Republicans Gessler, Brophy criticize incumbent Governor

Tancredo skips Lincoln Club forum, complains it pits GOP candidates against each other
The Colorado Statesman

Republicans Greg Brophy and Scott Gessler attacked Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper on Wednesday over failed leadership and an inability to make concrete decisions, as the two prepare for a possible gubernatorial challenge.

Brophy, a state senator from Wray, has already formally announced his campaign and has been actively hitting the trail. Gessler, the conservative stalwart secretary of state, plans to make his announcement on Sept. 17.

Speaking before the Lincoln Club of Colorado at the Colorado Auto Dealers Association in Denver, the two Republicans spared each other political attacks, instead opting to throw their full weight behind targeting Hickenlooper.

It appears to be a strategy within the Republican gubernatorial primary to sing “Kumbaya” around each other in order to save their furious might for the increasingly vulnerable Democratic governor.

A recent Quinnipiac University poll indicated that Hickenlooper’s approval rating is sinking. Only 45 percent of Colorado voters say he deserves re-election in 2014, while 47 percent say he does not.

Hickenlooper holds an incredibly tight lead over Republican challengers, leading former U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo by a single percentage point — 46 percent to 45 percent.

Hickenlooper leads Gessler 48 percent to 41 percent and he has the edge over Brophy 48 percent to 39 percent.

Tancredo has called on Republican candidates to sign a pledge not to hurt each other. He is calling it a “Republican Peace Agreement.” He is concerned that a divisive primary could scorch the earth and leave Republicans weak to take on Hickenlooper.

Tancredo was invited to the forum but declined to attend because he was afraid that the format would pit the candidates against each other, which he felt would be damaging, according to Mary Dambman, president of the Lincoln Club of Colorado.

“I’m running for governor of Colorado to defeat John Hickenlooper and his radical, left wing policies, not run down other decent Republican candidates,” explained Tancredo. “If our struggling Republican Party can’t get it together and demonstrate civility toward each other, we will again be handing victory to the Democrat extremists and their out-of-control, disastrous agenda.”

None of the gubernatorial candidates had yet to sign the pledge as of Friday, which was only unveiled on Thursday. But it appears they are playing along even without the commitment.

Above all, Republicans point to Hickenlooper’s support of gun control and his backing of a rural renewable energy standard that is expected to raise rates just as the economy is recovering.

Also, a decision this spring not to execute convicted killer Nathan Dunlap, instead granting a “temporary reprieve,” has also irked Republicans, perhaps just as much as other issues they have with the governor.

Republicans say Hickenlooper’s “indecision” is representative of how he goes about governing, by taking a very middle-of-the-road approach.

Hickenlooper could have signed an execution order, or granted clemency and commuted Dunlap’s sentence to life in prison. Both those moves would have been much more definitive. But instead Hickenlooper granted only a temporary order, meaning another governor could make a more concrete decision.

“I’m not sure if he is being led by this radical legislature, or if he is in lockstep with them, but what he is clearly failing to do is lead on all of the key issues,” opined Brophy.

“On the Dunlap decision, rather than just be anti-death penalty — as he talks — and commute the sentence, he took the chicken route and washed his hands of it, punting it down the road to the next governor,” added Brophy. “That’s a failure of leadership.”

Gessler took it one step further, calling Hickenlooper, “Gov. Jellyfish.”

“He provides no vision and absolutely no leadership,” declared Gessler. “He is a follower; he’s not a leader, and he is following the worst impulses, the most liberal Democratic legislature we have seen in decades.”

Brophy has made a habit of poking fun at Hickenlooper for establishing a blue ribbon commission, TBD Colorado, which was put together to make recommendations for how to improve the state. “TBD” is short for “to be determined.”

State Sen. Greg Brophy

“Just a failure of leadership, and his vision is still to be determined,” quipped Brophy.

“Name calling? Really?” responded Eric Brown, a spokesman for Hickenlooper.

“As for failed leadership, the governor’s record proves differently,” he added. 

Gessler highlighted his ability to win statewide elections, pointing out that in 2010 he defeated Democratic incumbent Bernie Buescher for secretary of state, despite lackluster success by Colorado Republicans in recent years. He also said he is willing to stand up to criticism in the name of principle.

Secretary of State Scott Gessler

Liberals have adopted the nickname “Honey Badger” for Gessler, referring to his brazen approach to policy and politics. Just like a honey badger, Gessler is unafraid, often speaking his mind and taking on critics and the press.

“We want, as Republicans, someone who is going to stand up for principle, who can endure the withering criticism, sometimes from members of the fourth estate, the editorial boards,” attested Gessler. “Someone who can stand up and is proven to withstand those criticisms.”

Brophy, however, said he is just as bold, painting himself as a conservative leader in the legislature who led many fights against Democrats.

Governor John Hickenlooper

“If you think back to those battles and you see who was leading the fight for conservatives in the state of Colorado, and who is carrying that message on the radio and on the television, that was me,” stated Brophy.

Both Brophy and Gessler spoke of fostering limited government. They each said that on their first day in office they would sign Dunlap’s death warrant.

They also each promised on their first day in office to rescind an executive order signed by former Gov. Bill Ritter, a Democrat, which authorized state workers to unionize.

