Divergent views reveal GOP schisms

By Leslie Jorgensen
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

Republicans are facing new realities in the wake of the 2008 election, which hit the GOP like a Katrina-scale political hurricane.

Barack Obama stormed Colorado, and Democrats captured all but two of the state’s nine seats in the upper and lower houses of the U.S. Congress.

The GOP will almost assuredly lose the Department of State when incumbent Secretary of State Mike Coffman goes to Washington to represent Colorado’s 6th Congressional District. Gov. Bill Ritter is reviewing 20 primarily Democratic applicants to replace him, and it’s extremely unlikely that he will choose a Republican. That will leave Democrats holding all elective statewide seats but one in 2009 — Republican John Suthers will continue as Colorado’s attorney general.

CD 5 voters tell tales of tough times

By Leslie Jorgensen


THE COLORADO STATESMAN

On Nov. 25, 5th Congressional District U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn sent out a survey asking constituents how the economic crisis has affected them and their families and requesting their suggestions on implementing the $700 billion Wall Street bailout.

The survey went to just under 60,000 people in the database of e-mail contacts for the Republican congressman, and elicited responses from more than 583 constituents within six hours — and they’re still coming in.

Below is a sampling from those responses.

Question: How has your family been affected by the financial crisis?

“I lost my teaching job on Friday after teaching in the state of Colorado for 22 years. My salary (for half time) was $23,000. How can I be part of the problem at such a low salary? Where do I go next? …I have always been a responsible citizen. I have good credit and paid my bills on time, but that will all change I am sure… Where is the bailout for people like me? I will leave the country before I send my tax dollars to support these overpaid leeches.” — Danette, a single mother of two children

“A freeze on the government spending on small contracts at Fort Carson has limited the amount that we can pay ourselves. The three owners of our company have not had a paycheck in over a month.” — Tom

“I am lucky enough to be employed, but I do not understand why I need to bail out people and businesses who have not lived within their (means).”
— Barbara

“My oldest brother has been laid off. My finances for the future are currently less than what I have actually put into them. But, thankfully, everyday living for me and most of my family continues fairly normally. Despite the fact that the organization I work for can’t afford to give any pay raises, I should be fine for the coming year as long as taxes are not raised.”
— Chuck

“We have severely cut back on discretionary spending. (Our) 401k is basically gone. So far, we have been lucky and both have our jobs, but for how long? We are very worried about what will happen from here and hoping it will get better sooner rather than later!” — Pam

“My husband works for aircraft supply and has experienced reduced workload, hours, pay and outsourcing of contract work. The shop is not filling open positions and is beginning to eliminate jobs to outside temporary agencies. I have been looking for work since July and have had few call backs and a limited number of interviews and still no job. We have no medical insurance so that we can buy food. We are barely getting by and now Christmas is here and I don’t know what we’ll do.”
— Katherine

“In January 2008, our small business revenue was about even with January 2007 revenue. As the year has progressed, each month of 2008 has grown progressively smaller than the corresponding month for 2007. I hear about this sort of trend from my friends who own small businesses. I believe ALL the bailing out is a mistake. The ‘broken’ businesses need to have been allowed to fail, and we would have worked our way through a tough recession. We are now on track for something which may not even have a name or historical precedent.”
— Steve

“We will do what we have done before — buy less, look for bargains, stay home and pray. We are hopeful for a more sensible approach for our leaders to plan for getting the country out of the economic chaos. Make people responsible for their actions.”
— Diane and her husband live on a retirement income.

