State Sen. Owen Hill seeks U.S. Senate seat

By
The Colorado Statesman

The recently barren field of Republican challengers to incumbent U.S. Sen. Mark Udall has suddenly blossomed, with two state lawmakers seeding the ground for their races in 2014, and the district attorney in Weld County indicating that he may try to regenerate his efforts to secure a U.S. Senate seat.

The surprise announcements this week by state Sens. Owen Hill and Randy Baumgardner, Republicans from Colorado Springs and Hot Sulphur Springs respectively — and the renewed speculation that Weld County District Attorney and former U.S. Senate nominee Ken Buck might return to the candidate arena — comes at an opportune time for Colorado Republicans, who until now have experienced a bit of a drought in their pool of serious challengers to the popular Democratic incumbent. Even state Republican Chairman Ryan Call, as recently as three weeks ago, could only speculate on who might enter the race.

Two of the possible candidates he mentioned, former Colorado Attorney General and Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton and former U.S. Attorney Troy Eid, immediately dashed any notion that they would run. And the two others who Call singled out at the recent conclave of Republican activists in Arapahoe County — former Congressman Bob Beauprez and state Rep. Amy Stephens of Monument — are reportedly still mulling over the prospect of running statewide in 2014.

Sen. Owen Hill

Hill, just one year into his four-year term as a state senator from El Paso County, officially announced his candidacy this week.

He told The Colorado Statesman that he and his family have been praying about whether to get into the U.S. Senate race for a while now. He describes his decision as “unexpected but not hasty.”

Although he says he’s had no personal interaction with Udall, who was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2008 after serving five terms in Congress, Hill describes the Democrat’s politics as stemming from the “good ol’ boy” network. Udall’s father was a congressman, another family member a U.S. Senator, Hill pointed out, and the current Udall from Colorado seems unwilling to “fight for the average person” in the state.

Hill said during a live telephone town hall this week with a reported 15,000 Coloradans that his attributes of integrity and service complement his desires to make a difference in Washington.

Hill talked about how the opportunity to serve in the state legislature presented itself in 2010 and again in 2012, and in his election last year to the state senate he received the highest percentage of Republican votes.

“Now we find ourselves in a similar situation,” Hill said. “Now’s the time for us to do this. We want our kids to grow up with conservative values.”

The newly announced candidate acknowledged the likelihood of a primary to secure the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate. “They don’t concern us at all,” Hill said. He likened the intra-party contests t”good robust conversations” similar to the playoffs in a sporting tournament. “They sharpen and train us and make us more focused on the issues,” he said.

As for the exact manner in obtaining ballot access next year, Hill said he hasn’t yet decided whether to go through the caucus nominating system or try to petition on to the ballot. He said the convention route can be frustrating to a lot of Coloradans, but he hasn’t made a final decision yet.

As for how much he anticipates election to the U.S. Senate will cost, Hill acknowledged, “A lot. It’ll take more than we can raise.”

In a series of questions phoned in by participants to his teleconference this week, Hill told listeners that he “certainly supports” fracking. He said, “it’s almost too easy to find fault” with Obamacare and said it will hurt job creation down the road.

Hill explained his support in the Legislature this year for ASSET, which gives in-state college tuition to undocumented students. He was one of three Senate Republicans to vote in favor of the controversial legislation.

The newly announced candidate was asked about financial contributors to his campaign for U.S. Senate, and specifically whether there is any connection to the Keystone XL Pipeline.

Hill responded that while he supports the notion of the pipeline he considers it a state’s rights issue. He also stressed that he’d only been in the race a few days and fundraising was still getting off the ground. He said he’s raised $40,000 so far from small business owners and friends and family.

In response to a question from a Republican from Morrison about whether he would “take the fight to Democrats” in 2014 or, like Mitt Romney in 2012, “let Obama slide on a lot of things,” Hill was more forthcoming.

“I’m not here to hang out,” he said. “I bring new energy to the Republican fight. I will appeal to people in the middle. That’s my passion.”

In a follow-up interview with The Statesman, Hill focused on “the opportunity to demonstrate new ideas and teach with good old conservative values.”

He added that he’s intent on “forcing Udall to defend the indefensible.”

Other Republican contenders and Democratic reaction

Baumgardner planned to officially announce his U.S. Senate candidacy on July 12 in Granby after The Statesman went to press.

Buck, who is finishing up chemotherapy after dealing with cancer these last few months, has recently expressed an interest in running for the U.S. Senate seat. Buck unsuccessfully ran for the Senate in 2010 against Democrat Michael Bennet, and has built up a lot of support and good will since his foray into politics three years ago.

Former U.S. Rep. Bob Beauprez told The Statesman last month that he still has the fire in his belly regarding political office. Beauprez, who ran for governor in 2006, is currently spending time on his ranch in northwest Colorado and considering the possibility of running in 2014.

State Rep. Amy Stephens acknowledged that she also is considering getting into the 2014 race. The state representative from Monument told The Statesman that she’s had experience dealing with federal issues in the past. She also cited the need for more women in the U.S. Senate, and pointed out that she’s currently an “empty nester” who could easily make the transition of serving in the U.S. Senate in Washington.

Colorado Democratic Party Chairman Rick Palacio was naturally not enthused about Hill’s challenge to his party’s incumbent Senator.

“With all of their soul-searching, and talk of rebranding the GOP’s image, all that Colorado Republicans could find in their hope to defeat U.S. Sen. Mark Udall in 2014 is more of the same: an aspiring obstructionist and unproven extremist that Sarah Palin would be proud of,” Palacio said.

Palacio pointed out that Hill “thus far has served an eighth of his first-term in public office — far less than even Sarah Palin did before seeking another job.” Palacio called Republican Hill “another partisan who’s only focused on one job — his.”

In his six months as a state senator, Palacio said in a statement, “Hill has staked out numerous positions that are far outside the mainstream of Colorado values. Hill even praised right-wing U.S. senators who are focused on eliminating the Department of Education, raising taxes on the middle class and undermining the very programs — like Medicare and Social Security — that hardworking Coloradans rely upon.”

The Democratic party chief added, “Hill has made statements that would alarm most independent-minded Coloradans, such as comparing a woman’s right to choose to slavery and denouncing expanding voter rights in a tantrum-like partisan speech on the state Senate floor.”

Jody@coloradostatesman.com