Mapping the future of state GOP

Republican leaders share their views

By Leslie Jorgensen

Republican leaders are assessing the damage done to their party by the 2008 election, in which Barack Obama stormed Colorado and Democrats captured an unprecedented seven of the state’s nine seats in the upper and lower houses of the U.S. Congress.

In 2009, Democrats will hold all elective statewide seats but one; Republican John Suthers will continue as Colorado’s attorney general. (Although Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter says he will consider applicants from both political parties when he appoints a replacement for Republican Secretary of State Mike Coffman, the congressman-elect for the 6th Congressional District.)

The Democrats also maintain their majority in both houses of the Colorado Legislature.

For the first of this series on the state of Colorado’s political parties, we solicited the views of Bob Beauprez, who represented Colorado’s 7th Congressional District 2003-’07 and ran for governor in 2006; Scott McInnis, who represented the 3rd Congressional District 1993-2005; Colorado Springs real-estate developer Steve Schuck, who ran for governor in 1986; and Jeff Crank, who ran for the Republican nomination in the 5th Congressional District in 2006 and 2008.

Question: As the party moves into the 2010 election, does the Colorado Republican Party need to change its message to attract more voters — particularly women, minorities and young adults? If so, how do you envision the new message?

• Beauprez: “The party needs to continue to promote the values of freedom, low taxes, limited government and a strong national defense,” Beauprez said.

While conceding that the Democrats had momentum in the election, Beauprez said traditional Republican values were evident in Colorado, where voters rejected most of the proposed tax increases.

“We’ve got to recommit ourselves to what made our party great,” said Beauprez, who addresses these issues in his upcoming book, A Return to Values, which reaches bookshelves this month.

• Crank: “We do need to do a better job to get our message across — and restore the faith of the American people. But we don’t need to talk and act like Democrats to win elections,” Crank said.

Crank believes the traditional principles of the party are as valid tomorrow as they were yesterday, noting, “We are the party of life and respect for life.”

• McInnis: “I don’t think we need to change the message, but we do need to customize it,” McInnis said.

McInnis advocates working with Republican candidates to ensure that their campaigns fit their districts. Although he believes that basic Republican tenets are shared throughout the party base, he also notes that issues of importance in one district may not be equally important statewide.

McInnis would like to see a re-emergence of moderate Republicans such as former state Rep. Sandy Hume, who won election from Boulder County, and former state Sen. Dottie Wham who ran successfully in Denver.

He said it will become more critical to customize campaigns after the 2010 census and the ensuing reapportionment.

“There will be dramatic changes,” he said. “Colorado Springs could be lumped with Pueblo. It’s not fair, but the congressional districts will be redrawn to favor the Democrats.”

• Schuck: “I think you stand up for what you believe in and advance ideas that best serve the public in the long term. If you win, you get a chance to execute those ideas. If you don’t, you better execute your message the next time,” Schuck said.

Question: Who are some of the up-and-coming young Republican leaders who will be able to draw 18- to 24-year-olds into the state party?

• Beauprez: “We’ve got some excellent young guns — a very talented young crew,” Beauprez said.

He believes younger voters will be energized by state Sen. Josh Penry, of Fruita; House Minority Whip Cory Gardner, of Yuma; and former state legislator Rob Witwer, a Jefferson County attorney.

• Crank: “I think Daryl Glen is one of the young Republican leaders to watch. He’s a Colorado Springs city councilman, young, conservative, African-American and Republican who believes in our principles.”

• McInnis: “We have a good bench!” McInnis said.

His picks include Witwer, Penry, Gardner, Denver attorney John Zakhem, David Ludlam, of Grand Junction; Stephannie Finley, of Colorado Springs, and Denverite Jake Zambrano, an operations director under former Gov. Bill Owens.

Question: As part of the “big tent” concept, some Republicans want to downplay social issues — from both the conservative and moderate side — and play up more inclusive issues that resonate with voters, such as stabilizing the economy, creating jobs and developing energy independence. What’s your opinion?