That has Tim Markham, executive director of Colorado WINS, the union representing state workers, nervous that if either of the Republicans beat Hickenlooper, state workers would get hurt. WINS issued a response following the statements by Brophy and Gessler.

“Brophy and Gessler’s statements are an insult to the thousands of state workers who serve the people of Colorado every day,” said Markham. “These are our friends and neighbors who plow our roads, care for our veterans and keep us safe from dangerous criminals.

“We’re proud of the successful partnerships we’ve formed with the state and our working together towards a common goal of improved services for our fellow taxpayers,” continued Markham. “Brophy and Gessler would take Colorado backwards.”

Brophy also said that on his first day in office he would cut state funding for abortion-related activities.

Cathy Alderman, vice president of public affairs for Planned Parenthood Votes Colorado, pointed out that the state constitution already prohibits using state funds for abortion activities.

“We hope that Sen. Brophy will take a moment to review the Colorado Constitution, which already prohibits the use of state funds for abortion services, which has been the law in Colorado as approved by the voters since 1984,” responded Alderman. “We also believe that if Sen. Brophy becomes governor, he should make creating jobs and improving the health and economy for Coloradans his top priority instead of continuing to wage a war on women’s rights.”

Gessler did not touch the abortion issue. Instead, he said that on his first day in office he would take action on taxes.

“I would propose a broad economic package that would reduce regulations, reduce some of the unfair taxes we have here in the state of Colorado to get this economy back rolling on track,” said Gessler.

The gubernatorial candidates also quickly touched on a slew of other issues facing the state, of which they mostly agreed. Both candidates would:

• Increase the capacity of Interstate 70;

• Support voters’ will to legalize and tax marijuana;

• Oppose common core state education standards;

• Reform entitlement programs by cutting fraud; and

• Oppose new taxes.

Attorney General

Also speaking at the Lincoln Club of Colorado summer barbecue was Rep. Mark Waller of Colorado Springs, who recently stepped down as minority leader to run a campaign to succeed Republican Attorney General John Suthers, who is term-limited.

Waller must first beat primary challenger Deputy Attorney General Cynthia Coffman. Coffman did not attend the forum on Wednesday due to a scheduling conflict.

Whoever wins the primary is likely to take on Democrat Don Quick, a former Adams County district attorney who is yet to face a primary opponent.

A jovial Waller had the floor to himself as he outlined why he is running for the statewide position. Much of his reason is rooted in distrust of the Democratic agenda.

He pointed to the gun control debate at the legislature in which Vice President Joe Biden flew to Colorado and called Colorado Democrats to encourage them to vote for the package of gun control measures.

“It was an absolute tremendous honor for me as the Republican leader in the Statehouse to be that voice for you and to be able to carry that voice forward and to be the representative of that voice against east coast politicians and special interests,” said Waller.

“And that’s exactly what I’m going to do when I’m your attorney general,” he continued. “I am going to be that voice that stands up and fights for our Western values and our Western way of life in the face of these east coast politicians and these special interest groups.”

As attorney general, much of Waller’s work would surround implementation of marijuana legalization. The federal government said on Thursday that it would not interfere with states that have legalized the drug. But implementing a legal framework in Colorado will still be a task for the attorney general’s office.

“We have an obligation, as the state, to fight for state law and fight for the infrastructure that we’ve implemented,” said Waller.

“[Implementation] is going to be with us, and it’s going to be in the forefront of our public conscience for the next eight to ten years,” he added. “It’s going to take us a long time to develop that area of the law and make sure that we do it correctly.”

U.S. Senate

None of the frontrunner Republican candidates for U.S. Senate attended the forum. Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck, and state Sens. Owen Hill of Colorado Springs and Randy Baumgardner of Hot Sulphur Spring said they had scheduling conflicts, according to Dambman.

But Jaime McMillan of Durango explained why he believes he is the best candidate to unseat incumbent U.S. Sen. Mark Udall.

McMillan is an interesting Republican candidate, with his positions departing from traditional Republican values, perhaps representing a new wave in GOP thinking.

He is the owner of an investment advisory firm who only moved to Colorado in recent years. He said his experiences have shaped a different viewpoint. While he holds the Republican value of fiscal conservancy, he splits on certain social issues, especially that of gay rights.

His 92-year-old grandfather, a World War II veteran, is openly gay. McMillan said it is time for the GOP to embrace equality.

“Our party needs to recognize the gay community as equals in our society,” remarked McMillan. “For me, that struggle has been a personal experience… My grandfather is a great American hero… He risked his life, he served his country selflessly, and the time has come for his country to serve him.

“We should be, as Republicans, on the same side as equality and freedom for every American,” he continued. “No government should deny these citizens their right to marry if they so choose.”

McMillan extended that belief to immigrants, making the case for immigration reform that includes a pathway to citizenship. The majority of Republicans have rejected this idea.

“Today we have 11 million immigrants in the United States illegally here today, mainly Hispanic,” he said. “And although they have broken the law, I believe they have done so based in the same moral sentiments of our founding fathers. I believe they’ve done it based on economic freedom and opportunity. Their acts may not be justified, but their reasons deserve our mercy.”

Peter@coloradostatesman.com