Incumbent GOP Coffman challenged from two fronts

But numbers in CD 6 don't forebode a change

By Leslie Jorgensen
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

This story has been corrected from the Sept. 10 issue.

Democratic candidate John Flerlage is waging an uphill battle against Republican 6th District Congressman Mike Coffman who won election in 2008 with 60 percent of the vote. Coffman has the advantage in name recognition, a district laden with conservative voters and nearly $468,000 in the campaign war chest — a huge arsenal compared to little more than $22,000 cash reported by Flerlage in the preprimary report filed with the Federal Election Commission on July 21.

“You know you’re in a tough congressional district if Tom Tancredo can walk away with it,” said Flerlage of the former Republican Congressman, an arch conservative who retired the seat in 2008. Tancredo recently switched parties to run for governor on the American Constitution Party ticket.

Congressman Mike Coffman and volunteers Catherine Holmes, 11, and Amy Brown, 14, tackle a monumental mailing effort.
Photo by Leslie Jorgensen/The Colorado Statesman
Democratic CD 6 candidate John Flerlage talks with voters Aug. 27 at Heather Gardens in Aurora.
Photo by Leslie Jorgensen/The Colorado Statesman

The 6th Congressional District includes Douglas and Elbert counties as well as portions of Arapahoe, Jefferson and Park counties. Of the 447,323 active registered voters reported by the secretary of state’s office on Sept. 1, 194,313 are Republicans, 118,945 are Democrats and 131,804 are unaffiliated.

Undaunted by Coffman’s appeal to conservative voters, Flerlage hopes to level the playing field in one area — military experience. Both candidates have served in the U.S. Marine Corps and Reserve — and promote that service on their campaign flyers.

Flerlage issued a press release recently challenging Coffman to reveal his military records. The Democrat has e-mailed copies of his military performance records to The Colorado Statesman. The 63 pages of documentation included an “Honorable Discharge” certificate and a memorandum of being awarded the Meritorious Service Medal in recognition of exemplary non-combative service.

“I think the public has a right to compare our military records,” said Flerlage during a meet-and-greet at Heather Gardens Community Center in Aurora on Friday, Aug. 27.

He said that the military records of all candidates who tout their military service “should be made available for voters to view and compare and to preclude the swift boating of those who served.”

“I don’t know if there is anything wrong or hidden in (Coffman’s) military records, but gaps in the records could indicate a problem,” said Flerlage. “My records are continuous and complete.”

Flerlage said that he’d provide copies of his military records to voters who send a written request for them.

This week, Coffman upped the ante — the Congressman posted his combat records of service in the Iraq War, from 2005-06, on his campaign website. He said it would take some time to find older military records that stretch back to 1972, when he enlisted in the U.S. Army.

“What separates me from my opponent is my service in the Iraq War and the understanding that I bring from it to the Armed Services Committee,” Coffman told The Statesman on Tuesday.

“I have posted my military records from the Iraq War on my campaign website. It can be found by going to ‘About Mike’ and there is a link at the bottom of the page,” he said.

The records note that Major Coffman’s accomplishments during the mission were “significant. His efforts in helping to establish a governance implementation plan for the Haditha Triad proved noteworthy and will set the precedence for future Coalition Force Units… in making this region viable and self sustaining.”

Candidate Rob McNealy

Coffman served more than 20 years in combined service to the U.S. Army, Army Reserve, U.S. Marine Corps and Marine Reserve. After winning his second term in the state House of Representatives, Coffman was called up for a year of duty in the Persian Gulf War in 1990. He was elected state treasurer in 1998 and re-elected in 2002, but resigned the post in 2005 to serve a Marine Corps tour of duty in the Iraq War.

“Flerlage is currently an airline captain who served 22 years in the Marine Corps before retiring as a Lieutenant Colonel from the Marine Reserve in 2000. Over his 11 active-duty years and eleven years in the Reserves, John flew the F/A-18 Hornet and A-4 Skyhawk. He also served in various Squadron and Group level leadership and staff positions and taught classes in world affairs, strategic commitments and the operation of fighters and other tactical aircraft at the Marine aviation advanced tactics school. During his reserve years, John also volunteered and flew missions in support of NATO operations in Bosnia, and in 1996, he was chosen to fly the Hornet aboard the USS George Washington in the first Marine Reserve carrier qualifications to be held in over fifteen years,” states the candidate’s campaign website.

