, he would not have hired Walt Klein, who was the mastermind behind Ref C.

We have clear differences when it comes to cutting budgets. I’ve had two budgets; one when I was at the State Health Department and one when I was Lieutenant Governor. In both of those budgets over the four years I served, my general fund appropriation was less when I’d left office than when I started. Ken’s budget at Weld County District Attorney’s Office has gone up 40 percent. Clearly there’s a difference in our spending. We can talk a lot about being a Conservative, but what do you do with the tax dollars that you are given? Ken talks about my budget at the Health Department. I did not have control of federal funds, nor cash funds. And those of you who understand state budgets understand that. I had the opportunity to cut and I did. He had the opportunity to cut and he grew his budget.

Question to Norton: In The Colorado Statesman a couple of weeks ago, you said that Mr. Buck was your friend and would continue to be your friend and you would support him if he won the nomination. My question is, if he’s as bad a guy as your radio ad says he is, why would you support him? And please don’t tell me it’s in the name of party unity.

Norton: I also said that this election is about the future of our country. It’s not about Ken Buck, it’s not about Jane Norton, it is about defeating people who believe that we need to fundamentally change our country. Neither Ken nor myself believe that we need to fundamentally change it like Obama is trying to do. So how do we get at fighting the Democrats? Because I can tell you, Michael Bennet is a rubber stamp for the Obama administration. He will do whatever the president wants.

We don’t know what he’ll do on card check. He asked for 60 earmarks totaling $250 million. He has voted to increase the debt ceiling, he wants the public option with healthcare. He’s one of 22 senators who will ask for cap and trade. This is the person we have to defeat if we are to move our country forward in appropriate ways.

Question: Well, how about the answer to my question?

Norton: Listen, and I’ll take a little bit more time because I want to go over this very clearly with you. Ethics and integrity matter and folks, we need to have a discussion about this issue. Because I can tell you, in October, it’s going to be an issue for the Democrats.

Buck: Since I’m not going to have the same question, let me talk about the issue, the underlying issue. There are some ridiculous things. I have not heard the commercial, I’ve not heard the robocall. But let me tell you something, I have never been an Obama Administration official. And Jane’s campaign knows I have never been an Obama Administration official. I was hired as a career prosecutor in the Reagan Administration, worked in Bush 41, worked in Clinton and worked in Bush 43. To say that someone is an Obama or a Clinton Administration official, means that they are a political appointee and that they are someone that the Clinton Administration has chosen because of political similarities. Now folks, that’s just wrong. It’s like saying my son, who’s in the army, is an Obama Administration official. It just isn’t true.

And it’s that kind of establishment politics, that kind of John McCain politics that we have to get away from.

Question: How can we beat the Democrats if what we do is slice and dice each other in a primary? It makes absolutely no sense.

Buck: The underlying case involved me standing up for an individual who was selling guns to the public, who was wrongfully accused of 37 felonies with two other individuals. The case was ultimately pled out to one misdemeanor, one day of probation sentence. The judge thought it was a horrible case, all the career prosecutors that saw the case thought it was a horrible case. I did the wrong thing in the sense that I went forward and talked to the defense attorneys. If you saw recently on this Black Panther case, the individual resigned, went out and made statements. (I) had two young children, didn’t have that opportunity. Doing the right thing for you is what’s going to happen when I go to Washington D.C.

Norton: (We should) talk about the million dollars and the 527 activity that Ken’s donors, million dollar donor, has laid against me, because that is the response. But let me tell you, in this case there were 37 federal criminal indictments and because of Ken’s reckless disregard for his activity as a prosecutor — and that’s what the reprimand says, folks. I know you don’t like it but it was John Suthers’ words. And he said it compromised the case. That’s why 37 criminal charges were pled down to one misdemeanor and… Not only did he have reckless disregard, but he went further and recommended a defense attorney for him. Folks, this is serious.

Question to Norton: Your family —and I know your family well and I appreciate they’re wonderful people. But you have a family of five lobbyists. Your sister Judy, her husband Charlie Black, your ex-husband, your current husband, your daughter, all lobbyists in Washington. And the question I have, if you are a nominee, how do we know, if your husband has a $5 million contract… when do you separate and vote for the people, not for the lobbyist in your own town?

Norton: Is my husband here? Mike, are you a federal lobbyist? Honey, are you holding out on me? (He is) former U.S. Attorney under the Reagan Administration. Freda, my daughter’s not a federal lobbyist. I don’t know what my ex-husband is doing, but you’re right, I didn’t choose my sister or my brother-in-law. But the point of the matter is people are concerned about what Freda has mentioned. What is the role of special interest? And that is why I have a pledge that I will not seek or support earmarks, because that’s where lobbyists have so much influence. And so yes, I will tell you right now that the only lobbyists will be the people of Colorado. That’s the vote that I care about, it’s their concerns that I care about.

Buck: Don’t have any lobbyists in my family and will not be influenced by lobbyists. Have not accepted, as far as I know, money from federal lobbyists, so Freda, I think the question was sort of a one-way question and Jane answered it, so…

Jody@coloradostatesman.com