“I lost my job on Nov. 15 because due to the uncertain tax ramifications of Obama becoming president. We avoided a three-day eviction notice last month by the skin of our teeth. We may not be so lucky this month — (we) got rent bill today for $820. We no longer have cell phones, at least until we can get the $400 bill paid. (We) got letters today from both auto lenders (saying) that our cars are going to repossessed if we don’t get caught up on payments, which come to about $1,200 for each car. Talked myself out of a ticket for expired plates this morning, but where’s that $257 going to come from? We can’t get the Christmas decorations out of storage because I’m behind $175 on the storage unit. Food stamps have been canceled, working on getting them reinstated. The boys’ health care was canceled, working on getting that reinstated. (My wife) starts a new job tomorrow. The paycheck comes in three weeks, and she’ll gross $320 a week. I thought of joining the military, but their cutoff is 35 years old — and I missed that by 15 years.” — Jim

“My husband has been out of work and there are few jobs available. We are barely living paycheck to paycheck and cannot pay all of our bills. I am unable to make payments on my student loan.” — Alexandra

“As a small business owner, debt in our cardiology practice has gone up. Patients are not able to meet their financial obligations, and that affects our ability to offer care. So far, we are able to persist, but it may not last for long. We have already had to lay off some personnel. It is a very challenging time indeed.” — David

“My 401K, which I saved all my working life in private industry — not a dime of government salary — is down 30 to 40 percent. I am stuck with the government raising taxes on the remainder.” — Collin

“Personally, we have not been affected by the economic crisis, as yet. However, all hardworking Americans will be affected for quite some time through higher taxes, higher interest rates and more government regulation.” — Gene

“No longer buy unnecessary items. No longer drive as often. No movies, no shopping, no travel for the holidays. We cut expenses to the bare minimum.”
— Ingrid

Question: How should the $700 billion in federal bailout money be spent?

“1. Direct accountability of expenditures; 2. Executive salary caps; 3. Elimination of bonus programs; 4. Mandatory business practice evaluation by independent source.” — Brian

“Make low interest business loans so they may expand and create more jobs.” — Merle

“We should not be bailing out any entity. No one has offered to ‘bail-out’ my family.” — Christina

“Refinance adjustable mortgages to a fixed rate that people can afford.”
— Michael

“They shouldn’t spend what they don’t have, anymore than I can. You can bail out AIG and all the rest, but you can’t bail out ‘lunch bucket Joe.’ Of course not, with that poor fellow you harass him to death and ruin his credit. This whole bailout program is a farce. What’s it up to now? 7 trillion??”
— Don

“Incentives to buy American-made products. This will countervail the disincentives built into our trade and tax policy to produce in American by stimulating production artificially. Then Congress should look into the various disincentives and systematically remove them. As they remove the disincentives to buy American products, they should then phase out the artificial incentives.” — Frank

“The government should use the capital as an investment and help homeowners refinance their current mortgage. The capital should be recorded as an asset on the government’s books in any refinance designed to help the homeowner. If the economy/home prices rebound, the government should realize some of the profit. Of course there should be time limits and provisions to protect both the banks and homeowners in the event this does not happen. This scenario helps both banks and homeowners now and possibly helps offset the long-term effects of this disaster.”
— Gene

“Pay off the primary dwelling mortgage of each private legal citizen that owns a home in the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. That way, us legal citizens can put our monthly mortgage premiums (somewhere from $800 to 3K dollars per home owner, per month = A LOT OF MONEY) back into this falling economy! Why should a state or a business get a ‘bail out’ and not the hardworking legal citizen that will still suffer even when the state and business get a Christmas bonus?” — John

“Give every taxpayer a check for $500,000, and that would kick start the economy. We could pay off all our debts, buy American cars and you would still have money left over.” — David

“Put It Back Into The Treasury.”
— Sam

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

In the second part of this series on Colorado’s Republican Party, we share views from Denver attorney, two-time candidate for mayor of Denver and former state GOP Chair Don Bain; outgoing Senate Minority Leader Andy McElhany, of Colorado Springs; Arapahoe County GOP Chair Nathan Chambers; and Republican National Convention alternate delegate Summer Vanderbilt, of Castle Rock, a student
at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.

Question: As the party moves toward 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?

• Bain: “I think we need a much less strident and harsh message to attract more people to the party. We’ve got to focus on practical problem solving and move away from a litmus test of God, guns and gays.”

