Stephens: ‘We kicked her butt!’

House Majority Leader says clean campaigning was real winner in race against Looper
The Colorado Statesman

State House Majority Leader Amy Stephens prevailed on Tuesday in a hotly-contested primary in House District 19, the most reliably Republican district in the state. The Monument Republican defeated fellow El Paso County lawmaker state Rep. Marsha Looper of Calhan by a 20-point margin, guaranteeing Stephens’ return to the Capitol to represent a seat Democrats aren’t contesting.

“We kicked her butt!” a buoyant Stephens exclaimed to a group of about 20 core campaign staff and volunteers gathered at a supporter’s home in Monument, just minutes after initial results showed her leading Looper by roughly 2,000 votes.

Raising a paper cup for a celebratory toast, Stephens praised her team and counted it as a win over her opponent’s mudslinging campaign.

House Majority Leader Amy Stephens, R-Monument, embraces key volunteer Jeff Hays after presenting him with an award for his campaign work at a primary night watch party in Monument Tuesday night. Stephens defeated primary challenger Rep. Marsha Looper, R-Calhan, by a 20-point margin.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

“This is your victory, this is my victory, but more than that, it is a victory for clean campaigning,” she said. “It was a big risk to say we’re going to do it different, and we did.”

The two Republicans — both serving their third term in the legislature — were thrown into competition by a Democratic-drawn reapportionment map, which placed more than a dozen Republicans into shared districts. Looper and Stephens, however, were the only paired incumbents who took it to the voters.

House Majority Leader Amy Stephens, R-Monument, watches election-night returns on a computer screen as campaign manager Rob O’Ragen, on the phone, takes down data and volunteer Mike Beasley studied the numbers shortly after polls closed on June 26 at the Monument home of Stephens supporters.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

The primary turned bitter quickly, as Looper lobbed assaults at Stephens for sponsoring a bipartisan plan to create a state-level health insurance exchange, which detractors said was ushering President Obama’s signature health care reform into Colorado, dubbing it “Amycare.” Stephens countered that the 2011 bill, co-sponsored by state Sen. Betty Boyd, D-Lakewood, was a necessary step for Colorado to escape federal mandates and chart its own course.

House Majority Leader Amy Stephens, R-Monument, highlights the contributions of volunteer Paul Dickard to her primary win over state Rep. Marsha Looper, R-Calhan, at an election night watch party on June 26 at a supporter’s home in Monument.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

For her part, Stephens labeled Looper soft on immigration, charging that a 2008 bill sponsored by her opponent would have paved the way for illegal farm workers.

Both candidates traded charges over which was more authentically opposed to abortion and each branding the other as insufficiently firm against proposed civil unions legislation.

On election night Stephens claimed the high road and credited her campaign’s approach, in part, with her resounding win.

Jonnye Dickard looks on appreciatively as House Majority Leader Amy Stephens, R-Monument, tells staffers and volunteers that they proved a clean campaign can triumph moments after initial results showed her trouncing state Rep. Marsha Looper, R-Calhan, in the hotly-contested primary. Stephens and core supporters gathered to view the returns on June 26 at a Monument home.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

“Through all the stuff, through the stolen signs, through the deceptive finance reports, through the whisper campaigns, through all the stuff, you just go, at times, ‘Is there any — at times, is there any justice?’” she told supporters after handing out gifts that included an engraved pocket knife for a volunteer she said kept busy replacing stolen yard signs.

“Tonight feels very good,” she said. “It goes back to, we chose to do a clean campaign. I thought we were nuts, but we did it, and we did it with this great team.”

House Majority Leader Amy Stephens, R-Monument, congratulates volunteer Tim Chambers for being part of a team that turned out the vote with military-like precision at a primary night watch party on June 26.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

The celebration was tempered by swiftly developing news displayed on three large-screen TVs at the Stephens watch party that some 30,000 El Paso County residents — including a big share from House District 19 — were evacuating ahead of an explosive fire that had blown into residential areas that afternoon.

After thanking her supporters for their “loyalty, hard work, prayer, perseverance and team-work,” Stephens asked her team to “remember all of our friends who are now packing up,” and listed several who were fleeing their homes.

In final, unofficial results posted on Thursday afternoon, Stephens had 7,448 votes, or 60.90 percent, over Looper’s 5,056 votes, or 39.10 percent, winning by a slightly larger margin than initial results had shown.

The El Paso County Clerk and Recorder’s office was delayed counting some 4,800 ballots county-wide until Thursday because a swiftly moving Waldo Canyon Fire and heavy smoke from the blaze forced a mandatory evacuation of its ballot-counting facility on Garden of the Gods Road right after polls closed on Tuesday night.

At 7 p.m. on Tuesday elections officials posted preliminary results — including all ballots counted through the end of the day on Monday — and then posted an update a half hour later accounting for most of the ballots received on Tuesday. Accompanied by a sheriff’s department escort, officials returned the next day to retrieve uncounted ballots and equipment and completed the count on Thursday afternoon at a cross-town facility.

El Paso County Clerk and Recorder Wayne Williams on Friday praised his staff and local officials who helped get the ballots counted under such trying circumstances.

“We came together as a team and quickly developed an action plan to avoid disrupting service to our customers during this time of crisis,” he said in a statement.

Looper declined to comment, saying she wanted to wait until all the votes had been counted. A campaign spokeswoman said that Looper was spending time with her family after the election.

Looper gained an early upper hand in the race in late March at the county assembly when she won top-line designation on the primary ballot, pulling 10 more votes than Stephens from the 298 delegates.

It was that surprise loss that triggered the Stephens campaign into an even higher level of organization and activity, the candidate said on primary night.

Calling the assembly results “shocking,” Stephens went on to say, “But that was good because everyone in this team said ‘Game on! We are going to do this.’ And, like the military — because practically all of you here are retired military — the emails start at 6:30, the phone calls start at 7, everybody is on task, everybody knows what they’re doing.”

That included a chase for ballots run with military precision — not surprising, as Stephens pointed out that retired service members made up the bulk of her campaign operation.

“We have the best of the best, the best of retired military, including a number of retired colonels,” she said after it was clear she had won the night. “We were game-on in the last month and a half. Once the ballots started coming, we knew what we had to do.”

Ernest@coloradostatesman.com