Rob McNealy, Libertarian candidate for the 6th Congressional District seat, said that he too would provide records of his service in the Michigan National Guard from 1995-96.

A Balanced Budget Amendment and other issues
The candidates aren’t opposed to amending the U.S. Constitution

In support of a constitutional amendment to stop the spiraling national debt, Coffman and Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim Marshall, of Georgia, formed the Balanced Budget Amendment Caucus to study the issue and draft the bill.

“I’m looking forward to leading the effort in passing a Balanced Budget Amendment to the U.S. Constitution,” Coffman told The Statesman. “I think the electorate will toss out enough of the big deficit spenders this November that will enable me to get the necessary two-thirds vote in the House.”

When the caucus was launched in March, Coffman said, “Our nation’s economic future may well depend on it.”

He cited the national debt soaring beyond $12 trillion, President Barack Obama’s budget projections of more than $1.6 trillion shortfall this year, and estimated that unfunded liabilities for future entitlement spending are close to $65 trillion.

“It is also projected that in the next 15 years our national debt will eclipse our gross domestic product, essentially bankrupting our government,” the Congressman warned.

“While these debt figures can be almost numbing, the bottom line is this: our nation is speeding toward a precipice of complete financial calamity. The only solution is to hold Congress’ feet to the fire and require that they, like every family and nearly every state in the country, have a balanced budget,” said Coffman.

McNealy said that he agrees with Coffman; however, the Libertarian would go further in sponsoring legislation to end the national income tax and that would help end federal government programs that are duplicated on state and local government levels.

“Originally, the federal government was run on tariffs and excise taxes — to return to that is my utopia,” said McNealy.

Flerlage said he is not opposed to a constitutional amendment to require a balanced budget, however, he would not support the amendment proposed by Coffman.

The Democrat doesn’t think Congress would pass a constitutional amendment to balance the federal budget or an amendment to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United case that allows unlimited spending by corporations and unions that is part of a petition being circulated by MoveOn.org.

Flerlage signed a pledge in support of the campaign finance reform petition promoted by MoveOn.org, a non-profit liberal group, but the candidate would prefer legislation instead of a constitutional amendment to roll back the court’s decision.

The petition also calls for limiting lobbyists’ influence and passing the Fair Elections Now Act, a bi-partisan bill sponsored by U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and U.S. Reps. John Larson, D-Conn., and Walter Jones, Jr., R-N.C.

The Act would enable candidates for federal offices to fund their campaigns with smaller contributions rather than big money from lobbyists, corporations and entities. Candidates could qualify for matching federal funds and discounts and vouchers for media advertising.

Coffman said he supports campaign finance reforms, but not MoveOn.org’s petition because the Fair Election Now Act would be funded by taxpayer dollars — and create yet another drain on the federal budget.

MoveOn.org activist Ken Connell, of Denver, said the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United case viewed corporate and union contributions as free speech; however, the decision allows major entities to essentially buy elections.

Though some voters and MoveOn.org activists want more transparency in government and campaign finance committees, Flerlage said he would not support eliminating secretive 527 committees.

“I won’t sponsor or support a bill to make a 527 committee transparent because they’ll just find another way around it,” said Flerlage

The problem, Flerlage said, is the perception that “money equals free speech.”

“I would have to weigh what constitutes free speech,” said McNealy, referring to the court’s decision. In regards to 527 committees, the business entrepreneur said he leans toward transparency in political and campaign committees.

The Democrat said he would prefer legislation to limit time to campaign and that might curb the costs of campaigns that now require massive funding.

Flerlage knows first hand the difficulty in waging an under-funded campaign. At the meet-and-greet in Aurora last month, he urged supporters to donate money and make calls to promote his campaign.

“It’s pay to play,” Flerlage told folks at the meet-and-greet. He later clarified the reference was to the Colorado Democratic combined federal campaign known as Colorado United 2010 Campaign.