He suggested following the example of the Tennessee GOP, which has moved away from promoting social conservative agendas to advance basic fiscal ideas that resonate with more voters.

Tennessee remained a “red” state, delivering 57 percent of the vote to Republican presidential candidate John McCain and 42 percent to Obama. Republican incumbent Sen. Lamar Alexander took 65 percent of the vote, with 32 percent going to Democrat Robert Tuke. Tennessee Republicans also won four of nine congressional races.

• Chambers: “I don’t think we need to change our message. In fact, I think that’s exactly what we shouldn’t do,” said Chambers, who watched his county transform from “red” to “blue” in November. The county party chair noticed a trend toward more Democrat-affiliated voters in recent years, but he said there was a massive change in the past six month because of Obama and the activism of such groups as ACORN.

“The party needs to be patient. We need to realize that politics is cyclical,” said Chambers, who believes the party should stand by its principles of “limited government, fiscal responsibility and security through strength.”

“And we need to regain our credibility,” said Chambers, noting that Republicans in Congress had lost sight of “fiscal responsibility.”

• McElhany: “It’s a bright future for the Republican Party — the voters just haven’t figured that out yet.”

“The state party needs to return to its core values. Colorado Republicans need to separate themselves from Republicans in Congress who forgot fiscal responsibility and instead were building bridges to nowhere and pork barreling.”

McElhany said that “a positive aspect of this election” was the overwhelming rejection of new taxes and of Amendment 59. That measure had been designed as an end run around the TABOR Amendment, which caps government spending and gives rebates to taxpayers. It also would have allowed the state to place the excess revenue in a savings account for preschool-to-grade-12 public education.

• Vanderbilt: “The party needs to modify its message to immigrants… We need to convey that we love immigrants and encourage immigration into our country when it’s legal and by the book.”

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?

• Bain: “Our bench has a number of up-and-coming leaders,” said Bain, listing Sen. Josh Penry, of Fruita; House Assistant Minority Leader David Balmer, of Centennial; Rep. Bob Gardner, of Colorado Springs, and Senate Assistant Minority Leader Nancy Spence, of Centennial.

Bain said a leader’s appeal to young voters is apt to be based on his or her message rather than age.

“Younger voters don’t care as much about social issues as the pragmatic concerns about the economy, jobs, pensions and health care.”

• Chambers: The Arapahoe County GOP chair listed Penry, House Minority Whip Cory Gardner, of Yuma, and Aurora City Councilman Ryan Frazier as appealing young leaders.

• McElhany: “Obama was so popular with the young people. Colorado College, which is in my Senate district, had a huge turnout at the polls. But once the students got past Obama on the ballot, I think they just started marking ‘D’ all the way down the ballot.”

Despite that, Republican former legislator Keith King defeated Democratic candidate Pete Lee in the race to fill McElhany’s seat in Senate District 12. McElhany couldn’t run for re-election because of term limits.

McElhany’s list of Republican leaders with appeal for young voters includes Penry, Cory Gardner, Rep. Amy Stephens, of Colorado Springs, and former state legislator and attorney Rob Witwer, of Golden.

• Vanderbilt: “Kristi Burton, who ran the Amendment 48 campaign, encourages and inspires me,” said Vanderbilt, adding that, because of Burton, she is considering a run for public office in the future.

“I think people like Kristi will inspire young voters, just like Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin inspired voters in the presidential election,” Vanderbilt said.

Burton co-authored the “personhood” amendment that sought to define a person at the point of conception rather than at birth. Colorado voters overwhelmingly rejected the amendment.

“I think Kyle Fisk and Nathan Fisk are great examples for young voters. They’re always working — down in the mud pit with all of us — for the party. They’re not uppity, and they’re very approachable.”

Kyle Fisk ran unsuccessfully against Rep. Michael Merrifield, D-Colorado Springs, in 2006. His brother, Nathan Fisk, is executive director of the El Paso County Republican Party.

Question: In keeping with 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?

• Bain: “We have to put social issues in the back seat to win elections.”

