Gessler officially in governor’s race

The Colorado Statesman

After months of speculation, the fearless conservative secretary of state, Scott Gessler, officially announced his campaign to challenge Gov. John Hickenlooper in 2014. But how the political world analyzes Gessler’s brazen approach to politics differs between parties.

Gessler, 48, whose nickname is the “honey badger” because of his tenacious political spirit, does blame the “liberal media” for the moniker but has apparently embraced it. At his much anticipated campaign kickoff Tuesday evening at the Cable Center on the University of Denver campus, Gessler encouraged voters to elect him because “this honey badger is ready to fight.”

“Is that because I’m tenacious when others are meek? Because I refuse to let the status quo get in the way of honest and necessary change? Maybe it’s because of my sheer unwillingness to go along and get along with bad policies? Or maybe some just don’t like a solid, forward-looking conservative,” Gessler notioned.

Republican Secretary of State Scott Gessler kicks off his campaign for governor Tuesday at the Cable Center at the University of Denver as former CD 4 U.S. Rep. Bob Schaffer looks on.
Photo by Peter Marcus/The Colorado Statesman

“The liberal left is terrified that their backroom deals and their cozy status quo politics are threatened. They’re terrified that they’re not going to have any place in a smart, accountable and limited government,” he continued. “And you know what, they’re right to be scared.

“I’m standing here today a stronger man, a stronger leader, and more committed than ever before,” Gessler added.

He believes the state has been led down a path controlled by left-leaning interests who have pulled Hickenlooper’s strings.

He criticizes the governor for having supported new gun control laws, for passing on executing convicted killer Nathan Dunlap, and for signing a bill that mandates a new renewable energy standard in rural parts of the state. Gessler says it’s time for a change.

“Breaking the status quo is never easy, and frankly, beating the governor’s good ol’ boy network is going to be hard,” Gessler said at his campaign kickoff. “There will be naysayers, opposition, political opportunists, but that’s not going to stop us.”

Surrounded by about 200 supporters, including state Rep. Clarice Navarro of Pueblo, former U.S. Rep. Bob Schaffer, Rep. Lois Landgraf of Fountain and former Rep. Cindy Acree of Aurora, Gessler said he is not afraid to take on Hickenlooper.

Hickenlooper’s approval has taken a hit recently, but he still remains tough to defeat. Only 45 percent of Colorado voters say the governor deserves to be re-elected, while 47 percent say he does not, according to a poll last month by Quinnipiac University. His overall approval rating is 48 percent, according to the poll.

Republicans believe they can monopolize on stunning wins this month in two recall elections. Grassroots gun rights activists — with the help of Republican interests — were able to oust Senate President John Morse of Colorado Springs and his colleague, Sen. Angela Giron of Pueblo. Similar to Hickenlooper, the two lawmakers had supported gun control.

“Even today the establishment thinks this incumbent Democrat cannot lose. But as we saw in the recall elections last week, there is a revolution brewing,” Gessler said of the governor, to thunderous applause.

“Voters have finally figured it out that emperor Hickenlooper has no clothes,” Gessler continued.

Navarro, a rising Republican star who was asked to speak at Gessler’s announcement, was careful to point out her Hispanic roots. Republicans continue to struggle with wooing Latino voters.

“Announcements like this matter,” she said before introducing Schaffer.

Schaffer has known Gessler for a long time. He pointed out that he made his decision to run for U.S. Senate in 2008 in Gessler’s living room.

“I believe with all my heart that the next governor of Colorado is standing in this room… that the next governor of Colorado is uniquely prepared to be governor of Colorado, that the next governor of Colorado has earned the trust and support of those of us who like to take matters into our own hands,” said Schaffer. “And that once this announcement is accomplished and made, we are all going to go out and do everything we possibly can… to persuade all of Colorado that the next governor of our state is our secretary of state, Scott Gessler.”

Primary in the wings

But before Gessler can take on Hickenlooper next November, he must defeat at least two Republican opponents in a primary. Sen. Greg Brophy of Wray and former U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo have also announced their candidacies.

Also rumored to be considering a run is Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler, who gained notoriety in a partisan speech criticizing the governor after Hickenlooper failed to act on executing Dunlap earlier this year.

Tancredo has asked the candidates to sign a pledge not to attack each other in an effort to avoid scorching the earth through a divisive primary that could empower Democrats.