• Beauprez: “I get real nervous when people say they want to downplay social issues. It reminds me of what one of my party cohorts used to say, ‘We’ve got to get away from God, guns and gays,’” Beauprez said.

Beauprez believes a conservative stance on social issues is cornerstone of the GOP.

“Traditional values have served mankind well from the beginning of time — and those are the values shared by Republicans and most voters,” he said. “We ought to focus on what we as a vast majority agree on — and that’s traditional values.”

• Crank: “Voters don’t vote for a candidate because of a single issue whether they’re pro-life, pro-choice or pro-lower-prices-at-the-gas-pump,” Crank said.

He equated the idea of minimizing social issues to shoving a core group of Republicans out of the tent.

“Ronald Reagan won election because he built coalitions,” he said. “We need to welcome everybody in the Republican Party.”

• McInnis: McInnis believes that neither abortion, nor gay marriage, nor stem cell research, nor highways, nor water, nor oil shale development is a dominant issue of the party. That said, he believes that if the issue resonates in a district, it will take a high profile in that district’s campaigns.

For example, McInnis said water is a critical issue on the Western Slope and will become part of a campaign platform. But, the issue of water won’t matter to voters in Denver.

McInnis advocates an inclusive party that coalesces around core values, but customizes campaigns to address the issues that dominate individual districts.

• Schuck: “Social conservatives energized the party in 2000 and 2004,” said Schuck, who opposes the idea of downplaying or ostracizing social conservatives or any group within the party.

“We have to agree to disagree. We find core issues that unite us, and we work on those.”=

Question: The Democratic Party’s grassroots effort — primarily mobilized by President-elect Barack Obama’s campaign — is being discussed as a role model for the Republican Party. What changes do you think need to be made to recruit candidates, campaign and get-out-the-vote efforts in Colorado?

• Beauprez: “We don’t need to duplicate or replicate what the Democrats have done in this election,” Beauprez said.

Beauprez thinks the Democratic Party faces risks ahead because their voters were energized by promises that cannot all be met by President-elect Barack Obama and Colorado’s Democratic elected officials. After the peak-high enthusiasm, voters will experience a letdown — particularly if the road ahead is rocky.

That said, Beauprez recommends that the GOP take a cue from the state Democratic Party, which set a higher bar on utilizing technology, updating databases and creating a network of funding sources for candidates and ballot measures.

The Democrats’ funding network — including 527 committees — was called “The Colorado Project” by the conservative magazine Weekly Standard.

• Crank: “Rather than hit the panic button, we ought to look at this election in a historical sense,” Crank said.

He said Obama’s election changed American history and energized Democrats and new voters. The economy turned the tide against Republicans. Democrats utilized advanced technology, and Republicans were still updating e-mail databases. Democrats tapped millions through 527 committees, and Republicans faltered in fundraising.

Crank opposes radical change in the state GOP.

“It’s not about throwing everything overboard. It’s not about recruiting pro-life or pro-choice candidates and matching them up to conservative or moderate districts,” he said. “This nonsense of Republicans suggesting we talk like Democrats doesn’t make any sense. Elections are about differences. We can win elections on our principles.”

• McInnis: “The Democrats ran a massive 527 network — it is used as a model across the country… It’s like a big corporation,” McInnis said.

The Campaign Finance Reform Act placed tighter restrictions on donations to campaigns and party organizations, he noted. Consequently, McInnis said the political power has shifted from the state party to 527 committees.

Although McInnis said he opposes 527 committees because their activities are not transparent, he advocates the state party utilize “the new generation of 527s.”

“The Democrats had the resources in this election. People say that money shouldn’t make a difference, but it does.”

• Schuck: “We need to energize the party,” said Schuck, who doesn’t believe in sitting around and waiting for the political tide to change in 2010.

Schuck said the party will prevail with hard work, discipline and effort. Summing it up, he quoted film producer Samuel Goldwyn, “The harder I work, the luckier I get.”