7th CD candidates battle hand-to-hand

By Ernest Luning
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

Was it a swat? Or a tap?

Or was U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter — a two-term Democrat locked in a tight reelection battle with Republican challenger Ryan Frazier — simply pressing his point a bit too firmly when his left hand momentarily pressed against his opponent’s right hand during a televised debate Oct. 16 at 9News studios?

Whatever it was, Frazier responded quickly: “Don’t hit me, man,” he said. “Come on.”

Immediately, Perlmutter apologized. “Sorry, sorry. You’re right. Sorry. You’re right.”

The two were squabbling over a provision in the health care bill passed by the Democratic-controlled Congress earlier this year. Frazier demanded Perlmutter cite the page number of the bill where he could find provisions allowing for tort reform.

Over Perlmutter’s protestation that he “did too read the bill,” Frazier repeatedly asked, “What page, Ed?” when the two candidate’s pointing and waving hands collided.

“Down goes Frazier!” was the headline suggested by some readers to Denver Post reporter Lynn Bartels. Right-wing blogs had a field day with the incident, circulating a video snippet under headlines that used decidedly more violent descriptions than what actually happened.

But the real hits came later in the debate.

Frazier accused the Democrat of inserting an amendment into a bill to benefit a bank he partially owns. And Perlmutter threw Frazier’s description of “the failed stimulus” back at the Republican by revealing a charter school founded and run by Frazier took more than $100,000 in federal stimulus funding.

After the debate, Frazier said he hadn’t known that High Point Academy — an Aurora charter school attended by his three children and on whose board Frazier sits as vice president — accepted $107,000 to pay teacher salaries and other expenses, according to budget documents provided by the Perlmutter campaign.

Perlmutter campaign spokeswoman Leslie Oliver later mocked Frazier’s inattention to his own school’s relatively brief budget, compared with the more complicated federal budget.

The Perlmutter campaign further drove the point about Frazier’s “stimulus hypocrisy” on Wednesday with a press conference at the Aurora Municipal Center, where he said the cash-strapped city has accepted nearly $20 million in federal stimulus funding. The federal dollars — blasted by Frazier for swelling the deficit and failing to create jobs — have kept police, fire fighters, teaches and construction workers employed, including hundreds building a long-awaited interchange at Colfax and I-225.

A couple days before the 9News debate, Bob Beauprez, the Republican who held the 7th District seat before his unsuccessful run for governor, formally endorsed Frazier. In a release issued by the Frazier campaign touting the late endorsement, Beauprez said, “Those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.”

He went on to blast his successor. “Ed Perlmutter voted for a health care bill a majority of people didn’t want, a stimulus that didn’t work, bailouts to companies that padded his own campaign funds, and he inserted a sweetheart deal into legislation that benefited a bank in which he owns stock.” Beaupreaz concluded: “Perlmutter is not only wrong, he’s corrupt.”

The release didn’t mention that Beauprez had earlier backed Frazier’s primary opponent Lang Sias and heaped some harsh criticism on Frazier a few months back, saying the Aurora city councilman “ought to be fired, not promoted.” Over the summer, Beauprez bludgeoned Frazier with some of the same attacks leveled by the Perlmutter campaign: that his Aurora-based company helped other companies outsource American jobs, and that he had the worst attendance record on the Aurora City Council, charges the Frazier campaign disputes.

But Beauprez’ mention of the “sweetheart deal,” a charge based on a Washington Times article published in July 2009, presaged a week of attacks by the Frazier campaign alleging Perlmutter snuck a provision into a House energy bill last year specifically to benefit New Resources Bank, a San Francisco-based “green bank” partially owned by the congressman. On Wednesday, the Frazier campaign called on Perlmutter to divest his holdings.

The charges, Perlmutter said during the debate, are wildly off base. The amendment Frazier is talking about was introduced by another congressman, applies to all banks, and simply encourages banks to keep on hand information to help customers make homes or buildings more energy efficient.

Besides, Oliver said after the debate, the Frazier campaign’s call for Perlmutter to divest his holdings comes a bit late. “Ed has a small interest in a family partnership that owned a small amount of shares in the New Resources Bank,” she said. “The family partnership sold the shares months ago at a loss.”

When the 7th District was drawn nearly a decade ago, it was one of the most balanced districts in the country in terms of party registration, with almost exactly one-third each Democrats, Republicans and unaffiliated voters. The district stretches from Jefferson County suburbs on the west over Denver to include much of Adams County and the northern half of Aurora. In 2002, Beauprez won a nail-biter to become the new district’s initial representative, defeating Democrat Mike Feeley by a scant 121 votes out of roughly 170,000 cast.

However, over time, the district has turned progressively more Democratic. According to the most recent figures available from the Colorado Secretary of State’s office, Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 22,000 active voters, and there are 17,000 more Democrats than there are unaffiliated voters. In other words, it’s not the reliably swing district it was when it was brand new.

Ernest@coloradostatesman.com