• Chambers: “To Republicans who feel social issues are most important — they are. For Republicans who believe fiscal conservatism is most important — they are. They should both continue pushing the issues important to them.”

“I don’t have a personal litmus test for calling someone a Republican,” Chambers said. “There’s room for all.”

• McElhany: “Social issues are important, but fiscal conservatives won’t fall on their swords over them,” said McElhany, who adheres to the belief that “Republicans come in all stripes.”

McElhany conceded that some moderate Republicans have a tough time running against social conservatives to win party nominations in district and statewide races because the party delegates tend to be more conservative. However, he said, “candidates who have petitioned onto the ballot have a great track record in winning primaries — if not general elections.”

“When I first ran, I was an unknown quantity,” McElhany recalled. “I had to make sure my positions on issues were in line with the majority of the party in my district. It means being able to reach a compromise. If you draw a line in the sand — taking a rigid position — you can’t win.”

Somehow, he said, the Democratic Party has managed to create a “big tent” where typically opposing groups — such as unions and environmentalists — find a way to get along.

• Vanderbilt: “I’m very involved in social issues, and I believe they need to stay in the party platform,” said Vanderbilt, adding that it is a major reason that she was drawn to the GOP.

“Pro-life is a social issue that is important to the economy,” she said. “When you’re killing off future taxpayers, you’re killing the future economy.”

“As a Christian, I believe our country has gotten off track,” Vanderbilt said, adding that the nation needs to return to higher moral ground.

“When you go against the will of God, then the blessings from God will not be given to this country,” said Vanderbilt, adding that legalized abortion is a major reason why “our economy has gone into a downslide.”

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 fuel get-out-the-vote efforts in Colorado?

• Bain: “A lot people who would consider being candidates don’t want to put up with the monochromatic litmus test on conservative social values,” he said. “Consequently, they won’t participate until the party changes that threshold.”

Bain said the political climate will change over the next few months as Obama tackles the economy and runs into the reality that he won’t be able to make good on all his promises. He noted that Obama already is abandoning his tax reform plan, which would have cut taxes for an estimated 95 percent of people, and raised taxes on those who make more than $200,000.

“It’s going to be fun to watch,” said Bain, adding that he hopes Obama moves away from the left to the center. “I believe Obama will move toward the center just as Bill Clinton did, and Tony Blair did when he became prime minister of England.”

Bain said the state party also will be helped by working closely over the next two years with the Republican National Committee leadership that appears “more willing to look at the reality and promote positions that have a broader appeal to lots of voters.”

“What we really need is a new Contract with America,” said Bain, referring to former House Majority Leader Newt Gingrich’s public relations pact, which galvanized GOP voters in 1994. The contract included key components of President Ronald Reagan’s winning agenda in the 1980s.

• Chambers: “There’s a group of people in the party who’d like to abandon values voters,” said Chambers. “We should never abandon these people. They’re part of the base of our party, just as fiscal conservatives.”

“We had very good candidates running for offices in the past election,” he said, adding that what the Colorado Republican Party didn’t have was “the ungodly amounts of money that Obama and the Democrats had.”

In addition, Chambers said, “There’s a technology gap that Republicans need to close.”

As for the state GOP leadership, Chambers said, “I think Dick Wadhams did a phenomenal job under the circumstances. We’d be absolutely foolish to not re-elect him, or even look in a different leadership direction.”

• McElhany: “What Obama did was totally incredible — raising $600 million,” said McElhany. “He even had three offices in Colorado Springs.”

“It wasn’t anything new. Republicans understand the game. We just didn’t do it well in this election,” he said. “The party needs those million-dollar contributors like the Democratic Party, who seems to have a large number of them.”

• Vanderbilt: “Pod casts, YouTube, MySpace, Facebook and up the use of the Internet,” said Vanderbilt. “To attract younger voters, the party should invest more money into these markets than television advertising.”

“I’d also like to see changes in the state party leadership,” said Vanderbilt, who didn’t want to elaborate.