Colorado Democratic Party Chair Pat Waak said, “The Colorado Democratic Party works to help all candidates but does not raise money for individual campaigns. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee makes their own decisions based on their criteria for how to evaluate the most competitive races.”

A political committee dedicated to electing Democratic House candidates, the DCCC’s website lists 26 congressional candidates on its prestigious “Red to Blue” program. In Colorado, only Democratic incumbent 4th District Congresswoman Betsy Markey made the “Red to Blue” list that identifies candidates who’ve exceeded fundraising goals and demonstrated their commitment to job creation and standing up for middle class voters.

Markey faces a tough challenge from Republican state Rep. Cory Gardner, who has been named to the National Republican Congressional Committee’s elite “Young Guns” program — the political mirror of the Democrats’ “Red to Blue” program.

Without the benefit of contributions from heavy hitters and political action committees, McNealy promoted “panhandling” for contributions on July 28 at an intersection in Aurora. According to his campaign’s finance committee report filed with the FEC in July, the coffers were more than $4,000 in the red.

“I think I have about $1,900 in the bank now,” said McNealy. “The report in July was wrong and my campaign treasurer is amending it.”

Flerlage is campaigning on a “pledge to be unbending in principle and pragmatic in finding solutions.”

Coffman’s re-election bid spins the slogan, “You need a Congressman with the courage to fight for you — that’s Mike Coffman.”

McNealy entices support with the plea, “Freedom has its costs; help us fight for liberty.”

Coffman, Flerlage and McNealy address the budget
Flerlage proposes a fair tax system to rebuild the middle class; Coffman calls for lower tax rates; and McNealy wants to eliminate income taxes.

Flerlage supports the federal health care system; Coffman and McNealy adamantly oppose it.

A cornerstone of Flerlage’s campaign is his proposed bill to create “Bonds that Rebuild and Invest in our Communities” — an economic stimulus plan that promises a return of 39.6 percent or greater on investments of $10,000 and substantial tax cuts to investors.

“Everyone from the far right to the far left likes this idea,” said Flerlage. “It allows people to invest in their own communities and it’s an incredible tax cut for investors.”

Coffman said that Flerlage’s proposal already exists under the Build America Bonds program that was passed as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

“The program is designed to save on the borrowing costs for state and local governments by providing incentives to investors,” said Coffman. “The only difference between his plan and the recently passed one is that he expands the generous taxpayer subsidies already in law.”

“I believe that we can do better by simply stopping the automatic upcoming tax increases from going into effect in January so that we can begin to build the confidence in the economy that will attract the $2 trillion that is sitting on the sidelines to be invested into the economy to create jobs,” he said.

As part of Coffman’s plan to spur economic growth and job creation, the Republican wants to “get credit flowing again to small businesses.”

Flerlage, however, criticized Coffman for voting against legislation that created the Small Business Lending Fund.

Coffman said he voted against the measure because it would create another TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program) and give the federal government too much control over community banks.

“The Wall Street Journal said it best,” said Coffman, quoting parts of an editorial.

“The bill authorizes the Treasury to purchase up to $30 billion of stock in small, community banks across the country. The banks in turn would agree to issue as much as $300 billion in loans to small businesses that they wouldn’t otherwise lend to… You can bet that many businesses that get the loans will be engaged in not very profitable, but politically correct activities, such as diversity investing and renewable energy. Sounds at all like subprime mortgage loans?”

McNealy said the most important platform in his campaign is auditing and eventually abolishing the Federal Reserve.

Coffman’s ads have hit the radio; Flerlage is airing ads on his campaign website — at least for now. McNealy promotes his candidacy through blogs and pod casts — accessible via the Internet or his campaign website.

Voters will have the opportunity to observe Coffman and Flerlage in upcoming debates — one hosted by the South Metro Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday, Oct. 13, and Channel 4/12 TV debate that will air on Friday, Oct. 8 at 9:30 p.m. and Monday, Oct. 11 at 12:30 p.m.

McNealy has not been invited to participate in these debates.

“I think it is part of the two-party ‘duopoly’ to keep politics status quo. They don’t want an independent candidate with different views,” said McNealy. “It’s a game of polarity — to divide people into two camps and avoid alternative solutions.”

Leslie@coloradostatesman.com