Tancredo said Gessler has offered his verbal promise not to attack the other GOP candidates. He said he is still waiting on Brophy. Brophy would not discuss the pledge when asked by The Colorado Statesman this week.

Tancredo is pleased to see Gessler finally join the race; pointing out that the more candidates criticizing Hickenlooper, the better for Republicans.

“If we are going to focus in the primary on one person, that person is the governor,” said Tancredo. “And so in doing that you recognize that everybody has the same goal in mind.”

Brophy said he is not worried about his opponents, but is instead focused on running his own campaign.

“To me the danger is what you say and do yourself,” he said. “I want to talk about my message and why Colorado would be brought back together as a state if I were the governor, and I’ll continue to do that.”

Democrats attack the Honey Badger

Gessler’s daring personality has often left him in unflattering spotlights. This year he was found to have misspent taxpayer dollars on a personal matter. He was reimbursed through his office’s discretionary fund for a trip to Florida during the 2012 Republican National Convention last summer in which he also attended a Republican lawyers conference.

He lodged at the Ritz-Carlton in Sarasota, and incurred about $1,400 in expenses.

An ethics complaint was filed against Gessler, and the panel agreed that the secretary of state had “breached the public trust for private gain.” He repaid the money just weeks before the state ethics panel ruled.

Even before that, however, Gessler found himself in the crosshairs of liberal interests. They criticized him for seeking to work part-time at his former elections law firm just after taking office, as well as for attempting to disenfranchise so-called “inactive” voters by prohibiting them from receiving mail ballots.

Gessler currently earns $68,500; as governor his salary would be $90,000.

When liberals adopted the nickname “honey badger,” they were pulling from a now famous YouTube video titled, “The Crazy Nastyass Honey Badger.”

“The honey badger is just crazy…” states a narrator, speaking with a lisp. “Honey badger don’t give a [expletive,] it just takes what it wants.”

Amy Runyon-Harms, executive director of ProgressNow Colorado, said Gessler is the wrong choice for the state.

“He’s entirely too partisan and willing to use taxpayer dollars to further his own agenda, which I think is wrong for Colorado,” she said.

Democrats also criticized Gessler for making his announcement as the state continues to recover from devastating floods. Gessler was careful to send his thoughts to victims during his remarks, but Democrats say he should have postponed.

“At a time when historic floods have left thousands of Coloradans homeless and hundreds still unaccounted for, Scott Gessler decides that now is the best time to announce his next political ambition,” Rick Palacio, chairman of the Colorado Democratic Party, scolded the secretary of state.

“We should expect more from a Colorado public servant, but perhaps not from the most ethically challenged elected official in our state,” he continued. “This is just one of many stark contrasts that Colorado will see between Scott Gessler’s opportunism, and John Hickenlooper’s steady leadership.”

Republicans were astonished by Palacio’s remarks, pointing out that Hickenlooper on Saturday — in the midst of the worst of the flooding — attended a gala for the oil and gas industry in downtown Denver.

The governor spent about 30 minutes at the Wildcatter of the Year Gala hosted by the Western Energy Alliance. The gala honors an individual in the energy industry, in which Hickenlooper used to work as a geologist.

Republicans also point out that during the wildfires in June, Hickenlooper held a kickoff for his campaign finance committee at the History Colorado museum. And after he announced his decision in the controversial Dunlap matter, Hickenlooper attended a dinner that evening to honor Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen.

“The Colorado GOP looks forward to issuing a joint statement with the Colorado Democratic Party condemning Gov. Hickenlooper for launching his campaign during this summer’s historic wildfires and then attending an elite, black tie fundraiser while he should have been focusing on Colorado’s devastating floods,” jabbed Ryan Call, chairman of the Colorado GOP.

Colorado conservative blog PeakPolitics also lambasted Hickenlooper for having attended the gala on Saturday, among other such black-tie events in the wake of controversy and tragedy.
“Just one question for you, Guv,” writes the conservative blogger. “Would it kill you to miss a party when your constituents are suffering so?”

A spokesman for Hickenlooper, Eric Brown, said the governor’s office was focused on the floods, not the campaign.

“He announced?” Brown quipped of Gessler’s announcement. “Sorry, I missed that. We’re focused right now on helping the thousands of Coloradans impacted by the historic flooding.”

Peter@coloradostatesman.com